“Who wants to be rich in a country that isn’t fair?” On London’s pro-Labour business community

The view from the Leadenhall Building in the City. Image: Getty.

On 3 May this year, millions of Londoners will vote in elections to decide who will run the 32 boroughs that comprise our capital. According to the latest polls, Labour are set to sweep through the city, with the Conservatives losing as many as half of the boroughs they currently control.

Although London has long been considered a left-wing city, it is also one of the most commercially active metropoles in the world. Given years of Conservative smears that Labour is the anti-business party, these projections of success under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn may come as a surprise to some.

But with the Confederation of Business Industry (CBI) throwing its support behind Corbyn’s Brexit stance, Conservative centrists adopting the supposedly radical policies of 'Red Ed’ Miliband en masse, and a chorus of “Oh, Jeremy Corbyn” heard chanted by ‘City boys’ throughout the bars of London’s financial playground, it’s clear we are seeing a sentiment towards Labour from the London business community warming. 

Whatever happens, May's results are not to be taken lightly when it comes to searching for clues about a changing shift of the relationship between business and politics. 

Running and growing a successful business since 2006, I’ve navigated the tail-end of the Blairite years, the Coalition era, and both Conservative-majority and minority government. Throughout the changing political winds, we’ve thrived commercially – but it is the social aspects of government where I have personally felt the biggest impact.


Often, I find myself asking, who wants to be rich in a country that isn’t fair? I’m sure I’m not the only businessperson in the capital who is concerned. Contrary to our reputation, London is made up of a diverse range of talented and successful businesspeople whose motivations extend beyond merely revenue and profits. 

It’s for that reason that London’s cohort of entrepreneurs looks at Jeremy Corbyn’s vision for the future and see something that resonates. They want to see policies that will help businesses succeed, whilst using the proceeds to look after those in society that need it most. 

And in comparison with other parts of Europe and the world, Labour’s business policies are actually fairly moderate and pragmatic. Corporation tax under Corbyn and his shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, would remain the lowest of Europe's G7 countries and be 8 per cent lower than it was under Margaret Thatcher. This isn't something that is widely reported – despite being a crucial factor for so many SMEs up and down the country. And of course in Sadiq Khan we have a very business friendly Labour mayor who’s making the case for a commercially-strong capital, post-Brexit. 

The elections in May therefore represent a watershed moment. A resounding Labour victory in the capital could act as the starting gun for a new kind of economics: one that holds business as a force that not only fosters growth, high-quality jobs and improved services, but also recognises the role companies have to play in a fairer, more just society. That’s something worth voting for. 

Kevin Craig is a Labour councillor on the London Borough of Lambeth and runs the communications agency, PLMR

 
 
 
 

Sadiq Khan and Grant Shapps clash over free bus travel for under 18s

A London bus at Victoria station. Image: Getty.

The latest front in the row between Transport for London (TfL) and national government over how to fund the capital’s transport system: free bus travel for the under 18s.

Two weeks ago, you’ll recall, TfL came perilously close to running out of money and was forced to ask for a bail out. The government agreed, but offered less money, and with more strings attached, than the agency wanted. At present, there are a range of fare discounts – some up to 100% – available to children depending on their age and which service they’re using, provided they have the right Oyster card. One of the government’s strings, the mayor’s office says, was to end all free TfL travel for the under 18s, Oyster or no Oyster.

The Department for Transport’s line on all this is that this is about maximising capacity. Many working-age people need to use buses to get to their jobs: they’re more likely to be able to do that, while also social distancing, if those buses aren’t already full of teenagers riding for free. (DfT cited the same motivation for banning the use of the Freedom Pass, which provides free travel for the retired, at peak times.)

But in an open letter to transport secretary Grant Shapps, the mayor, Sadiq Khan, wrote that TfL believed that 30% of children who currently received free travel had a statutory entitlement to it, because they attend schools more than a certain distance from their homes. If TfL doesn’t fund this travel, London’s boroughs must, which apart from loading costs onto local government means replacing an administrative system that already exists with one that doesn’t. 

Some Labour staffers also smell Tory ideological objections to free things for young people at work. To quote Khan’s letter:

“It is abundantly clear that losing free travel would hit the poorest Londoners hardest at a time when finances are stretched more than ever... I want to make sure that families who might not have a choice but to use public transport are not further disadvantaged.”

London’s deputy mayor for transport, Heidi Alexander, is set to meet government officials next week to discuss all this. In the mean time, you can read Khan’s letter here.

UPDATE: The original version of this piece noted that the full agreement between the mayor and DfT remained mysteriously unpublished. Shortly after this story went live, the agreement appeared. Here it is.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.