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How wounding is the Telegraph letter?

How wounding is the Telegraph letter? Credit: Stefan Rousseau/Chris Radburn/PA Wire

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I have spoken to six chief executives today. Four of them signed the letter, two didn't, all of them told me they were asked to sign by the Conservative's Chairman, Lord Feldman - and did so willingly.

A story which was presented by the Telegraph as a spontaneous endorsement of Conservative policy by alarmed business leaders now starts to feel like an orchestrated attempt by the party to win headlines.

The letter tells us the names of 103 bosses who support the Conservative party, that they like paying a rate of 20% on their profits and would prefer it not to go up, and that they're concerned that "a change of course" (by which we assume they mean a Labour lead government) will derail the recovery.

That's a big number, they signed-up willingly and some of the names are genuinely interesting (Bob Dudley at BP, who'd have thought it?) This group has every right to make their voices heard, of course, but they are not the "The Voice of British Business".

One of the FTSE100 chief executives I spoke to today told me he refused to sign the letter on the grounds it was no more than a "marketing sound bite" one that encouraged "a very superficial debate".

Translation: a political stunt, albeit a highly effective one.

The Conservative party won't tell me how many business leaders Andrew Feldman has approached but, as you can see from the email I've obtained below, he was at it again this morning.

Andrew Feldman's letter to business leaders asked for their support Credit: .

Most voters won't recognise the names of the chief executives who have signed the letter in the Telegraph but they will know the names of the companies they lead.

BP and Prudential are global mulitnationals. Primark, Iceland, Costa Coffee, Mothercare are all high street names.

Some of the business leaders are known Conservative supporters.The likes of Sir Nigel Rudd and Lord Stuart Rose proudly wear their politics on their sleeves.

Most wounding for Labour are the defectors. Sir Charles Dunstone (chairman, Dixons Carphone and Talk Talk) and Duncan Bannatyne are as "celebrity" as business world gets. Both men endorsed Blair and Brown, both men appear to have turned their back on Miliband.

But read the letter carefully. Don't worry, it's short:

Duncan Bannatyne Credit: Doug Peters/Doug Peters/EMPICS Entertainment

Note that while it explicitly praises the Conservative-led government and specifically credits the cuts to corporation tax for economic revival, it does not mention Labour.

The letter name checks David Cameron and George Osborne but not Ed Miliband. It warns of "a change of direction" without really setting out what that means. It's a nuance but an important one.

The Telegraph notes that nine FTSE100 bosses signed this letter, which means of course that 91 haven't. 21 FTSE250 bosses signed the letter, 229 haven't. Were they asked? How did this letter came into being? This morning Sir Stuart Rose was asked who organised it, his response was coy.

None of this is to ignore the fact that Labour has a number of policies that are deeply unpopular with some businesses.

Labour's latest proposal, that zero-hours workers are given regular contracts after three months, has been roundly criticised by business groups. The British Chambers of Commerce says it's "heavy handed", the Institute of Directors "unnecessary and damaging".

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