There are tell-tale signs that political plates in Westminster are shifting and that an opposition party is on course to win the next General Election: donations up; celebrity endorsements; a rush of applications to become parliamentary candidates. And for Labour, yesterday sent another clear signal that they might just be on their way to taking power: over 350 senior corporate leaders came together to hear the Party’s vision for government.
This was Labour’s first ever Business Conference, set up in part to show the business community what they have planned but perhaps just as importantly, reassure them that they could be trusted.
The Leader of the Opposition set the theme for the event in his opening speech: a partnership for prosperity.
Labour, he said, was ready to partner with business to reset the economy. He continually referred to his administration as the pro-business party after years of Tory mismanagement. Of course the subtext here was the desire for the Labour team to throw off the stigma of the Corbyn era.
He said a Labour government would have three priorities for their partnership with business. Firstly, green growth driven by private investment. Secondly, skills, with an overhaul of current regulation that was holding people back. And thirdly, stability, with pointed references to the impact the Truss administration.
Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves launched the findings of the party’s start-up review, which outlined recommendations to remove barriers to institutional investment, support the development of university born innovation and enable the British Business Bank to bring more investment into the economy. She said she wanted to make Britain the “best place in the world to start and grow a business”.
And other Shadow Cabinet members, including Jonathan Reynolds (Shadow Business) and Bridgit Philipson (Shadow Education) spoke of Labour’s vision for a more productive and dynamic workforce, an industrial strategy that will drive economic growth, and an approach to trade that will support all parts of the UK.
But while lots of warms words were exchanged, it is clear Labour are still in ‘development’ mode when it comes to policy. Lengthy policy review documents on skills, industrial strategy and start-ups have been written, but what will actually make it into Labour’s manifesto remains unclear.
Nonetheless, the huge turnout and level of seniority among the delegates is something that Labour hasn’t been able to attract for a long time. It demonstrates how successfully the party has moved away from any former anti-business sentiment.
For some time, many thought their words were simply rhetoric. But now CEOs, Chairs and execs from some of the UKs biggest businesses, international corporations and private investment firms all want to be part of the conversation. And they are right, because with a General Election creeping up on us and manifesto writing likely to kick off in earnest next year, now is the time to influence Labour party thinking.
The jury is still out on what the policies will be and whether they will work, but it is safe to say UK businesses are paying attention.