Labour’s Approach to Business

The Labour Party exists to represent the working people of Britain. It’s founders, inspired by socialist thinkers throughout the ages, wished for ordinary people should be represented in the corridors of power. For many years they were successful in doing this, however although the years of New Labour put the party into government, working people felt abandoned. The difficulties that the Labour Party currently face are in part because of this feeling of abandonment. Labour need to change tack so that they can return to government whilst also sticking to their socialist principles. The example I shall take is how Labour should approach the business community.

Today, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell will speak at the annual conference of the British Chamber of Commerce. In his speech it is expected that he will announce that a Labour government will set up a £500 million relief fund for small businesses, and more specifically that the Chancellor should announce such a fund in his upcoming Budget. Specifically this fund will help high streets up and down the country remain bustling business centres, particularly because of competition from large shopping complexes and supermarkets.
This in an important speech because Labour should do more to illustrate how left-wing policies can help businesses just as much as workers. When it comes to this issue I’m very much of the opinion that business leaders supporting the Labour Party doesn’t harm the party’s brand, provided the policies proposed are genuinely socialist and will massively benefit ordinary people.
An example of this, which I spoke about in an article last week, was the introduction of rent caps. If people’s rents are lower they will have more money in their pockets, and thus will be able to have money to spend on leisure activities. As such, workers will be less stressed which will improve their productivity.
To clarify, that doesn’t mean occasionally throwing in a policy that benefits businesses over workers, but effectively arguing how aspects of a socialist society are in businesses’ interest. Obviously in the long-run those who own businesses will ultimately lose out from when the workers take control of the means of production. But my main point is that by marketing policies in a way that benefits as many people as possible, the discourse around more left-wing policies will be changed and a left-wing government will be able to implement policies that decentralise power, reduce private ownership of capital, and improve working conditions.
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Labour need to make a convincing case that left-wing policies can transform the economy for the better. (Johnny Green/PA)
Let’s take some more examples of what I’m talking about:
  • Introducing a decentralised, state-backed commercial bank
    • Since the Great Recession private banks have been reluctant to lend to businesses. A state-supported commercial bank would be able to provide low interest loans to local businesses, and this would stimulate the local economy.
    • Increasing the amount of capital in a town’s economy would create more jobs and thus increase the number of potential customers for private businesses.
    • If this bank was structurally designed to be a federation of cooperatives across the country, the bank couldn’t outsource jobs or have no concern for the community in which each branch was located.
  • Renationalisation of the railways
    • Rail prices in Britain are among the highest in Europe. East Coast proved that renationalisation can increase reliability, improve customer service, and bring in money to the Exchequer.
    • A more reliable service will prevent a reduction in productivity from delayed trains, reduced fares will give workers more disposable income, thus providing a boost for the local economy, and state investment in the network will boost demand for domestically manufactured goods.
    • Considering that manufacturing jobs are largely skilled, the pay level will be higher than minimum wage jobs and increased tax revenues for the government will allow for further investment.
  • Ending reliance on fossil fuels
    • Businesses are constantly looking to reduce costs, and for many enterprises one of the biggest costs is energy.
    • The British economy remains largely dependent on fossil fuels especially oil which is a very volatile commodity. As such, if oil prices go up, a business’ viability is threatened.
    • A massive investment in renewable energy and electricity storage would allow the UK economy to transition off of this unstable commodity. If energy prices were stabilised in this way businesses could plan some of their costs for years in advance, with the helpful byproduct of this policy being a reduction in green house gases.
Anyone who has read my work will know that I’m not that keen on capitalism. However the job of the Left is not simply to oppose this system but put forward a cogent alternative to the current neoliberal order. But it can only do this if it manages to convince ordinary people that their alternative is worth trying. In order to do this the Left, including the Labour Party, need to get an economic programme together that will make the lives of ordinary people better. However, a key part of this is winning elections and this is done by getting certain groups of voters onside.
Whilst I do enjoy speaking with my friends about the minutia of Marxist theory, we need to move past this quite complex language and speak in ways that people unfamiliar with political philosophy can understand. The approach to business I’ve outlined above is an important way of moving the conversation away from the current electoral impasse whilst also building socialism. There will be some who are just as left-wing as myself who believe that this approach is a fools errand, and also those on the right who argue that the programme above is far too radical and that centrism is the way forward. However, I genuinely believe that the unification of the Left behind a coherent platform rooted in socialist philosophy will win an election if it correctly marketed.
The public relations exercise that will have to go hand in hand with this platform will involve speaking to as many people as possible, and self-excluding groups of people deemed ‘beyond reproach’ will not do us any favours. A sustainable socialist society is possible provided that it is build from the ground up by a radical and militant civil society. This, coupled with an active perfectionist state, will transform Britain, and a party of the radical Left needs to be in power to assist the instantiation of socialism.
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