How Labour can win back the trust of British business

Labour needs to take ownership of capitalism, defining its vision as something business can believe and trust in


Labour lost the support of business in its election campaign. From the former Labour enterprise champion Lord Sugar, who in his resignation from the party cited a loss of “confidence in the party due to their negative business policies and…anti-enterprise concepts”, to former Brown trade minister Lord Jones, who said Labour had “created an anti-business mood music where profit is a dirty word”.

Trust needs to be rebuilt. The question Labour faces is how?

Although by no means a simple task, three areas can help Labour start this process.

First, a positive and inclusive approach to business is central to winning trust. Labour’s 35 per cent core vote strategy that sought to add disillusioned Lib Dems to the 29 per cent core vote won in the 2010 election (traditional working and squeezed middle class), obviously failed to win this election. But more importantly, it created an ‘us and them’ narrative which alienated and ostracised business as wealth creators, almost forcing them by default to become part of the other 65 per cent opposing messages from Labour.

A senior figure from the City supportive of Labour summed up this point. Talking about financial services, he said:

“No one wants to be vilified. Yet eight years on from the financial crash, Labour’s position seemed to be solely on the side of banker bashing.”

This 35 per cent strategy allowed the press and Conservatives to position Labour as anti-business without a strong riposte. It also meant that positive messages toward business did not cut through.

Going forward, Labour’s messages must be ones that resonate with its ideals, such as tackling inequality. But they must be positioned in a way that allows us all to embrace them.

Second, even with a positive tone, the party needs strong pro-business policies to underpin its offering to business. This election, by contrast, saw policies that seemed to be hostile to business as flagship offerings, ranging from rent caps to energy price freezes. As one social enterprise founder who is a Labour supporter said, it seemed that

“Labour wanted to wrap business up in chains without giving anything in return.”

The key point here is that the goals of business and Labour are not mutually exclusive. Common ground includes a strong economy, fair distribution of reward, creation of opportunity married to merit and talent.

The challenges facing Labour and business are shared, such as the housing crisis. Both the Confederation of British Industry and the London Chamber of Commerce have highlighted the cost and lack of affordable housing for employees as the biggest threat to London’s position as one of the world’s greatest cities for business.

Labour’s new leadership will need to give an answer as to how it will positively incentivise, support and enable business to be the means to realise potential and deliver wealth and opportunity into the hands of the many, e.g., through an improved education system to help achieve aspiration and social mobility. After all, this was the role foreseen by Labour for business 20 years ago when it modernised Clause IV of the party’s constitution to abandon nationalising principles.

Finally, Labour needs to take ownership of capitalism, defining its vision as something business can believe and trust in.

So far the party has failed to deliver consistent detail on what this alternative Labour brand of capitalism is. In part this is because Labour has previously relied on charismatic figures such as Blair and Mandelson to hook business, i.e., pitch over content. It is also, though, undoubtedly because for many in the party there is a continuing scepticism toward business. At best business still seems to be a necessary evil tolerated to secure victory, rather than a central constituent and area of Labour’s agenda.

Going forward, Labour has the template for this alternative brand of progressive capitalism. This focuses on an inclusive race to the top through long-termism, high value/skill jobs, innovation and regulation to boost firms’ competitiveness and productivity. In practice this means a positive route to success for business that offers obvious benefits, as opposed to greater costs and burdens.

Practical areas that would seem ripe for strong focus as part of this progressive vision include economic drivers such as infrastructure. Infrastructure helps industry to grow in capacity and create jobs while offering more inclusive growth and greater quality of life for the many.

Innovation on practical ways to minimise the burden of regulation will also need to be explored. A prototype of what this might look like comes in the potential to implement ideas such as those from the Small Business Federation (FSB) and Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) in 2014 for a maternity insurance scheme, where SMEs can club together to share the cost of maternity pay. This is a very real way to help SMEs cover the costs of regulation, while giving them the potential to improve their packages to employees.

So a positive and inclusive approach, flagship pro-business policies, and ownership of a Labour brand of capitalism are the initial ways Labour can seek to regain the support and trust of British business. It sounds simple, but the reality of properly embedding these ideas in the party will require strong leadership and radical thinking. Are the party up for it?

