It’s been a tumultuous few months for the Labour Party. Following the opposition’s catastrophic General Election performance and Ed Miliband’s subsequent resignation on May 8th, it seems every politician past and present wants to weigh in on the party’s direction – and the best way to wrestle the balance of power away from the Conservatives in 2020.
Coverage of the leadership selection process has been, at times, painfully sensationalist. Policies have often taken a back seat to mudslinging and even with just a few days to go until the voting deadline, two of the candidates are still yet to release any sort of manifesto.
The result could shake up politics as we know it in the UK, but in the meantime we’ll investigate how the candidates have so far attempted to prove themselves to be the best choice for small businesses owners.
Jeremy Corbyn, MP for Islington North since 1983
“The current government seems to think ‘pro-business’ means giving a green light to corporate tax avoiders and private monopolies. I will stand up for small businesses, independent entrepreneurs, and the growing number of enterprises that want to cooperate and innovate for the public good.”
In a fascinating turn of events the outsider has surged from bookies’ odds of 80/1 to being the 1/2 favourite. The veteran socialist has proclaimed that as Labour leader, he would push for a small business rate freeze and rent controls to stop local shops being priced out.
Mr Corbyn has also called for an increase in spending on training to create a more skilled workforce and more resources for digital infrastructure, as well as for HMRC to help them clamp down on tax avoidance.
These policies were unveiled his ‘Better Business’ plan, which in his words will “level the playing field between small businesses and their workers who are being made to wait in the queue behind the big corporate welfare lobby the Tories are funded by and obsessed with.”
Agree with his policies or not, Corbyn is the only candidate to date to release a specific document for businesses clearly explaining his vision.
In his pitch to businesses, a 2% increase to Corporation Tax (only for large companies) is also proposed, as well as the introduction of a National Investment Bank to give small businesses access to finance “where commercial banks have failed”.
Andy Burnham, MP for Leigh since 2001
“We need to establish economic competence. We need a fiscally responsible approach but an approach that’s also pro-business. We’ve got to rebuild our relationship with the business community.”
The Shadow Secretary of State for Health was originally the bookies’ and trade unions’ favourite before Jeremy Corbyn’s late entry into the race. He has echoed Corbyn’s calls for a National Investment Bank.
Mr Burnham, who finished fourth in the previous leadership race, explains in his manifesto that he would support growth of small businesses by examining the case for a Land Value Tax to replace business rates.
“It would link land taxation to property owners rather than their occupiers,” he told the Financial Times. “It would be an incentive for land to be used as productively as possible . . . At the moment people can land bank without paying anything.”
In his pitch to businesses he mentions that he has established a Business Advisory Panel, in order to ‘hear the voice of business directly’. A dedicated Business Unit already exists within his campaign team, and he says it would follow him right into the leader’s office.
Bill Thomas, chair of Labour’s small business taskforce (and the man who’s name Ed Balls famously forgot in an interview last year) has notably donated £5,000 to Mr Burnham’s campaign.
Yvette Cooper, MP for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford since 1997
“It is so important that we support our small and independent businesses. They are a vital part of our local, they give us greater choice and that something a little bit special and we need to get behind them. But from what businesses are telling me, they’re still really struggling at the moment, despite what the Government is saying about the economy.”
Ms Cooper has pledged to set up a business advisory group (including non-Labour supporters) to ensure regular dialogue if she becomes leader.
She has stated she wants to turn Britain into a hi-tech economy, promising to encourage startups and create hi-tech digital jobs for the future and in her pitch to businesses has called for a guarantee of high-speed broadband for all small businesses.
Despite her pre-election stance of cutting business rates for small businesses and paying for it by scrapping the Corporation Tax cut for big businesses (“They don’t need it”), Cooper has since changed her mind, stating:
“We can’t be set against the government’s recent cut in corporation tax for the future. Our rhetoric can’t be set against the wealth creators and drivers of our future economic growth. We can’t be set against business, and too many believed we were.”
Ms Cooper is yet to release a policy document.
Liz Kendall, MP for Leicester West since 2010
“On business, I want to change our whole approach, not just set up a new committee. I want to lead a Labour Party that’s genuinely as passionate about wealth creation as we are about wealth distribution. I want Labour not just to ‘understand’ business but be the champion of people who take a risk, create something, build it up and make a success of it.”
The most junior contender in terms of both age and service, Kendall has been labelled the ‘Blairite’ candidate, displaying more in common with the values of New Labour than those of her counterparts.
In her words, Labour should “wrap our arms around business” – accusing the previous Miliband regime of being overly hostile to the private sector.
“There are many good businesses that share our agenda, but they did not feel they could be part of what we were saying, because too much of the time they heard us attacking business, and giving the impression that profit is wrong”.
Her pitch to businesses is comparatively void of any policies, although she did state:
“I want to see us learn from Germany and the Nordic countries, where workers have a much greater say in the way the companies they work for are run, shaping the way companies operate to make them not only fairer, but more sustainable and more successful.”
Ms Kendall is also yet to release a policy document.
The Labour Leadership is being decided by registered members and supporters of the party (and briefly, this cat). The result is due to be announced on 12th September.
Who are you backing? Let us know in the comments below.