Major UK companies refuse to back Conservatives or Labor ahead of election

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Some of the UK’s biggest companies are refusing to endorse any of the main parties ahead of the country’s general election, as companies try to avoid being drawn into partisan politics.

Labor dealt an early blow against the ruling Conservatives when 120 business executives signed a letter backing the opposition party in the run-up to the July 4 election.

But the letter published by the Times on Monday was deemed “light” on big names by City of London figures, with JD Sports chairman Andrew Higginson the only sitting chairman or chief executive of a FTSE 100 company. that he signed.

One scout said the roster was “not.” . . very impressive” and included a lot of “has been”.

On Tuesday, the Financial Times contacted the other 99 companies in London’s FTSE 100 index and asked if they were backing any parties ahead of the election.

Of the 58 who responded, 34 said they did not support any party, and several cited policies of political neutrality, while 24 declined to comment. Among the 34 were AstraZeneca, BAE Systems, British American Tobacco, Experian and Persimmon.

Large UK-listed companies and their bosses typically try to remain neutral in elections, with corporate backing playing a less significant role than in other countries such as the United States.

“It’s a really difficult thing for today’s executives to do, and especially for publicly traded companies,” said one public affairs adviser.

However, with five weeks left until the start of the UK election campaign, there could still be high-profile corporate endorsements.

In the 2015 election, BP and then-Prudential bosses Bob Dudley and Tidjane Thiam backed the Conservatives in their personal capacity.

The 120 business bosses signing the letter backing Labor was a blow to party leader Sir Keir Starmer, who has been trying to detoxify relations with British business since succeeding his far-left predecessor Jeremy Corbyn in 2020. .

Several lobbyists and advisers said it was notable that the Conservatives had not published a list of business leaders who supported the party.

Among the companies that refused to endorse any party on Tuesday were BT Group and Unilever, whose chief executives are members of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s business council. People close to BT and Unilever, which are listed in the FTSE 100, cited political neutrality.

Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves gave a keynote speech on Tuesday at Rolls-Royce, whose chief executive Tufan Erginbilgiç is another member of Sunak’s business council. Rolls said he remained neutral and did not endorse any party.

Labor supplied the equipment for the event on Tuesday, including a stage, lights, autocue and chairs, a person familiar with the matter said.

Rolls-Royce said: “We work with governments and politicians around the world to help them understand our business, but we limit ourselves to expressing any preferences during elections.”

Santander UK, M&G, Fidelity International and Phoenix Group, all members of Labour’s advisory groups, refused to endorse any party. M&G and Phoenix are in the FTSE 100.

A public relations adviser said some businesses were reluctant to back the Labor Party because of uncertainty over how radical its plan to boost workers’ rights would be if it wins the election.

Two business advisers said companies might feel more comfortable signing letters focused on specific policy areas rather than explicitly backing a particular party.

Conservative officials declined to say whether they expected senior business figures to back the party before the election.

The Labor Party declined to say whether it hoped to secure more big-name business backing later in the campaign.

Additional reporting by George Parker, Harriet Agnew, Yasemin Craggs Mersinoglu, Ian Johnston, Eri Sugiura and Madeleine Speed