It’s been…shall we call it…an interesting time …to take on the role of Shadow Business Secretary. Unless you’ve just emerged from cryogenic suspended animation – which given the weather out there is quite possible – you could not but have noticed that we’re are in a period of instability…instability that stretches across the Atlantic, just as it does across the channel and onto the continent.
It’s increasingly obvious we’re about to enter a period of major political and economic upheaval as we exit the European Union.
And, as a result, the old relationships between business and political parties are changing.
A year or two ago, many would’ve found it laughable to think that Labour could be more pro-business than the Conservatives.
But we’re now living in a world in which I met the CBI before the Conservative Prime Minister, even though she was in the job months before I was.
It’s a world in which Labour is becoming a natural partner of business just as the Conservative government is going in the opposite direction.
A major reason for this is Brexit.
The risk of the Government’s mismanagement of Brexit and the crashing our economy is making a new partnership between business, workers and Labour –not just possible, but I’d say – imperative.
The Government’s handling of Brexit has been characterized by a toxic mix of complacency and uncertainty. More interested in party political management than what is in the best interests of our economy and country.
And let’s not forget – it’s that same set of warped, narcissistic priorities that got us into this mess in the first place. By steering us into Brexit in an attempt to silence his party’s Eurosceptic critics and shoot his UKIP fox
It was ultimately the biggest throw of the dice in modern British history – and he lost – leaving without even a semblance of a contingency plan.
Now, five months on, we have a new Prime Minister and a new Cabinet, ….but we still have no plan – except of course the scribbled notes captured through the zoom lens of a photographer’s camera, shared not with Parliament or with business…. but with just a select few Tory MPs.
And what was that plan you ask? Well it was ‘To have our cake and eat it.’
Five months and that’s the best clarity we’ve had on what’s been described as quite possibly the most complex negotiation in the history of human-kind.
Labour have said in no uncertain terms that the economy, jobs and living standards will be our absolute priorities for Brexit.
We know that if businesses are not able to access the markets and the skills they need, then everyone pays the price. And that’s why, unlike the Tories, we’d seek continued full, tariff-free access to the single market for all sectors of the economy.
In recent months, you will have heard Jeremy, John and I talking about a New Deal for business, a new partnership between business, Government, and workers and their trade unions.
You’ll be hearing more of that in the coming months. Ultimately we promise Labour will be your champion during Brexit.
But Labour’s call for a new partnership goes deeper than just that.
You all know, as we do, that wealth creation and socialism go hand in hand, that business is not separate from society but integral to it.
I know that most business people are people driven by a passion for an idea, a vision, and a drive to make it reality. People who want to treat their employees well and give back to their community.
But somewhere along the way, we’ve let most decent, honest business people be overshadowed by a few real-life Gordon Ghekkos. We’ve seen a failure, not just of wealth distribution, but of wealth creation.
Ruthlessness, cruelty, dishonesty and vanity will get you to the top – especially if you’re in the Conservative Party…
Now look – there are many things behind the Brexit vote and Trump’s election in the US.
But I think it’s clear many voters now feel that globalization has, so far at least, worked for the few and not the many. Like most of you, I’m an internationalist; I want us to be part of an open rather than closed world, something that I believe is of great benefit not just to business but to us all. If we’re to do that, we have to share those benefits more fairly …and take people with us.
Our New Deal is about reinstating the bond between business and socialism. About recognizing that it’s investors, managers and business acting together who are the wealth creators. That all should have a share in the wealth they create, and a voice in how businesses are run, as only then will we create the kind of long-termist, pro-investment culture that our economy needs.
This is not anti-business, it is pro-business.
To see this, we have to look no further than our own automotive sector, whose success was built on a genuine partnership between management and unions, and which is now leading the way in cutting edge-technology.
At the heart of this new deal will be our industrial strategy, which will tackle the defining challenges of our era in a way that makes our economy more prosperous, resilient and inclusive.
This means increasing investment, as we currently have one of the lowest levels in the OECD.
It means boosting productivity, which lags well below our competitors.
It means rebalancing our economy so it’s not reliant on any one sector or region, so that growth and its benefits are shared.
It must be export lead, so that we can tackle the trade deficit, not just through a depreciation but by making us better at producing exports in the long-term.
I think everyone agrees that investing in skills, R&D, and infrastructure are crucial to making any of this happen. But it needs more than tokenism.
In a rapidly changing labour market, only life-long learning will ensure that businesses continue to find the skills they need. That then is what our National Education Service will provide: life-long learning and re-skilling for the knowledge and hi-tech economy the 21st century will be dominated by.
We can’t afford to fall behind our competitors in R&D spend. That’s why we’re committed to bringing R&D spend to 3% of GDP in line with the OECD recommended amount.
And, as Jaguar Land Rover told us in no uncertain terms last week, if we don’t ensure that businesses have the infrastructure they need, we forfeit the jobs and sustainable growth that benefit us all.
To help us achieve all this, we’ll allocate £500bn for investment over two parliaments, financed through a National Investment Bank, backed up by a network of regional investment banks.
Two weeks ago I laid out some of the detail, starting with how this can be used to help the UK become a world leader in growing markets related to renewable and low carbon energy. We’ll be laying out more details of our industrial strategy in coming months, and I want each of you to play a role in helping shaping them.
Some may be cynical about Labour claiming to be the Party of business. Of course, we’ll not always all agree about everything. But I hope I’ve convinced you this isn’t an empty appeal.
Rather, it’s about recognising that government, business, and workers and their trade unions working together is not just fundamental to our principles but is ultimately the only way for us to successfully navigate Brexit and the challenges of the 21st century ahead.
Clive Lewis MP