Gabe Winn

By Gabe Winn

It feels like no one trusts anyone anymore. Voters don’t trust the politicians they elect, politicians in the same party don’t trust one another and hardly anyone appears to really trust business.

But, despite attempts from members on both sides to stop their parties’ slide towards economic populism, the country’s captains of industry would be foolish to put any of their eggs in the “if we show them lots of economic data, politicians will fix this” basket.


Cabinet ministers will no doubt use the conference platform this week to reassert their conviction that the Conservatives are the party of enterprise, but politicians didn’t create this problem and nor should we expect them to solve it.


The referendum should have been a huge wake up call for British business. Political orthodoxy said that the letters that we in the Remain campaign persuaded thousands of business leaders to sign should have given us the edge; but they didn’t, and it’s likely that the support we courted actually worked against us.


Why? Because the cumulative effect of the banking crisis, globalisation, soaring bills, tax avoidance, executive pay, corporate scandals, the North-South divide, poor consumer experience, and austerity finally came to a head. The fairness balance has tipped too far away from normal people, and they want change.

Understandably, business has been occupied with Brexit; but it doesn’t seem to have learnt the lessons of the referendum – or those that preceded it – as a result.


When Ed Miliband announced his energy price freeze in 2013, industry blamed ‘Red Ed’ and his ‘plans to take the country back to the 1970s’ for their woes. But Miliband didn’t create the issue – the industry did, and the failure to do anything meaningful to address it since has seen more than fifty per cent wiped off their value.


The same is happening to water and rail companies and, rationally, that should worry us all. But the concepts of ‘business’ and ‘the economy’ have become so disconnected from real life for millions of people that the opposite is true. Corbynomics on the left, and an animosity towards big business from some on the right, are celebrated – not because they make sense, but because they feel fairer.


Business needs to listen – not just to Corbyn and McDonnell or the former Foreign Secretary, but to the anger that they’re tapping into. Remember, too, that politics and the media serve the people they represent far more than they seek to influence them. So, changing anti-business rhetoric means changing what drives it – public sentiment; that can only happen through genuine action that builds trust and makes the system fairer.


So, my message to business this party conference season is this: listen to the speeches from Liverpool and Birmingham – particularly to the bits that get applause; talk to normal people across the country, and listen to them; and then do what politicians do – figure out how you reshape policy to address what you’ve heard.


Because the choice facing us all right now is simple: change, or be changed.