Labour Conference: Business Given Little to Cheer

Mike Robb

The four-day working week unsurprisingly dominated headlines after the Shadow Chancellor’s barnstorming display yesterday, but John McDonnell’s speech did little to buoy the confidence of business.

For the die-hards in the hall the speech ticked all the boxes and received some raucous ovations. Beyond the 32-hour working week we heard about the rollout of collective bargaining, the promise of a tenth of company shares to be owned by workers, the building of a million new homes, the banning of zero hours contracts, the introduction of rental caps, and the list goes on (and on, and on).

There were a host of big-ticket spending commitments, none more ambitious than a new social care service, that would be funded by “a fair taxation system where everybody pays their way.” In other words, tax rises.

Industry was quick to respond, a reaction essentially summarised by the argument that these measures will act as a tax on workers and hit employment, an irony that mattered little to the faithful. But with a general election in the offing, business leaders will be keen to see the detail and ensure proper scrutiny is applied to the multitude of initiatives he announced.

The reality remains that if a Chancellor McDonnell really does want to “mobilise financial resources on a scale not seen since the country was rebuilt after World War Two,” this speech has done little to endear himself to the very community he will need to bring along for the ride: namely business and financial services.

Make no mistake, this was a speech for the workers – business had little to cheer – but none of this should have come as any surprise.