The key to winning any election is presenting a credible economic package that resonates with the electorate and which offers business a viable plan for growth, security and prosperity. Business needs to be confident that any incoming government will not adopt measures that stifle investment, curtail creativity and innovation, or punish hard work and success. Fundamentally, it is the taxation paid by businesses and their employees that pay for the public services upon which we all depend and enjoy. These principles should be the starting point for any party seeking to form a government.
For the past decade Labour has been in opposition and its relationship with the business community has been severely strained. From Ed Miliband attacking “predatory” capitalism to John McDonnell’s proposals for extensive interference in company operations. A decade of lost confidence means that Sir Keir Starmer has an enormous job to do in winning back the support of business, the self-employed and the wealth creators in our society. Labour must do this if it wishes to win the next election and its offer must be one that reflects the changes that are taking place in our economy post-Brexit and post-Covid.
Outside of the European Union our workforce needs to be better trained with higher level skills in order to be more versatile. Our economy must attract foreign investment and the UK needs to become the number one destination in the world to do business, which means our regulatory and tax framework needs to be reviewed to make us more competitive. Post-Covid, we will need to ensure our digital infrastructure is the world’s finest and that we grow our economy with sufficient rigour to pay down the huge amount of debt that has been compiled during the pandemic. This will require different macroeconomic thinking to revive our post-industrial regions so that the entire United Kingdom is competitive.
These challenges are also huge opportunities and the Labour Party ought to turn its attention to these big questions on the future of the economy. Labour historically has won elections when it has built broad coalitions of support and worked with business and industry in one common national endeavour. Business wants to hear three key things from Labour: its alternative to the government’s levelling up agenda; its plans for making the UK more competitive; and how a Labour government will create the conditions to grow our economy. Every election is determined, in part, by the public’s trust in a party’s economic credibility; at the moment Labour is not articulating a vision for the economy under a future Labour government.
If the UK is to remain united and go from strength to strength over the next decade then our politicians need to take advantage of the opportunities Brexit has provided. From utilising state aid and ensuring effective regulation to increasing our exports and securing new trade deals, all of these measures will be vital for national growth and success. Labour had opposed Brexit and supported a second referendum, but the debate around Brexit has now passed. British business, foreign investors and the public now need to hear from Labour what it would do in government with the new freedoms we enjoy outside the EU. While this might be difficult for some within Labour, it is necessary for the party to move beyond the old debates around Europe. The British people have made their decision and Labour needs to talk enthusiastically about the future and offer business confidence that the uncertainty of the past will not return.
The vast majority of businesses in the UK – close to 80 per cent – are either family-run or family-owned. Many of these businesses are rooted in communities employing local people. Those business owners want to expand their operations which means they need to keep as much money as possible to invest and take on new staff. Those staff want to keep most of the money they earn so they can support their families and enjoy a comfortable life. First and foremost, this is the language of aspiration, not capitalism. It is this language, and the policies derived from it, that kept Labour in power for 13 years. Labour’s abandonment of aspiration has kept it out of power for the past decade. Business is ready to engage with Labour, now Labour must engage with business.
Brendan Chilton is the former general secretary of Labour Leave and current leader of the Labour group at Ashford Council.