Digby Jones: Battling for business.

No sooner had Brown parked himself on the government benches to listen to Iain Duncan Smith’s Tory counter-attack than Jones had leapt from his seat in the CBI office to begin issuing the press releases aimed at stinging the chancellor for his impudence in putting up national insurance.

The chancellor had ‘given with one hand but taken with the other’ railed Jones who then went on to question the ability of British to continue employing all their staff under the additional tax burden.’

Jones had watched the Budget on the television in his office along with fellow directors at the CBI before rushing into the press room to begin coordinating the counter attack. Just days before Jones had made what looked like a last plea for business to be spared. Indeed he had looked for aid, calling the chancellor, during a dinner in Chelmsford, to reduce the tax burden on business by at least £2bn. Jones reckons business has paid an extra £29bn in tax since Gordon Brown took over as chancellor’s in 1997.

Jones will not have been too disappointed. His call would have been about signalling that business expects much from the chancellor rather than any real effort to persuade.

His reputation among members of the CBI will remain unaffected. Since becoming DG in 2000, fresh from two years working at KPMG’s corporate finance business as vice chairman, staff at the CBI have coming to see him as inspirational. He puts in notoriously long hours and has made a huge effort to reconnect the organisation with its members. But he’s also put the CBI back on the map. City desks around fleet street rush to report his views and he has proved an able television performer.

His determination his obvious which is, perhaps, no surprise given that his role models appear to be great military leaders. Indeed Jones is noted for ‘more than passing interest’ in military history and is known to spend his holidays visiting famous battle grounds.

His professional battle ground of course is the economy and whether it is doing the best by business. It’s clear that, at the moment, the CBI and Jones believe the chancellor is not entirely acting in the best interests of business. And Jones will go on harrying him.

Indeed Jones has about two and half years left to serve before he leaves the CBI and is known to have made no decision what he will do when the time comes. But could he make a good bet for the Tory front bench and seek to continue his job of sparring with Gordon Brown. Sounds like an interesting tussle.

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