David Cameron is using his election campaign to plug firms which back his cynical National Insurance policy.
He has been pictured at firms such as Jewson, run by bosses who support his plan to halt an NI rise. Meanwhile, a new poll shows the Tory lead has slipped to 3%. The Tory Party has always looked after its big-money backers. But it has rarely done it as blatantly as David Cameron has over the past two weeks.
Since the election battle began, the Tory leader has been seen at B&Q, Warburtons, Bestway, Fuller’s brewery and Jewsons – and has often been pictured with the relevant company’s logo clearly visible. Nothing unusual there. Apart from the fact the chief executives of all these firms have publicly backed the Tories’ cynical attempt to win votes by promising to halt a scheduled rise in National Insurance.
Shadow Chancellor George Osborne has also got in on the act by visiting the headquarters of easyJet, whose founder Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou also supports Mr Cameron’s NI policy. Labour MP Stephen Pound yesterday said such an obvious payback for the bosses’ support was cynical in the extreme. He added: “We have always said that David Cameron is a salesman but jetting off around the country promoting Tory donors and endorsers is taking things a little too far.
“It goes to show that he who pays the piper calls the tune.” But one advertising expert said Mr Cameron’s efforts to associate himself with the firms was unlikely to sway voters. Dave Trott of CST Advertising said: “Short of wearing a flat cap and walking around with a whippet, there is no way he could be more obvious about what he is attempting to do. There is no one on the planet that does not know all that stuff is just a cheap PR stunt.” Mr Cameron kicked off his campaign at a B&Q store in Hayes, West London, on Thursday 1 April. The DIY firm is owned by Kingfisher whose chief executive Ian Cheshire and deputy chairman John Nelson have both backed the Tory policy to halt NI hikes. On Tuesday 6 April Mr Osborne visited an easyJet hangar in Luton. Both Sir Stelios and chief executive Andy Harrison support Conservative tax policies.
The day after, Mr Cameron held a question and answer session with staff at Bestway Cash & Carry in Cardiff before travelling to Warburtons’ bakery in Bolton for another photo opportunity. The boss of Bestway, Zameer Choudrey, was one of the original signatories to a letter to the Daily Telegraph on March 28 endorsing the Tory NI policy. Since 2005, he has donated £138,852 to the Conservative Party through his business. Warburtons chief executive Richard Warburton is also among the business leaders to back the Conservative plans. This week the Tory leader chatted to staff at Fuller’s brewery in West London and was photographed against a backdrop featuring the company’s logo. On the same day, Monday 12 April, he went to a Jewson store in Reading. Michael Turner, the chief executive of Fuller, Smith & Turner Plc and Peter Hindle the boss of Jewson both endorse the Tory tax policy.
And during his manifesto launch yesterday Mr Cameron name-checked Sainsbury’s.The boss of the chain, Justin King, also backed calls to halt the NI rise. Mr Osborne claims he will fund the £6billion cost of halting the NI increase by reducing government waste. But Labour says his “back of the envelope” figures do not add up. The party has worked out the Tories would have to find £12billion efficiency savings on top of the £15billion already being planned by the Government. It warned that the gap would have to be filled either by a VAT rise of 5% or savage public service cuts, both of which would hit pensioners and the poor hardest. Independent expert Gerry Grimstone said: “Incoherent attempts to deliver efficiences will damage the services people rely on in times like these.” The Conservatives yesterday said of Mr Cameron’s appearances: “It is hardly surprising since the evidence shows huge numbers of businesses are backing our National Insurance policy.” Bestway said: “David Cameron was in the area and he decided to call in at a Bestway as he wanted somewhere he could hold a meeting.” Warburton said: “We were asked to host a meeting. If any other party wanted to visit our bakery we’d be happy to host them.”