Tory anger over CBI chief blasts Margaret Thatcher’s legacy: Leaders of business face backlash from attack on the ‘neglectof the North’ since the 1980s

  • Tony Danker made an attack on Thatcher at Monday’s CBI Conference
  • Danker criticised ‘deindustrialisation’ in the North under Thatcher’s premiership 
  • Iain Duncan Smith and other Tory Tories have criticized Danker over the comments.

Senior Tories yesterday accused the leader of Britain’s business chiefs of promoting a Left-wing agenda after he criticised the economic legacy of Margaret Thatcher.

Tony Danker took an extraordinary swipe at Britain’s first woman prime minister as he blasted the ‘de-industrialisation’ and ‘benign neglect’ of the North since the 1980s.

Mr Danker, who became director-general of the Confederation of British Industry last year, said businesses could not be trusted to ‘level-up’ and bring prosperity to poorer regions of the UK. The Government needed to be more involved.

And, as he criticised successive governments for letting ‘old industries die’, he hit out at Prime Minister Boris Johnson for giving ‘very little’ detail on how he planned to boost wealth around the country.

His speech to the CBI’s annual conference yesterday was a departure from the organisation’s usual free-market rhetoric and raised eyebrows around Westminster.

Mr Danker (pictured) became director-general of the Confederation of British Industry last year

Pictured: Mr Danker, who was appointed director-general of Confederation of British Industry (CBI) last year

Sir Iain Duncan Smith, the former Tory leader, said last night: ‘What Mr Danker needs to re-learn is that Britain was the sick man of Europe when Mrs Thatcher took over and she turned it around.

‘Her incredible reforms, including her fight against the trade unions, were the beginning of the change that made our country more dynamic and have brought benefits ever since.

‘Mr Danker’s reading of history should be put on the bookshelf marked pointless. It does seem to me that he would rather have the Left’s view of the world.’

Lord Tebbit, former trade and industry secretary under Mrs – later Baroness – Thatcher, said he didn’t think Mr Danker ‘could have lived through’ the 1980s, adding: ‘His reading is simply not correct.

‘Jobs did go, because they were delivering goods that people didn’t want to buy any more. The heavy industries went and we had jobs creating software rather than hardware.’

Mr Danker, 49, a former special adviser to Gordon Brown’s Treasury between 2008 and 2010, was not an obvious choice for the top role at the CBI. His previous role as a strategy advisor to Guardian’s parent company was unknown among business leaders.

The comments were made at the CBI's conference yesterday which featured the Prime Minister as a keynote speaker

Yesterday’s CBI conference featured the Prime Minister as the keynote speaker.

The Prime Minister's speech was widely panned after he lost his place in his notes during it

Following his loss of place during his speech, the Prime Minister’s speech was extensively criticized

Mr Danker’s speech, however, left some observers wondering what direction he was taking the CBI in now. He said: ‘The truth is that the UK has suffered from de-industrialisation.

‘Since the 1980s, we let old industries die – offering little more than benign neglect for what got left behind.’ He said Mrs Thatcher’s government had failed to pay enough attention to the wage divide between North and South, and the fact that multi-national corporations were located overwhelmingly in the South East.

He added: ‘We have spent the past decades living with these consequences.’ Turning the CBI’s reputation as a free-market champion on its head, Mr Danker said the Government must intervene to push businesses into areas which needed more well-paid jobs.

‘This might be a new line from the head of the CBI, but simply saying the market will fix this is simply not good enough,’ he said.

‘There are free marketeers… who say government should never play an active role like this.

But I don’t know a country in the world – including, and especially, the United States – where governments aren’t active in economic geography.