Labour's Clive Lewis attacked over 'public good, private bad' comment

Posted On: 
11th January 2017

Labour’s business spokesman has been criticised after characterising the Opposition’s position as: “Public good, private bad.” 

Clive Lewis in the House of Commons
Credit: 
PA Wire

Clive Lewis made the comment when challenging the Government’s planned sell-off of the Green Investment Bank (GIB).

“If it’s a success story, why are you selling it off?” he asked in the House of Commons.  

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“Is it simply the case ‘public good, private bad’ – that’s what we think on this side. But on that side of the House, you think it’s ‘private good, public bad’.”

His remarks were immediately picked up by Conservative MPs, who said they betrayed the Labour party’s attitude towards the private sector.

“For the Opposition spokesperson on business to make the sweeping generalisation that ‘private is bad’ was an appalling indictment on matters, and also evidence that millions of private sector workers can’t rely on the opposition,” said backbencher Huw Merriman.

Conservative business minister Nick Hurd said the implications of the comment “couldn’t have been clearer”.

“It couldn’t have been clearer from the Opposition frontbench: ‘Public good, private bad’,” Mr Hurd said.

“That will have been noted in the business community across the country, reinforcing the question mark that the business community across the country has about the attitudes of the Labour party toward it.”

The Coalition Government launched the Green Investment Bank, which is designed to fund “innovative, environmentally-friendly” projects, in 2012.

After the last general election, the Conservatives pressed ahead with plans to privatise the GIB, with Australian investment firm Macquarie widely reported to be the preferred bidder.

Moves to sell off the bank have attracted criticism from both Liberal Democrat and Conservative former ministers, who were in charge of setting up the project.

Vince Cable, the former Business Secretary, has expressed concern that the Government would be “effectively destroying” the organisation by privatising it.

Greg Barker, the former energy minister who stood down as a Conservative MP at the last election and subsequently joined the House of Lords, has written to Theresa May to urge her to rethink the sale.

Labour first proposed the GIB in its 2010 manifesto, leading Mr Lewis to claiming it as a Labour success story.

He said: “The Green Investment Bank has, in public hands, been a great British success story. It has funded innovative technology to fight climate change and has created export opportunities for a decarbonising world.

“Now the Tories are reportedly preparing to sell it off to a well-known asset stripper, with no guarantees that its green purpose, or any kind of public influence, will be maintained. The Government should stop the sale of the Green Investment Bank today. Failure to do so will confirm that, however much they try to steal our clothes, underneath it’s still the same old Tories.“