I am pleased to report that Labour Business made its presence felt more strongly than ever at this year’s Labour Party Annual Conference in Liverpool, with two sold-out fringe events, a well-attended exhibition stand, and an active delegate representing us in the conference hall.
On Monday evening, we hosted our flagship Labour Business Fringe reception, co-sponsored with Labour in the City and the Industry Forum. More than 100 delegates packed a very crowded venue to hear a string of speakers on a wide range of business issues. Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell MP led the speakers list, attacking a Tory record of economic incompetence, failed austerity targets – now abandoned by the new Chancellor – and the disastrous stumble into Brexit. He then outlined his positive programme of investment for growth, and said that Labour Business had an absolutely crucial role to play over the coming few months – with an early election on the cards in 2017 – in helping his Shadow Treasury team to develop the pro-business policies that would help Labour to win that election and put the British economy back on the road to sustainable economic growth.
Other speakers included Rebecca Long-Bailey MP, Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Rajesh Agrawal, Deputy London Mayor for Business, Bill Esterson MP, Shadow Small Business Minister, Seema Malhotra MP, Vice President of Labour Business, and Stephen Kinnock MP, Chair of the Labour Business Parliamentary Group.
On Tuesday evening, co-sponsored with the Co-Op Party, we hosted a fascinating panel discussion on the key business question of the day after Sports Direct, VW, BHS and other business scandals: “What does a responsible business look like?” Keynote speakers were Mark Goyder, CEO of the charity Tomorrow’s Company, Ed Mayo, Secretary General of Cooperatives UK, and Bill Esterson MP, stepping in at the last moment for Seema Malhotra MP, who was called away by a family matter. The event was expertly chaired by Jane Dudman of The Guardian.
The speeches and debate that followed ranged widely across the alternative forms that a modern and more responsible business might take – including co-ops, employee ownership, social enterprises – as well as the wider values that should underpin a responsible business. There was widespread agreement that the more responsible business needed to focus on more than just shareholder value, and that changes to company law might be required to ensure that community and social values were hard-wired into modern company behaviour.
Labour has been quite good in the past at condemning irresponsible businesses, and we’ve seen some spectacular recent examples of irresponsible behaviour. This debate made an excellent start at defining the flip side of the coin – what we mean by a responsible business.
Throughout Conference, from Sunday to Wednesday, delegates visited our stand in the Exhibition Hall, where we welcomed a constant stream of visitors, and signed up a good many new members.
A particular attraction was our special offer of 12 months free membership for Labour Councillors. This offer will remain open until the end of the year.
We also received strong expressions of interest from CLPs in England, Scotland and Wales for our new initiative – inviting CLPs to appoint their own Business Liaison Officer to work with existing Trade Union Liaison Officers. Watch out for more details as this initiative is formally launched later in the year by Iain McNicol, Labour’s General Secretary.
Last but not least, Labour Business fielded our own voting delegate, the ever diligent Rachel Burgin, who took part in debates on the floor of Conference. Read her Conference report here.
As I said, we certainly made our presence felt this year!