Crispin Oyen-Williams is the founder and director of Business Innovate

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23 Responses to “How Labour can win back the trust of British business”

  1. Chrisso

    You just don’t get it. Labour supporters and the public at large LIKE ‘banker-bashing’ as you put it. Why do you think that is? Might it have something to do with the austerity we have been suffering? And “Labour needs to take ownership of capitalism”?? Give me strength!

  2. Robert

    makes you smile though the Tories win and labour was not on the side of the bankers. seems left foot has moved to the New labour right.

  3. Dave Stewart

    “more importantly, it created an ‘us and them’ narrative which alienated
    and ostracised business as wealth creators, almost forcing them by
    default to become part of the other 65 per cent opposing messages from

    The above is clear nonsense. Just because Labour have a 35% core vote does not mean that the remaining 65% of people oppose all of Labours policies. If we lived in a two party system that would still not be true. Claiming so just makes your arguments look ridiculous.

    “The key point here is that the goals of business and Labour are not
    mutually exclusive. Common ground includes a strong economy, fair
    distribution of reward, creation of opportunity married to merit and

    Also this seems highly spurious. The idea that “business” by which of course you actually mean the people who own or run businesses have the same interest in the fair distribution of reward is laughable. If that were true then why does the private sector not pay the living wage as the norm for low paid employees?

    Many people like to delude themselves into the idea that what’s good for business is good for everyone. In some cases this is true, like a strong economy for instance. However there are many other areas where what is good for business is in direct conflict with what is good for the general public, the country and society at large. For instance it is undeniably good for businesses to be able to pollute unchecked (it lowers cost) but that is in direct conflict with what is good for society. Likewise it is often said that a flexible workforce is good for business but ask someone on a zero hours contract whether it is good for them and you will get a very different answer.

    Now obviously having a thriving private sector is important, it provides jobs, helps create wealth and innovation and contributes to society by generating tax receipts through a number of different avenues, but it is the job of government to balance the pros and cons of business activities on a case by case basis and decide what is more important stengthening business or protecting people and or the environment from business’ worst excesses.

    Clearly we know where the Tories sit on this issue but given the Labour party was set up to represent the interests of workers and still by and large claims to do so it is not unreasonable to expect the Labour party to offer a stronger approach to how it deals with business.

    Ultimately we need to decide as a society what the purpose of business (and in a more abstract way our lives in general) is for. Is it there solely for the purposes of making more and more money for sake of it or is it there to help us facilitate an improvement in our lives?

    I’m sure you can guess how I feel about this.

  4. stevep

    It seems Left foot has moved to the new Tory right! Still, we have to have a wide debate on what sort of society we aspire to live in. We ought not to frame the debate within capitalism`s narrow narrative.

  5. Carl Roper

    Can someone tell me which specific parts of the Labour manifesto were specifically anti-business and enterprise

  6. Norfolk29

    Please tell Yvette Cooper that she cannot get away with the same story that Ed Miliband failed with. Either she gets a new, better story about Labour’s borrowing to finance the financial collapse or she will never be Labour leader. Labour knows our truth, but the rest of the world have swallowed the Tory story so live with it.

  7. Cole

    Hmm, being pro-business is clearly sensible, but sucking up to the City isn’t, and nor is surrendering to every self-interested demand made by the business lobby.

  8. John Farrar

    It’s obviously an issue , I just don’t fully understand why Ed Milibands Labour currently is branded as left wing it is not and it needs to learn to win that argument . Business creates wealth and Labour surely needs to be in relationship with business that shares a vision of a common good and a strong society . I’m not sure how Labour can ever have a good relationship with tax exiles or companies that do not treat staff properly .

  9. Paul Robson

    The problem is your truth isn’t the actuality.

  10. Paul Robson

    Virtually all of it that had anything to do with economics. It’s not simply “banker bashing” though using that as an excuse for Blair and Brown’s failings is part of it. It’s the continuous stream of ignorant claptrap about banking, taxation etc. from the Eds and Stodge. People who actually take responsibility for earning their own money look at the three of them and wince.

  11. Ian

    Aww, businessmen not being praised and pampered enough. Diddums. I might be prepared to listen to these criticisms when we need to stop topping up wages via the benefit system and don’t need to beg businesses to pay their fucking tax.

