Boris Johnson’s huge General Election victory is good news from the perspective of the political stability that business needs to succeed. The UK government will now continue to be a strong supporter of innovation and enterprise. The principles of the free market and free flowing trade will be re-affirmed in the corridors of power across Whitehall. The fundamental threat posed by Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party to jobs and wealth creation has been resoundingly seen off. For those running and employed by businesses of all shapes and sizes – which is the vast majority of us – the Conservative victory is very welcome indeed.
Not only businesses, of course, compete in the market place. Social enterprises are also competitors and, although they frequently bridle at the suggestion, so are charities. Charities compete for donations, for public sector contracts to deliver government services at home and overseas, and for our attention and support.
Businesses – small, medium and large – as well as social enterprises and charities all operate in various ways in the framework of free markets. There is huge inter-dependence and co-operation between these sectors and interests. They all form part of the enterprising culture which has helped to sustain Britain’s vibrant economy.
Far too often business and charities allow themselves to be talked about as though they are monoliths with one set of demands and needs. This approach, which handles British business and charities as though they are one big block, has done increasing harm to their interests and has led to an increasingly fractious relationship with politicians of all stripes. In particular, it caused tensions with the governments of David Cameron and Theresa May. It is a trap businesses and charities of all shapes and sizes need to recognise and avoid.
Establishing the right tone and tenor in any relationship is key to its success. In recent years, significant business voices have consistently struck the wrong tone with government. Ever since the Brexit referendum, it has been clear that a significant shift in British politics has been underway. Politicians respond to, as well as lead, political weather changes.
Britain is not alone in experiencing such a change: France, Italy, Spain and Germany are all close neighbours undergoing political upheaval. In the United States President Trump is a manifestation of a similar political sea change. Further afield, Australia’s politicians are also adjusting to the changing priorities of voters. Britain is very much in the main stream of these broader events.
Boris has consistently confounded his critics: firstly, in winning and holding the London Mayoralty, then by leading the winning side in the Brexit referendum, and now as an election winning Prime Minister. He is deadly serious about winning and about governing. That means all those who need government legislative and policy help and co-operation – which is essentially most of us in one form or another – now need to think afresh about how we approach the new government.
Hectoring government about various policies or initiatives rarely works, and is never the prescription for a good relationship. Adopting the mantra “we need to educate them” – a phrase too often used by those who do not understand government, politicians and their officials – needs to be ditched. In its place not a subservient acquiescence but a recognition government comes with a mandate to deliver on a set of policies and the canny leader of an organisation works out how to achieve where possible what they want and make it as consistent as possible with the policies of the government.
It seems likely the government will move swiftly on with its agenda. Brexit obviously comes top of the list of things to do. Hard on its heels is likely to come a significant programme of reform which is likely to include: reform of the House of Lords, significant devolution of powers to the regions, reform of the delivery of public services, the reinvigoration of markets in key sectors, targeting greater support for small and medium size enterprise, delivering improved schools and medical services, an overhaul of Whitehall and its departments, and a fresh look at corporate governance. It’ll be a big programme delivered by the big Commons majority.
In his victory speech Boris thanked those who had voted for him, many for the first time, and expressed his intention to deliver for them. He demonstrated a clear understanding this will require new policies and increased investment for those areas that need it most. The electorate has a way of attracting their politicians’ attention. The electorate certainly has Boris’s attention, and now business and charities need to think again about how they respond to a swiftly moving political world.