LONDON (Reuters) - British finance minister George Osborne plans in a speech on Wednesday to accuse the opposition Labour party of being “anti-business” and warning that they would cut off foreign investment into Britain.
In an address courting business leaders ahead of a national election in 2015, Osborne, a member of Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservatives, will say Britain is recovering but his decade-long plan to fix the economy is less than half-completed.
Osborne singled out policies announced by Labour to freeze energy prices, link the minimum wage to average earnings and impose rent controls as examples of an agenda that he said was designed to appeal to voters, but would threaten businesses.
“Price and incomes controls, re-nationalisations and erecting the government as the enemy of business and wealth creation will lead Britain down a path of relative economic decline,” he said in extracts of a speech released in advance.
“(The) consensus that we put the national economic interest first – ahead of opportunist party advantage – is under threat for the first time in 25 years.”
Britain’s economy has started to recover, outperforming international peers, after a prolonged recession induced by the global financial crash in 2008 left the country hugely indebted and borrowing heavily to fund its deficit.
The turnaround has been credited with helping the Conservatives cut Labour’s lead in opinion polls. Labour currently stands to win around 34 percent of the vote, with the Conservatives just behind on 33 percent.
Labour argues that the Conservatives, along with junior coalition partners the Liberal Democrats, have failed to tackle a decline in living standards. Labour has targeted reforms of utility firms, the rental sector and banking to help consumers, while pledging to raise tax rates for high earners.
Alongside his criticism of Labour, Osborne also took aim at the UK Independence Party (UKIP), which wants Britain to leave the European Union, warning that the country’s economic health relies upon maintaining free trade and open markets.
“Political parties on the left and the populist right have this in common: they want to pull up the drawbridge and shut Britain off from the world,” he said.
“It takes advantage of the understandable anxieties of a population unsettled by the pace of globalisation, and peddles a myth that Britain can stop the world and get off.”
UKIP have emerged as a threat to the Conservatives election prospects, siphoning off support from the party’s right-wing voters with anti-immigration and anti-EU policies.
UKIP is forecast by some polls to be the top vote-getter among British parties in the European Parliament elections later this week, while the Conservatives are expected to come in third.
Osborne’s comments come shortly after a political dispute erupted over whether the government should block U.S. drugmaker Pfizer (PFE.N) from taking over British-based pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca (AZN.L).
Labour said it could block the deal on grounds of national interest if it were in power, and accused the government of cheerleading for a takeover. The government said it took a neutral stance, seeking assurances from Pfizer over jobs and research.
While touting the turnaround in the British economy as a product of the government’s policies, Osborne warned that years of spending restraint still lay in store.
“It would be a grave mistake to think our job is done, or think we can go easy and slow down. Our task to secure our country’s economic future is not even half done.”
Editing by Mark Heinrich