11 December 2019

If you own – or work in – a business, tomorrow represents a huge risk

By Andrew Griffith

From the self-employed entrepreneur to the biggest boardrooms, British bosses should have one thing on their agenda tomorrow: to stop a Corbyn-led government pulling out not just the rug from under their feet but the floorboards, joists and the foundations too.

Whatever else can be laid at their door, Corbyn and his allies have been admirably clear about their intentions. New and higher forms of business tax. Nationalisation on an unprecedented scale. Over-prescriptive regulation. Trade unions and activists taking control. An end to the ability to pass family businesses on to the next generation.

Within 48 hours, the birthplace of Adam Smith could have a Chancellor dedicated, in his own words, to the ‘overthrow of capitalism’.

The Corbyn-McDonnell world view is that there is no market that would not be ‘improved’ by their intervention, no business of scale that isn’t ‘exploiting unfairness’, no reward for risk-taking that isn’t ‘excessive’.

Be in no doubt: the ravages of a Corbyn-led coalition will be felt in every corner of every enterprise that is based or seeks to do business here.

What they have already set out is just the start. Once the state is in the business of expropriating company shares, why stop at 10%? If ‘social justice’ demands a confiscatory tax rate above a lifetime limit on inheritance (meaning that many people who have worked hard all their lives would be unable to pass their family home on to their children), why not go the whole Bolivia and have the same on lifetime earnings?

These aren’t eye-catching promises that will be watered down once Labour is in power. They are the red meat of a Labour-led coalition, essential to keeping the backbench ranks on side. Astronomers scouring the radio waves for signs of life from galaxies as yet unknown will have a more rewarding time than anyone seeking a dissenting voice within the Labour ranks on this anti-business agenda.

It is true that many business leaders are befuddled by Brexit. They have spent years attending the sort of dinner parties where a dollop of Project Fear has replaced polenta as the side dish of choice. But given the parliamentary arithmetic, to back any party other than the Tories would be to take the scenic route to an execution. Voting Lib Dem rather than Labour might make you feel momentarily better, but the outcome will be the same.

But the truth is that we have, in Boris Johnson and Sajid Javid, one of the most business-friendly duos that Downing Street has ever seen. As his business adviser in Downing Street, I saw first-hand the Prime Minister’s passion for businesses, the way he would squeeze time into a busy day to pop into meetings with business large and small – although it was the latter that he instinctively bonded with most.

In the Prime Minister’s own oft-repeated words, he aims to make Britain the best place in the world to start, grow and run a business.

Protecting Britain’s high streets, the home of so many small enterprises, was an early priority, via a real determination to ease the burden of business rates on small retailers and to level the playing field with a digital services tax. So was generous investment in infrastructure, to remove pain points and friction for businesses and citizens alike.

This is a Prime Minister who is outcome-driven, who wants to get things done for businesses as part of his broader agenda for prosperity.

Edmund Burke famously said that all it takes for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. I was so determined to stand up for enterprise and free markets that I found myself, rather unexpectedly, standing as a candidate in this election.

But all of us in business can yet do something: be a leader, talk to colleagues, use your public voice, and of course your vote tomorrow.

Whatever you do, do not be passive at the moment of maximum risk – and potentially, the moment of greatest opportunity.

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Andrew Griffith is former Group COO at Sky and former senior independent non-executive director at Just Eat. Since July 2019, he has been chief business adviser to the Prime Minister, and is the Conservative candidate for Arundel & South Downs.