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Angela Eagle: who is the new shadow business secretary & what are her plans for business?

angela eagle

With a coup planned from the onset and the new shadow cabinet decried as ‘sexist’ following a lack of females in the higher positions, Jeremy Corbyn was off to a tough start leading a conflicted Labour party.

One position causing controversy was the shadow chancellor, given to 'hard left' supporter John McDonnell. 

His ‘hard left’ stance has provoked outlandish comments in the past, including that he would ‘like to go back to the 1980s and assassinate Thatcher’ and in 2003, when he stated that IRA terrorists should be ‘honoured’ for taking part in their ‘armed struggle’.

Many also believed that a female should have been appointed shadow chancellor – more specifically, Angela Eagle.

With an extensive background in Economics (BA in PPE AT St John’s College, Oxford) and positions in government such as shadow chief secretary to the Treasury and member of the Treasury Select Committee, Angela Eagle was a good candidate for shadow chancellor. However, Corbyn has assigned her Chuka Umunna’s former position as shadow business, innovation and skills secretary.

So, who is she?

Angela Eagle began her career in politics when she joined the Labour party in 1978. After graduating from Oxford, one of her first jobs was in the economic directorate of the Confederation of British Industry in 1984.

It was in 1992 that she first stepped foot in to the House of Commons as an MP after defeating Baroness Lynda Chalker and subsequently became the first ever Labour MP for Wallasey.

Two years later, Eagle became a member of the Employment Select Committee, which looked at aspects such as mothers in employment, executive salaries and trade unions.

Around this time was Tony Blair’s bid for Labour leadership and, by her own admission, she ‘was the only member of the Tribune executive not to’ endorse him – nominating Margaret Beckett instead. She is certainly no ‘Blairite’.

In ’96 Eagle saw promotion to opposition whip and in ’97 she gained her first government role when Blair was elected as Prime Minster, becoming Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions.

A re-shuffle in ’98 saw her accept the role as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Department of Social Security. After moving back to the Home Office in 2001 following her re-election, she was sacked from her post by Blair in 2002 – apparently via a phone call and prior to addressing hundreds of people.

Five years later saw Eagle’s promotion to a new position of exchequer secretary to the Treasury and ’08 saw her become the first female MP to enter into a civil partnership. The following year she was promoted to Pensions and the Ageing Society minister in the DWP (Department for Work and Pensions).

Following 2010’s successful re-election but Labour’s unsuccessful election campaign, she was appointed shadow chief secretary to the Treasury. A year later in the re-shuffle she became shadow leader of the house and in ’13 was appointed chair of the Labour Party.

What are her business views and how have her votes reflected this?

With such an extensive background in economics combined with the majority of her experience stemming from the Treasury, Angela Eagle should be well-equipped to lead the shadow business, innovation & skills department.

However, the main problem that she’ll face will be improving the confidence of business leaders in Corbyn’s ‘better business’ plan, which received a rather lukewarm reception from business lobby groups.

Since her appointment, she has vehemently criticised the government for starting a heavy-handed crackdown on trade unions through the trade union bill, which was passed the second reading on Monday night.

Included in the plans were: Lifting a ban on replacing permanent staff with agency workers during strikes and introducing requirements such as a threshold of 50% turnout for industrial action ballots and at least 40% of all eligible voters in favour of action in ‘important’ public sector services.

After sitting next to new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn for the first time, she said:

‘It saddens me beyond words that we’re here today dealing with the most significant, sustained and partisan attack on six million trade union members and their workplace organisations that we have seen in this country in the last 30 years. With the number of days lost to strike action down 90% in the last 20 years there is absolutely no necessity whatsoever to employ the law in this draconian way.’

Unsurprisingly, Angela Eagle is anti-large corporation, which has been reflected in her voting. She has almost always voted against reducing the rate of corporation tax and has consistently agreed that there should be an increase in the Additional Rate of Income Tax (or mansion tax). She has also almost always voted for a banker’s bonus tax.

In terms of transport for businesses, she has generally voted against higher taxes on plane tickets but against lower taxes on fuel for motor vehicles. Corbyn’s plans to renationalise the rail network could potentially see cheaper train tickets if it were to happen in the very distant future. This coincides with her consistent voting to slow the rise in rail fares.

For pubs, Eagle has consistently voted in favour of pub companies offering pub landlords rent-only leases as well as restrictions on fees charged to tenants by letting agents.

‘Corbynomics’ and ‘better business’ plans: what do they mean to SMEs?

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn recently outlined his plan for business in a manifesto dedicated to SMEs. The growing discord surrounding the mix of old and new Labour’s economic strategy (dubbed ‘Corbynomics’) will mean that the shadow cabinet will have to prove that their plan is viable in the coming year.

This is particularly true since the appointment of hard left-winger John McDonnell as Chancellor.

Considering the denunciation and call for a review of business rates in the past, many SMEs will welcome Corbyn’s plans for a rates freeze for small businesses. The Labour leader is also set to start a National Investment Bank, which will aim to provide finance to key sectors and support entrepreneurship.

Increasing the level of support for those that are self-employed or small business owners is another key aim for Corbyn. This includes a review of the social security arrangement to ensure that they are entitled to and receive the same security as employees.

Corbyn also wants: to invest more in digital infrastructure, to boost disposable income (higher minimum wage and lower cost housing), to clamp down on corporation tax avoidance, greater rent controls (to stop small businesses and local shops from being priced out), to give power to local councils to regulate buses and to improve transport links across the country and reverse adult education cuts.

Eagle in the Commons…

Angela Eagle has gained a lot of practice speaking in the chamber through her weekly Business questions as shadow leader of the Commons.

She has become known for her quick one-liners, a famous example being when she faced Lord Rennard - who she quipped was ‘the only person in the whole country who would take legal action in order to become a Liberal Democrat.’

Her appointment as first shadow secretary of state, which was criticised for being a last minute decision because they were ‘taking a fair amount of s***’ about the lack of female in major cabinet positions, will also see her fill in for PMQs when Corbyn is away.

A debate in April 2011 also saw her come face-to-face with Prime Minister David Cameron over hospital waiting times. Condescendingly, Cameron responded with ‘calm down dear’, instantly spurring her Labour peers to call on the prime minister for an apology. Eagle, on the other hand, stated that he should instead apologise for the state of the economy.

Angela Eagle definitely has the foundations for a good run as the shadow business, innovation and skills secretary, though the next year may an uphill struggle against the former inner circle-turned-backbenchers. But one thing’s for certain: she’s relishing the prospect of PMQs .


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