The Conservatives traditional status as the party of business is under threat from a hard Brexit and tax rises on SMEs and the self-employed.
Business didn’t want Brexit. Let’s not forget that the overwhelming majority of business leaders in the UK wanted to remain in a European Union that gave them access to a single market of goods and services and granted them regulatory ease through the customs union.
Theresa May’s government chose politics over common sense, in choosing to pursue a hard Brexit, and as the effects of this decision begin to take hold after the next election in 2020, Labour needs to be ready to establish itself as the true party of entrepreneurship.
Sadiq Khan’s pledge to be the “most business-friendly mayor” in London was integral to his election campaign last year, and after the inevitable failure of the Corbyn experiment Labour should adopt the same position on a national scale. There is a chance here to make inroads, and connections in a business community that under the current leadership, has had no interest in Labour, but may also be open to turning away from Theresa May’s party if she continues to follow a course of action detrimental to their long-term interests.
We are up against a party that will do anything to retain power, and we should be prepared to play them at their own game. Theresa May’s speech on the steps on Number 10 was an unashamed landgrab of Labour’s natural ground, but Brexit poses an opportunity for us to do the same, by claiming their mantle as the party of business.
That said, being pro-business does not mean being pro-monopoly, and we should always stay committed to promoting business led by ethics. There is a growing trend in business for Corporate Social Responsibility, and Labour has the potential to be the champion for this.
Initiatives aimed at improving ethics, and cheerleading certain noble causes are an invaluable marketing tool. Take the recent move by Airbnb in the United States to offer accommodation to thousands of migrants affected by President Trump’s travel ban last month. We should encourage these initiatives – and any efforts to follow ethical codes in business should be seen as further evidence that a future alignment of the business community and the Labour party would not be an odd match.
Added to the looming threat of a ‘hard Brexit,’ the move by Theresa May’s government to increase business rates, in some cases by more than double, is putting many small and medium sized firms under threat, and has further alienated the business community. Labour needs to stand up for SMEs and be the unashamed protectors of the interests of Britain’s many ordinary, small and medium sized enterprises. The self-employed too, took a hammering in the Chancellor’s Budget last week, and Labour should be ready to champion their cause too.
One thing is clear, as Brexit bites we need to be ready to catch low-hanging fruit that previously may have seemed unreachable.