Has this Conservative Government fallen out of love with business? Does populism trump profit?

In our latest View from the Bridge we posed two questions, ‘has this Conservative Government fallen out of love with business and does populism trump profit?’. Our speakers, Chris Hope, Associate Editor and Senior Political Correspondent of the Daily Telegraph, Dr Adam Marshall, newly appointed Director-General of the British Chambers of Commerce and Tom Tugendhat MP for Tonbridge, Edenbridge and Malling discussed  the issues and you can listen to a podcast of the debate here.

At the centre of that discussion were the factors that led to the ‘leave’ vote and the political philosophy of the Prime Minister, described by Chris Hope as the ‘queen of suburbia’ and ‘moulded by her upbringing as the ‘daughter of a Church of England clergyman’ according to Tom Tugendhat.

Since she became Tory leader Theresa May has been telling big business, ‘there’s a new sheriff in town,’ not literally but that direction of travel is clear in her speeches starting with the one she gave in Birmingham on the day Andrea Leedsom left the contest  and she won the Tory leadership. Chris Hope told us if we wanted to understand Theresa May then we should read the transcript of that speech.

Time and time again in that speech she says that she wants to make Britain, ‘a country that works for everyone’ not just for, ‘a privileged few’ and with an economy ‘that works for everyone.’ Sentiments that we can all agree with.   However with Theresa May there’s always a sting in the tale. In the same speech she berates business leaders for not having a plan for Brexit and ‘the opportunities withdrawal presents.’ A little rich given no politician had a plan either. As we all know the refendum result was a shock to everyone not least one Nigel Farage.

It was the unexpectedness of the result that gives the clue to Theresa May’s initial uncompromising attitude to business. As Tom Tugendhat remembered time after time as he went canvassing prior to the vote people on the doorstep  kept telling him that many things about Britain today were unfair. Whilst politicians and business leaders told them their lot was improving they didn’t feel any better off and whereas London and the South East might be booming the rest of the country felt they were missing out. The ‘liberal metropolitan elite’ was completely oblivious to the sense of grievance that whole swathes of the country was feeling.

This has been described by many commentators as a backlash against the worst aspects of globalisation but what it really is that people do  ‎not feel they can influence their own lives anymore. Not only is our economy inexorably changed by forces we can’t control but so is our social order. Globalisation may have given us greater free trade and the prosperity that goes with that but outside London, where we are used to a multi-cultural workforce, it has resulted in changing population patterns due to greater freedom of labour.  We may have the lowest unemployment for years but tell that to steel workers in Port Talbot or counter staff I a high street bank who worry about their jobs.

Any politician, particularly a new prime minister, has to respond to thapopulist feeling t but if the vote for Brexit  was a cry for new thinking than there has to be a new partnership with business. Yes where irresponsible behaviour and bad governance is punshed but not by adding a plethora of new rules when a few months earlier  politicians were decrying the over-regulation of Brussels.

The Prime Minster is rowing away from some of the more radical measures she espoused in the early days. No more lists of foreign workers and a consultation on workers’  representatives on boards but she might be better-served by taking note of a recent speech by Mark Carney, possibly not her favourite person, when he said that the central bank is responsible for monetary policy but structural reform and fiscal policy are the responsibility of government. The Prime Minister says she is making a new ‘social contract’ with business with Government investing in R&D  and cutting corporation tax in exchange business has to stop ‘gaming the system.’. However as Adam Marshall said very few companies actually engage in wrong doing and the majority have been embedded in their communities for decades. We can also see when business has the chance to engage with Government it can persuade and influence. Now David Davies is talking of transitional arrangements but it also has to come up with those ideas that help Government navigate a future that is beyond prediction. Now is not the time to be silent.

Click below to watch short interviews with our panellists.

The next View from the Bridge event will be Brexit Britain from afarmore details here

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