Firms flock to Labour party conference in Liverpool as party adopts City-friendly policies and attracts wealthy donors
The Labour party conference in Liverpool is set to be a popular event for company bosses this year, with insiders reporting an overwhelming demand for attendance. The conference, dubbed the “Liverpool Davos” by the Financial Times, is seeing twice as many firms participating compared to last year, with sponsors including Goldman Sachs, Boeing, and Amazon. The surge in interest from the business community comes after a chaotic period of strained relations between businesses and the Conservative party.
Jonathan Reynolds, the shadow business secretary, revealed that many companies are unable to secure a place at the conference due to the high demand. He stated, “We could probably sell it out all over again to be honest – we have a waiting list as long as the attendees.” Reynolds believes that businesses see Labour as the better option compared to the Conservatives, given the risks to economic stability and their own businesses under a potential fifth Tory term.
The change in attitudes towards Labour is evident after the Tory conference in Manchester, where Rishi Sunak’s decision to cancel the HS2 high-speed rail line and water down the UK’s net-zero commitments drew criticism from industry leaders. The presence of Keir Starmer alongside former Prime Minister Tony Blair has made a lasting impression on company bosses, who are hopeful for a more serious approach to government from Labour.
The positive reception from the business community for Labour’s business team, which includes Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor, and Jonathan Reynolds, has been noticeable. Lobbyists for major hedge funds, banks, and private equity firms expressed their admiration for the party’s business team and even mentioned that they were unable to secure a seat at a Labour business dinner due to high demand.
Paul Drechsler, the chair of the International Chamber of Commerce, expressed his disappointment with the Tory conference, stating that it gave the impression of a party out of control and solely focused on their internal affairs. Drechsler, who was previously the president of the CBI lobby group, emphasized the negative impact of such instability on the economy.
The Brexit referendum in 2016 marked a turning point for the Tory party, with some business leaders perceiving the Conservatives as adopting an anti-business stance. This political and economic instability subsequently affected business investment in the country. While Labour was not initially considered a natural alternative, Keir Starmer’s leadership has seen a shift in the party’s approach to business. Industry bosses, who previously lobbied against Jeremy Corbyn’s higher business taxes and renationalization plans, have taken note of Labour’s more moderate stance under Starmer.
Starmer, Reeves, and Reynolds, who hold the key positions on business policy within Labour, have pursued a safety-first approach. They have watered down several policies to showcase economic credibility. For instance, Reeves has scaled back plans for £28bn of borrowing to invest in green jobs and industry. However, cautioning against excessive caution, industry leaders have warned that Labour must strike a balance to avoid damaging its prospects in the next general election.
Labour’s new internal stability, in contrast to the Tories’ internal conflicts, has been a key selling point to businesses. Labour’s City-friendly policies, including a revamped industrial strategy, reforms to business rates and the apprenticeship levy, and improvements to UK-EU relations, have also resonated with the business community.
Rachel Reeves has been actively engaging with FTSE 250 firms, meeting with almost all of them as part of a breakfast-time charm campaign. Describing the shift in approach, an insider mentioned, “The prawn cocktail offensive was in the past. It’s definitely more pastry-based engagement these days.” Recent meetings have included major companies such as BlackRock, Goldman Sachs, and Toyota.
The conference in Liverpool will see chief executives from companies such as Deliveroo, Taylor Wimpey, and Lloyd’s of London in attendance. Additionally, Labour’s top brass will host private dinners for company bosses, followed by a business forum and sold-out drinks reception hosted by Bloomberg.
The increased interest from businesses aligns with Labour’s fundraising efforts, which have been boosted by wealthy donors who previously shied away during Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. Labour has raised almost £9m in recent months, more than six times the amount raised during the 2019 election year, thanks to the involvement of individuals and companies. The party’s chief fundraiser under Tony Blair, Michael Levy, has returned to assist with fundraising efforts. Prominent donors include Stuart Roden, former chair of the London hedge fund Lansdowne Partners, who donated £180,000, and Gary Lubner, former boss of Autoglass, who pledged up to £5m to support Labour’s capacity and capability building ahead of the next general election.
While the increased funding has helped offset a drop in income from members, there are concerns about the party’s heavy reliance on trade union funding. Lord Levy, who has been nicknamed “Lord Cashpoint” by the media, emphasized the importance of not being solely dependent on union support. Diane Abbott MP, a close ally of Jeremy
More detail via The Guardian here… ( Image via The Guardian )