Liz Kendall shows her red side

Kendall implies that as prime minister she would mandate elected worker representation on company boards


Liz Kendall gave a good speech yesterday, setting out more constructive, realistic yet genuinely radical priorities for Labour than many espoused to date, while also belying her reputation as the candidate for those who think one Conservative Party isn’t enough.

The most ‘interesting’ passage was on participation in workplace decision-making:

“Employees also need a stake and say in the companies they work for. Many employees will work for a company long after its shares have changed hands many times. They have a real long-term interest in the company’s performance – not just next month’s share price but next year’s investment and the year after that.

“Partnerships between employers and employees can improve the long-term prospects of companies with better productivity, training, and working arrangements. They recognise that employees have legitimate interests too – and can be a huge source of ideas, insight and innovation.

“In Germany and other European countries, there are significant rights for employees to be represented on company boards. So I want to see employees given a real voice in the workplace. Not just a single person on remuneration committees but a real voice in how their companies are run.”

Kendall strongly implies that as prime minister, she would mandate elected worker representation on company boards, a measure that Labour shied away from in government and that failed to make the manifesto under Ed Miliband.

The principle that workers are key stakeholders in any organisation and that their interests should be represented at board level is one of the key differences between the Anglo-Saxon approach to capitalism and the more stakeholder-oriented model found in Germany and the Nordic countries.

So recognising this principle would represent quite a fundamental shift in UK business policy, re-conceptualising what business is for and whose interests it is supposed to serve.

At the same time, it would be very difficult to caricature as being ‘anti-business’ given how well worker participation works in countries like Sweden and Germany, which compare favourably to the UK on many measures of economic performance.

Kendall also said she wanted to see more private sector workers join trade unions.

Combined with formalised worker input into company decision-making, increased unionisation and collective bargaining coverage ought to put workers in a stronger position to demand a fairer distribution of pay within organisations, safeguarding against poverty pay at the bottom and executive excess at the top.

Without wishing to invest too much expectation in greater worker participation/democracy and increased unionisation, these objectives surely ought to be amongst the most important priorities for the centre left.

They are critical to addressing poverty and inequality, and surely more positive and inspirational causes for Labour than what is actually a very technical debate about ‘austerity’ and when and where it’s appropriate to run a public spending deficit.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone should vote for Kendall – it is entirely possible that the other candidates will also set out positions around worker representation on company boards (indeed Jeremy Corbyn probably won’t want representation for anybody else).

But she has done a service by making these ideas part of the debate about what Labour’s priorities for improving the country should be.

Luke Hildyard is deputy director of the High Pay Centre. Follow him on Twitter

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37 Responses to “Liz Kendall shows her red side”

  1. JarrowPete

    This makes a huge amount of sense and you can clearly see the benefits of this approach in other countries. But convincing the right-wing capitalists of this world would be akin to converting the Pope to Protestantism. I can hear them now: “What?! How dare the hoi polloi have a say in running our company. Just WHO do they think they are?”

  2. Michael Docherty

    Implies, not infers!

  3. David Osler

    This policy is hardly ‘red’, is it? It would be uncontroversial for Germany’s CDU, for instance.

    Here’s a genuine question for Ms Kendall’s supporters, from someone who admits to not having read her platform; what policies does she advocate that would be unacceptable in principle to Angela Merkel?

  4. Jape

    National comparisons of ideology aren’t a great measure. Worker participation is something the CDU are comfortable with because its just a part of German society. They would however balk at the idea of a non-contributory, state run health sector, which would strike Germans as a policy from Die Linke.

    You can say its not radical because another country already does it but within British capitalism it certainly would be a major shift in favour of employees.

  5. Jape

    I doubt Kendall’s chances and am not totally comfortable with her positions. I just hope post-leadership all the candidates get to weigh in on the Shadow Cabinet because things like this, Burnham’s promises on council housing and employee-customer ownership of railways and Cooper’s dedication to Sure Start, are all the kind of ‘red meat’ that was lacking from the 2015 manifesto. If Labour win in 2020 it will have to be a team effort. I’m struggled to pick a candidate but there is a strong selection of policies across the board.

  6. Torybushhug

    She is like a branch manager of Boots, never will she lead us all.

  7. Torybushhug

    In principle we think it’s a sound idea, however, the thorny issue as ever is what the effect could be on the major shareholders – everyone’s pensions schemes. Fife Council Pension covenants require it’s trustees to maximise returns on the shares owed by the pension fund.
    It’s squaring this circle that is the issue. Pension holders demand best returns and seek out best return fund providers (The COE pension report specifically mentions doing this). There’s often some abstract bland nod towards ethical investing but day to day it’s all about maximising returns.

  8. Luke H

    eek – just googled that and you’re right. Maybe LFF can amend? Hopefully it doesn’t undermine the entire case for worker representation on boards

  9. MarieJFlesher


  10. Luke H

    Important point to raise as this is usually the business argument against workplace democracy.