    We have bent over backwards to upsetting these narcissistic, pompous, believing-their-own-press twerps, now look at us; constant erosion on workers’ rights, ever decreasing wages, corprate welfare under the guise of privatisation…

    Fuck ’em. The country does not revolve around them and keeping them happy.

  12. Jim

    If no one had noticed we live in an advanced capitalism democracy – that means business is crucial to our system! Crispin is spot on – we need to seize the agenda. The crazy people on these comments will keep Labour out of power for 10 – 20 years – meanwhile the Conservatives will destroy our country. Shame on us.

  13. Mike Stallard

    Bring down the bankers.
    The party of the Trade Union Movement.
    Tax evasion and tax avoidance are the same thing.
    Mansion tax.
    Non Doms.

    And you think business is going to listen to Labour? Dream on!

  14. Keith M

    Capitalism is destructive when left unregulated. One only has to look at how whole communities have been destroyed by it. To say Labour was too left wing at the last election is something of a joke.

  15. Robert

    Make Sugar leader of Progress that should do it….

  16. Robert

    But you can be they will try.

  17. Patrick Nelson

    It is not as simple as saying that business creates wealth, in reality business organizes labour/workers in such a way that essentially, although they play the largest role in actually creating the wealth, labour/the workers generally receive the smallest possible rewards for their efforts whilst big business creams off as much profit as possible. The organising and facilitating input of business (by which we often mean big business) can just as easily be replaced by human scale businesses, cooperatives and the likes which are generally more humane and benevolent than faceless mindless, multinational, money-making machines.

    For example who creates the wealth of the multi-national monster MacDonalds? Is it the men in the board room or the people purchasing the ingredients, delivering the ingredients, organizing the outlet, making the food, serving the custmers and cleaning the place? Cut out any of the essential workers mentioned and there is no MacDonalds, cut out the boardroom and MacDonalds is still there. That is how much wealth big business creates.

  18. IreneCAbrahamson

    ★★★★★★★★$77 /hr 0n the [email protected]//



  19. Dave Stewart

    Did you not read what I wrote?

    I clearly state that business is important but it often has aims which are opposed to the common good of society and it is governments job (on our behalf) to strike the balance between enabling business and protecting society from it’s worst excesses.

    Do you not have any comment on the substance of my argument or is all you have an ad hominem?

  20. Torybushhug

    ‘Labour needs to take ownership of capitalism, defining its vision as something business can believe and trust in’.
    Beggars belief that the left thinks a bunch of Oxbridge career politicians is incapable of defining capitalism. Not one of them has ever created a dime of wealth in their cossetted detached lives.

  21. Torybushhug

    ‘labour/the workers generally receive the smallest possible rewards for their efforts whilst big business creams off as much profit as possible’.

    This idea the left has of ‘big business’ ensnaring all the profits is one reason the left is not taken seriously.
    Who owns these business’?

    We all do, via our pension and ISA plans. Even the COE pension report makes this clear, it holds considerable shares in corporate Britain.
    So when the left says big business keeps the profits, it sounds so undergrad. The Teachers super annuation pension scheme via third parties invests in shares and thus takes those same profits. The Fifye pension fund owns shares in the FTSE.
    YOUR pension fund has to allocate YOUR money where the returns are best in order to benefit YOU.

  22. Patrick Nelson

    It may not have entered your mind, but there are many hard working people out there who have worked since they left education, yet still have never had the sufficient surplus of wealth beyond their, rather humble, living expenses that is necessary to either take up a private pension or to invest.

    Big business is a mechanism that, overall, redistributes wealth away from the majority and towards the minority. There is no doubt in that.

  23. ArthurPendragon

    All Labour talks about is power, but they have let down the working class especially in the south for generations. Politics has changed and conviction has been lost. Running a party on narrow ideology is at last out of the way, yet labour is still a tax and spend party. I remember Harold Wilson more fondly than Tony B Liar.
    We have luckily just missed the fate of Spain where wages are 40% lower than before the recession and people are having real problems rather than the made up ones from Miliband and Balls. People do not believe impossible lies and exaggerations.

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