Top lobbyists are satisfied customers as Labour reaches out to business
Corporate chiefs got the chance to talk to John McDonnell at this year's business day at Labour conference.
Lobbyists have applauded Labour’s outreach to business after a host of senior party figures were deployed at the party’s annual business day.
Corporate chiefs paying to attend this year’s sold-out event at party conference got to hear from shadow chancellor John McDonnell, shadow business secretary Rebecca Long Bailey, shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer and Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham.
For around £1,000 the business bosses got to ask questions to the speakers and to sit down with various shadow ministers. There was also breakfast, lunch and reserved seats for the shadow chancellor's speech.
Back in 2016, Labour was reported to be struggling to drum up interest for a gala business dinner at conference. But one senior lobbyist who shelled out for this year’s business day insisted that it was now a must-attend for top business figures.
He said: “Labour business day for the last two years has been a roll call of anybody who’s anybody in UK business. If you follow John McDonnell around you meet all of the top lobbyists across the whole of the business community, because business takes him seriously. They are a bit worried, a bit nervous about Labour, but they take them seriously as having a possibility of being in government and the implications of that for business are very serious.”
He added: “This year, the attendance was high, the interest was very high and it was from all sectors. There were loads of people from financial services, transport, rail, logistics, you name it. It was very well attended.... There were lots of ideas being floated around this year and a sense of excitement from Labour people about what they wanted to do… They have lots of ideas, you might not like all them, but there’s definitely some policy development.”
Asked if he thought this year’s business day was worth the high price, the senior lobbyist replied: “Yes. It was very useful… It would have taken months to have that many meetings in one day.”
Another figure who attended this year remarked: “It’s far better than what I got at Conservative business day last year.”
However, while business bosses appreciated the access they got from Labour this year, there was some unease around what McDonnell had to say in his speech.
“There was definitely a lot of concern from corporates about employee ownership proposal, which kind of fell apart under first examination,” said one attendee. “It’s got massive holes in it, I wouldn't be surprised if it’s either changed or dropped in a few years’ time.”
After McDonnell’s speech, MPs including shadow international trade secretary Barry Gardiner and shadow economic Secretary to the Treasury Jonathan Reynolds were seated on tables with various business figures. According to one person in the room, Gardiner was particularly uncomfortable when business chiefs started grilling him about McDonnell’s plans.
The source said: “He fled after five minutes and had to be replaced by Jonny Reynolds.”