    But the biggest companies in Europe all operate with workers on boards, works councils, higher rates of unionisation and collective bargaining coverage etc. It doesn’t do the likes of Volkswagen or H&M any harm – in fact we constantly debate and hold commissions into why certain industries in Germany and other Northern European countries are so much better than ours.

    If anything, proper channels of communication between the board and the ‘shopfloor’ ought to be better for business.

  11. stevep

    Talk is one thing, action in government is another. Let`s hope this marks the end of Labour`s tacit support for free market capitalism and ushers in a long-forgotten conversation about people and democracy.

  12. Cole

    For once I agree. Electing Kendall is a huge risk. Policies apart, she has very little experience. She might turn out fine; on the other hand, she could be a disaster, a sort of over promoted middle manager.

  13. Cole

    There’s quite a lot of evidence from round the world that companies who pay their employees properly and treat them with respect provide very good returns for shareholders. Of course this is something that the overpaid and often dim types who work in the City/Wall St are unable to understand – except as far as their own remuneration is concerned.

  14. Torybushhug

    You make a very good point.
    In fact one of the best books I’ve read entitled ‘The Puritan Gift’ is an account of how the Anglo / American business model is so much poorer than the Germanic / Japanese model.

    As you state, staff participation at high level and also directors there tend to have spent a lifetime in the company and thus decades of domain specific experience on which to draw whereas Anglo / American firms are all too often run by business school types that can apparently run anything, but usually have little understanding of ground floor realities. Kodak is a classic example of this, and pretty much ruined.

    The types of super leader we ought to be consigning to the irrelevance bin are Howard Davies, Peter Davis, Jerry Robinson. These types make great after dinner speakers but have next to no domain specific expertise and experience.
    This is something to do with us being blinded by class and qualifications, as opposed to respecting the long experienced quiet company engineer her opinion.

    Peter Davis ran BT badly, having had no domain specific experience, then onto The Prudential, an insurance company. This is akin to WW1 Generals urging men to their deaths at the front whilst they themselves had no notion of the squalor, hunger and problems facing the men. It’s the same reason Politicians often run depts. badly, as they have zero experience of those sectors. It’s astounding we put these Donkeys in charge and then complain when it goes wrong.

  15. JarrowPete

    A bit like Cameron then?

  16. swat

    Worker Reps on Boards is a great idea.

  17. JarrowPete

    Totally agree stevep. If you dare to suggest an alternative to free-market capitalism you’re hounded down as some sort of weirdo communist. And of course, it’s the free market capitalist approach that brought about the problems that the working classes are suffering for.

  18. David Davies

    She would not show her red side, if you slapped her tory arse.

  19. Jingoistic

    Talk is cheap, she has not one socialist bone in her body.

  20. AlanGiles

    She is desperate. Her campaign is tanking. She is supported by the likes of Woodcock, Danczuk, Umunna and the other “Red Tories” . She will say anything. If things get worse she might even do a striptease for the TUC

  21. AlanGiles

    Yet more crap “Ms Flesher”

  22. paul Callaghan

    I think this is a misprint, instead of Kendall “implies” it should read Kendal “lies”

  23. NicolasSMooney

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  24. AlanGiles

    Why doesnt LFF edit this BS out even when the spamming is reported

  25. KatherineMLove

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  26. Matthew Blott

    That’s the problem though – although a risk at least that implies some chance which I don’t see with other safer candidates.

  27. Matthew Blott

    I’ll take a rightwing Labour government over a socialist opposition any day. And I’d imagine so would most of those suffering under the current government.

  28. Bernie Evans

    For Labour leader every side should be red

  29. pravjey

    Yes but how much experience did David Cameron have as MP before becoming Conservative leader and then PM. Liz Kendall is in same position Cameron was back in 2005, therefore the “level of experience” question is not really relevant.

  30. Sylvia

    She is very good at saying what she thinks “should be done” but not what she “will do”. I don’t trust her at all. She just wants to be the first woman PM which is very unlikely.

  31. Paddy Carter

    question is, if you “dare to suggest an alternative to free-market capitalism”, do you stand a change of being elected

  32. stevep

    I`d much rather a branch manager of Boots than a manager of a vulture-like venture capital corporation waiting for firms like Boots to show a weakness and then pounce. Capitalism is the ruination of us all.

  33. JJDeede

    For goodness’ sake, what’s with the Boots thing? They don’t pay their taxes, and she wouldn’t advocate that. Liz Kendall is proposing something not unlike John Lewis, with worker participation and profit sharing. Plus they pay their taxes. Give her her due! Branch manager of John Lewis has a better ring to it. 🙂

  34. RebeccaFHardy

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  35. Patrick Lilley


  36. Ray McHale

    Board members have a legal duty to act in the best interests of the company – not of the workers they perhaps represent. We have seen this with colleges and worker representatives, and councillors who sit on the boards of arms length companies – but are barred from contributing to council discussions about those companies.

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