Screaming into the void - business finds no-one is listening

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With an election three weeks away, it would be normal to start seeing letters in national newspapers from the chief executives of the UK's biggest companies setting out their priorities for the next government.

A helpful reminder from the commercial powers that be that it is businesses, not government, that create prosperity, and their needs should be high on any political party's agenda.

So far - nothing.

Why has business lost its voice? Business leaders I have spoken to in the last few weeks have told me that they have been left in no doubt that none of the major parties need or want their blessing.

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Both the Tories and the Labour party of Blair and Mandelson either enthusiastically courted or felt "intensely relaxed" around the country's wealthiest people.

Not any more. The Conservatives attempt to recast themselves as the party of the worker, rather than of the boss, with promises to intervene in markets and crack down on boardroom excess.

That has seen the door to the Number 10 kitchen supper clang shut. Yes, there have been dinners for business chiefs and spouses, but attendees tell me that if talk turns to policy, the talk dries up.

Last night at a black-tie do in Park Lane, business moved to plan B: offer to help with the crushing weight of technical Brexit negotiations facing a potentially overwhelmed civil service.

Paul Dreschler, the president of the CBI, offered a government that hadn't done trade deals for 40 years help in getting it right.

"Business can help navigating the labyrinthine problems of Brexit. We are offering to create a business Brexit task force in the next 50 days," he said.

The problem is this assistance looks like it comes from Jeeves rather than the local mechanic. A thousand-strong contingent wining and dining while economic figures show average workers getting poorer every day as their wage rises are gobbled up by rising prices is not "on message" for any of the parties.

Business chiefs are hopeful that once the election is over their offers will be welcome. As one chairman told me - hopefully everyone will "chill out" and be prepared to listen.

Over years of trying to get business leaders to tell me what they really think about politics on air, I've learnt that through elections and referenda most prefer to argue their case behind closed doors - as long as they were on the same side of the door.

Right now it seems - to not just many but most in this business gathering - that no-one is listening.

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