Big Business Society: The Antidote to Corbynomics

It was helpful of Jeremy Corbyn to publish an eight-page economic manifesto last month. We can now be 100% sure that his policies would scare every major company away from the UK for good.

It was helpful of Jeremy Corbyn to publish an eight-page economic manifesto last month. We can now be 100% sure that his policies would scare every major company away from the UK for good. And yet the consensus is that the hard-left candidate for the Labour leadership poses no real threat. His supporters among the party membership, so the story goes, are the only takers left in Britain for his dinosaur politics. He is unelectable.

This may well be true for now, but there's no avoiding the fact that he has inspired thousands of young new members to join Labour and is supported by more local branches than any of the other candidates. Crucially, he has also been endorsed by the UK's two largest unions, Unite and Unison. YouGov's President Peter Kellner recently said he would be "astonished" if Corbyn did not become the next Labour leader.

So is there really nothing to fear? Corbyn may not be knocking on the door of Number 10 just yet but his presence at the forefront of British politics would nevertheless be extremely dangerous. To those disenchanted with the career politicians in the Westminster bubble, he offers authenticity. To those weary of austerity and the pragmatic arguments in favour of it, his simplistic and ill-informed economics could become increasingly beguiling.

One of the many failings of socialism, as anyone who lived through the Soviet years can attest, is that despite the internationalism of its original proponents it is, in practice, inherently inward-looking. Indeed, Corbyn's apparent ignorance of the nature of the globalised world in which a modern market economy operates is one of the main criticisms levelled at him not only by the right but also by the entire centre-left. And yet in the years following the financial crisis there has been a worrying tendency, both in the UK and elsewhere in Europe, towards localism and nationalism. As a nation we seem to have forgotten that modern Britain was founded on global ambition - on the liberal, international free-trade ethos that preceded the post-war slump into the kind of stifling command economy Corbyn and his followers still advocate.

To prevent a resurgent appetite for this redundant doctrine, the government must resist the temptation to indulge the insularity that has crept into mainstream politics. Instead of petty, constituency-based localism, we need a renewed, outward-looking focus on punching above our weight on the global stage. Britons must look to the future with confidence - in their own prospects, and those of the country as a whole. This can only be achieved with a strong economy in which world-leading businesses offer growth, jobs and opportunities. In short, we need a Big Business Society with receptive, visionary political leaders at the helm.

Much has been made of the support being given to small businesses. Since 2010, 760,000 new start-ups have benefited from a range of measures such as the Start Up Loans scheme. But what these numbers are hiding is that half of UK start-ups fail within five years, mostly due to lack of finance and the UK's labyrinthine tax system. Also to blame are a number of EU laws and a mass of red tape which the government promised to cut but has yet to do so.

No one denies the need to support small businesses, but we mustn't do so to the exclusion of bigger firms for the sake of pandering to unjustified populist resentment against them. These are the companies with global clout - the household names which are still the great engines of growth and prosperity. If we let their UK footprints diminish, how can we expect smaller firms in the supply chain to keep growing? Small businesses flourish, in the main, because of larger ones, not in spite of them. It is fundamentally wrong to prioritise them over big businesses. All businesses should grow organically on stable foundations and we must oppose any policies which seek to take from successful enterprises and give to mediocre ones. The current Labour party, incidentally, seems particularly determined to follow this route.

Among our very largest firms, which include two of the world's biggest oil majors, UK-based operations are under threat. 15,000 (18%) of BP's and only 6,500 (7%) of Shell's employees are based in the UK, and both - along with international competitors including Total, ConocoPhillips and Chevron - have announced thousands of North Sea job losses. The tax take from the North Sea is down 80% in the last three years. It's convenient for the government to put this down to dwindling reserves and the slump in oil prices, but the fact is that so much more could have been done to maintain both the direct and indirect UK employment these companies provide. Some of the majors operating in the North Sea are paying 80% in tax and our policy environment has been chronically unpredictable, with eight energy ministers in ten years.

Shell and BP are truly global companies of the kind that should have been given as much encouragement as possible to maintain a strong UK presence. BP is now majority-owned by US shareholders and has a 20% stake in Russia's Rosneft, making it uncomfortably close to Putin and the Kremlin. It is no longer a British firm. How are we going to make sure other great UK companies don't follow suit?

Back in 2010, Cameron argued for a more hands-on approach to government support for industries "where Britain enjoys competitive advantage". His interventionist tone surprised many people at the time but, as he argued, "The question isn't, 'Should government be involved?', because it is involved. It taxes, it regulates, it invests. The real question is, 'What is the right kind of involvement?'" Since then, however, all we've had is a futile bottom-up approach, with misleading statistics aimed at short term electioneering.

The fact is that the government has failed big businesses by failing to stand up to the banks that should be financing them. Lack of access to finance is plaguing all but the very largest UK firms, and even these are struggling with ambiguous policies and uncertainty over Europe. It's quite simple: if banks won't lend to businesses, they shouldn't be bailed out.

It's time for the Conservative party to differentiate itself by reminding the electorate that it's a globally minded party of business - big and small. It should cut red tape, improve access to finance, and champion industry leaders. By listening to big business, the Government can help create thousands more jobs and carry many more families permanently up the social ladder. This is the only way to persuade the country to look outwards and resist sliding towards a socialist future.


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