Blair, bagpipes and playing football with Maradona: Alastair Campbell spins a tale or two at CBI dinner

November 22, 2013

Labour can win the next general election with business-friendly policies but will probably find itself in a Lib-Lab coalition, the party’s former spin doctor Alastair Campbell told West business leaders last night.

The election battleground will be the economy, he said in his keynote speech to the CBI South West’s annual dinner.

The Conservatives will argue that they have brought about economic recovery but Labour will question whether everyone was benefiting from the upturn, Tony Blair’s former press aide and one of the architects of New Labour said.

He had correctly predicted the results of all the general elections he had been involved in, he said. But the 2015 one, at the moment, was too close to call.

During the campaign Labour would be accused of being anti-business but in reality the party understood the importance of being business. While in government it had excellent relationships with organisations like the CBI, often sounding them out ahead of bringing in policies that could impact on competitiveness.

Mr Campbell, pictured, drew on anecdotes from his time as a Fleet Street journalist and then his globe-trotting and often controversial role in the heart of government to deliver his speech – which was made up of answers to questions submitted by some of the 510 guests at the dinner.

The worst people he ever met both had the same initials – Robert Maxwell and Robert Mugabe – he said, and his worst experience was the day Dr David Kelly died. His best experience was not political – it was playing football with Diego Maradona.

New Labour’s most important move was making the Bank of England independent, which he described as “the best single [political] event of the last 30 years”.

To the surprise of the guests at the black-tie event, Mr Campbell played himself out with a tune on the bagpipes.

Also speaking at the event was Neil Bentley, the CBI’s youngest-ever deputy director-general and chief operating officer. There was no doubt the economy was improving – as borne out in recent CBI surveys – he said, but productivity was still 15% down on its level before the recession.

Businesses need to show that they act responsibly and openly, he said, and tackle issues such as executive pay and diversity. But they also needed to tackle some of the myths about business and show how vital it was to the country.

“Business needs to be in the driving seat for growth to happen,” he said. “Not looking in the rear view mirror.”

The black-tie dinner is traditionally one of the key events of the region’s business calendar attracting many of its leading businessmen and women as well as political figures. Previous speakers over the years have included senior politicians, civil servants, diplomats, economists and industrialists.

The dinner, sponsored by Barclays and supported by communications agency Bray Leino, Bristol law firm Burges Salmon, Bristol-based insurance group DAS and Plymouth University, took place at the Passenger Shed at Temple Meads.




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