Labour must engage with the private sector or businesses will stop attending conference

Jeremy Corbyn's re-election as leader of the Labour Party proved that he represents the vast majority of party members but, for businesses, the question is whether they should be bothering to attend.

Corbyn's Labour party must find a way to enagage with business, argues Stuart Thomson (pic credit: James Gourley/REX/Shutterstock)
Corbyn's Labour party must find a way to enagage with business, argues Stuart Thomson (pic credit: James Gourley/REX/Shutterstock)
There has been little attention given to how the party engages with organisations, especially the private sector. 

Corbyn and shadow chancellor John McDonnell have been very clear about the failings of the private sector, but without providing clarity as to what type of future they see for business.

There is no doubt McDonnell will talk about the need to work with business in his speech to conference. 

That needs to be matched, he will continue, by a business commitment to paying their 'fair share' of taxes, treating employees with respect and care for the environment. 

If not, then he will promise strong action by a Labour government against them. So what can the private sector hope for?

Ironically, speaking at the Bloomberg Business and Economic Summit last year were Angela Eagle and Owen Smith. 

There was plenty of shrugging of shoulders and a prevailing air of 'Jeremy will be Jeremy'. Attendance was not huge.

Compare this with the early years of Blair where the Labour conference was one of, if not the, biggest political gathering in Europe. 

The private sector took conference very seriously, attended in considerable numbers, held fringe and other events and took exhibition space as well.

Of course, many Corbyn supporters may claim that it is wrong that business tries to get involved in the development of policies. That business involvement is exactly where the distance should be put between the Blair/Brown years and what the party stands for now. 
Any idea that the party needs finance from the private sector is also less relevant because a truly mass membership party has brought with it mass income, so it is less reliant on the income conference provides.

One of the questions for this conference is how many from the private sector will attend? 

The decision by the party to stop McDonald’s from having an exhibition stand at this year’s conference was taken apparently because of the company’s refusal to recognise trade unions. 

But a similarly principled stance then meant it nearly didn't have any security for the conference after G4S were given the elbow.

There are rumours that along with McDonald’s, other private sector companies have been rejected by Labour this conference. 

The private sector is certainly extremely thin on the ground in the exhibition area.

The party does not look comfortable engaging with the private sector and we will see from this conference how comfortable the private sector is in engaging with the party.

The private sector has to think carefully about whether any of its policies, positions or actions are consistent with that of the Labour Party. 

If not, then there is a risk of Labour policies being very publicly rejected or rebuked.

Reputational damage could easily be inflicted by too close a relationship with a party that looks anti-business.  

That could push business more into the arms of the Conservative party, especially if Labour does not look like a viable electoral force, nationally at least. 

It is also the Government that needs extensive help from the private sector delivering on Brexit. Conference 2017 could look very different and the number of private sector attendees is likely to further decline.
Stuart Thomson is head of public affairs at Bircham Dyson Bell

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