Gabe Winn

By Gabe Winn

They all claim they hate it, but the thousands of lobbyists descending on Manchester this week secretly look forward to conference season.

Last week’s gathering of the Corbyn cult, and this week’s orgy of beer, Brexit, and Boris are an important opportunity for businesses to get their message across to policy makers in an atmosphere that has traditionally been more relaxed than Westminster.

But that atmosphere has changed. From Ed Miliband’s threat of an energy price freeze, to Theresa May’s ‘citizens of nowhere’ speech, there’s been a clear shift in narrative from Blair and Cameron’s courting of big business, to May’s threat of greater intervention, to last week’s re-nationalisation jamboree in Brighton.


It would be easy to jump on the ‘politics doesn’t understand business’ bandwagon, but this Legatum Institute report tells


a different story, demonstrating a public attitude towards free enterprise that should really worry UK plc.


There’s an inherent tension between business and politics: business wants stability and certainty to make investment decisions, politics wants change; business has a responsibility to its shareholders, politics has a responsibility to society as a whole.


With the memory of the 1970s still fresh, even the worst excesses of capitalism in the decades that followed were ignored by government; but the more recent financial crash, a plethora of corporate scandals, and skyrocketing executive pay have created a profound loss of faith in business. On the whole, business’ response has been to dig in and wait for this latest fad to pass, inadvertently allowing it to become a major political issue.

Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn share some common ground here - they both believe that the system is broken; ‘A country that works for everyone’ and ‘For the many, not the few’ are both a recognition that unbridled capitalism hasn’t benefited everyone, and that people want change. The question for business delegates this week should be what they do about it.


Despite the claim to be a government in waiting, no one I know in business is worried that Labour has any chance of forming one in the short-term; and, although May is weaker than this time last year, she remains resolute that business can be successful and profitable without taking advantage of people, that business shouldn’t be just for profit. Whether she survives as Prime Minister or not, public opinion appears to be on her side.


The worst thing British business could do is sit tight and hope it all goes away; the issues are deeply entrenched, and they’ll come back. So business shouldn’t be waiting for the chaos that a Corbyn government might bring, or even for greater regulation from an embattled Tory one; it should be making change now, innovating to meet the socio-political challenges of the 21st Century as well as the technical ones.


Because it’s not that politics doesn’t understand business; it's that politics is moving to create a more level playing field, and it expects business to be a different type of player.