The trade unions leading the opposition to the UK private equity industry may have gained an ally in high places yesterday, after Harriet Harman narrowly won the deputy leadership election for the UK Labour Party.
Harman is married to Jack Dromey, the deputy general secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union, who last week spoke on behalf of the unions at the Treasury Select Committee enquiry into private equity.
At the hearing, Dromey – who is also the Labour Party treasurer – fiercely criticised the large buyout industry, “where people make fortunes in secret, with workers paying the price”. He argued that the impact of leveraged buyouts was “to depress pay, conditions of employment, and pensions,” suggesting that the recent job cuts at chocolate-maker Cadbury’s – supposedly to fend off a private equity bid – proved that “no one is safe”.
Dromey also criticised private equity’s tax treatment – an area that is currently under review by the Labour-led government. He insisted there was “no coherent economic justification” for the industry’s existing tax arrangements.
Harman narrowly pipped favourite Alan Johnson, the current Education Secretary, to win the election for the deputy leadership, taking 50.45 percent of the vote in the final run-off compared to Johnson’s 49.46 percent. Harman was a surprising winner – although a past ally of prime minister-elect Gordon Brown, she has diverged from government policy during her campaign, and has been away from front-line politics since been sacked in Tony Blair’s first Cabinet reshuffle in 1998.
However, the public statements of Gordon Brown, Harman’s new boss, during the recent controversy may help to allay concerns: the future prime minister has insisted that he wants to retain the competitiveness of the City – including its tax regime.