Hamish Sandison, chair of Labour Business – Full introduction to Labour Business Annual Dinner 2016.
Welcome to our members, our guests, our Parliamentarians.
In addition to our speakers,, we’re very pleased to be joined by a number of MPs
Now… it’s traditional on these occasions to look back on the past year. On this occasion… I think I’d rather not.
No thank you! I’m very happy to leave it to our distinguished guest speakers to make sense of what happened in 2016. No pressure then John.
The only thing I will say about the past year is to remind you that this time last year our principal guest of honour was the Labour candidate for Mayor of London – and didn’t he do well! [Let’s hear it for Sadiq Khan!]
He is Exhibit A in my firmly held belief that pro-business Labour candidates – and he was by common consent the most pro-business candidate in the race – can win elections. And we’ll be rooting for Andy Burnham in Manchester, Steve Rotherham in Liverpool, and Sion Simon in Birmingham to win their mayoral campaigns next year. [Let’s hear it for them!]
So, at Labour Business, we’re not looking back, we’re looking forward to 2017. As you’ve heard me say before, our overriding mission is to bust the myth that Labour is an “anti-business” party. That remains a work in progress, although – as I said – Sadiq’s win is a good down payment on that mission.
But looking ahead to next year, our aim is to start putting some flesh on the bones of what a pro-business Labour Government might look like – not just busting the myth that we are anti-business, but making the positive case for what it means to be a pro-business Party and a pro-business government-in-waiting.
And I’ll mention just two examples of how we intend to do that next year.
The first is by reaching out to Labour Party members in constituencies across the UK.
Remember how the Tories used to be seen as “the party of law and order,” and how we turned that around in the 1990s?
Today, the Tories are still seen as the “party of business.” Well we think it’s time to turn that around too.
The truth is that every CLP in the UK has members who own businesses, who run businesses, who work within businesses. We are just as much the “party of business” as the Tories.
So, next year, with Ian McNicol’s help, we’re going to invite every CLP to appoint a Business Liaison Officer. The key role of the Business Liaison Officer, with our support, will be to engage with their local business community and demonstrate that the Labour Party is on their side.
But let me be clear. The new Business Liaison Officer will work alongside the existing Trade Union Liaison Officer to demonstrate our belief that successful, pro-business policies involve partnership between government, employers, and trade unions.
The funny thing is, we thought the Business Liaison Officer was our own idea, and we thought it was a pretty cool idea. But at Party Conference in Liverpool, we were approached by 3 CLPS – from Scotland, Wales, and England – who had the same idea. Imitation is the greatest form of flattery! So we will be launching pilots with them in the New Year.
Our second key initiative in 2017 is to engage with businesses across the UK – small, medium, and large – by running a listening exercise in which we ask them a simple, open question: “What do you need from government?”
Now of course Labour’s business policies must be rooted in Labour values, so we’re not going to listen to calls to send children up chimneys again. But we believe it’s essential to listen to the business community before Labour develops its business policies in any detail.
We will invite stakeholders to host our roundtable discussions – from business organisations like the CBI, the EEF, the FSB and the IoD, to think tanks like the Centre for Progressive Capitalism and the Fabians, academic institutions like the London Business School, trade unions, and – through their Business Liaison Officers – CLPs up and down the country.
And while we’re talking about engaging with the business community, I was really excited to hear John McDonnell’s announcement yesterday that he is planning a series of regional economic conferences around the country, about one a month, next year. John will say more about that in a minute. But I am very pleased now to confirm the offer of support I gave to John this morning to make available all our business networks – including the newly appointed Business Liaison Officers in CLPs – to help him engage with the local business community.
The results of our listening exercise will inform the policy development work which we plan to undertake on the back of it. Stephen Kinnock, who co-chairs our policy task force with me, will say more about that work later.
But to give you a flavour of it: our aim is to publish business policies over the course of 2017 that will include an overarching narrative describing our vision for a new kind of growth, and will cover more detailed streams of work such as industrial strategy, the digital sector, the “gig” economy, corporate governance, and public procurement.
Importantly, because we’re very good at saying what a “bad” business looks like, it will start to flesh out our ideas for what a responsible business should look like. And at the next Party Conference, we’re planning to launch a Labour Business award for the most responsible businesses, in several categories, helping drive forward Labour values in British business – fairer competition, fairer taxation, fairer treatment of employees, fairer treatment of subcontractors and suppliers… the list goes on.
And we will be looking to you, as members of Labour Business – all of you – to help complete that list of Labour values in business and take forward our wider business policy development work. Just drop us an email if you’d like to get involved.
Just to be clear, however: Labour Business is proud to be the only business group affiliated to the Party. But we are independent of it, and the business policies we intend to develop will be our own policies, not the Party’s policies – though we hope they will be influential as the Party develops its own manifesto!
Which brings me to or principal guest speaker.
When I first met John, he’d just been appointed Shadow Chancellor, and he sat down with our Treasury Group for an hour and half, brainstorming his approach to Labour’s economic policy. And he had a flip chart, and the first heading he put at the top of the flip chart was: “Economic credibility.”
And I remember thinking – “Yes! That’s where it all needs to start.”
Since then, he’s set about establishing Labour’s economic credibility in his own, very determined manner – setting up a stellar Council of Economic Advisers (many of them Nobel prize winners), laying down Labour’s fiscal credibility rules, calling for fairer taxes and the tools that are needed in HMRC to collect them, and – above all – demolishing the case for the failed austerity measures that the Government have now abandoned.
So, John, it’s quite a record of achievement already. We are absolutely delighted to have you at our Annual Dinner, along with your brilliant deputy, Rebecca Long-Bailey, and colleagues from the Shadow Treasury team – Peter Dowd and Jonathan Reynolds. We’re looking forward to continuing to work with all of you over the coming year – as it says on our pledge card – helping to bust the myth that Labour is an “anti-business” party, and helping to develop the pro-business policies that will win elections for Labour in the coming years.
Chair of Labour Business