Lying low when the stakes are high

Lying low when the stakes are high

According to Labour’s Shadow Chancellor, he’s trying to “keep a low profile”. This secret was shared by the man himself at a packed FSB small business question time hosted by the New Statesman. Mr McDonnell’s remarks come on the back of his warmly received speech to conference plenary yesterday and his tour of the broadcast studios. If that’s not the opposite of keeping a low profile then I don’t know what is!

Those doing a better job at keeping a low profile are the country’s main wealth drivers and providers of employment: business. Roaming the roomy exhibitors’ hall one can’t help but notice that businesses are conspicuous by their absence. From my own calculation NatWest, Bombardier and the Post Office are the only businesses exhibiting at conference this week with the rest of the stalls inhabited by trades unions and charity organisations. Whilst businesses are represented in fringe debates (though not necessarily on panels) it is telling that their participation is on the periphery rather than central, especially given that spending commitments announced in plenary – a higher national living wage, the return of the Education Maintenance Allowance, university grants to those from low and middle income families and investment in house building – all need to be paid for, somehow. 

Mr McDonnell explained that he wants to be a partner to business rather than providing “friendly” policies. Whether friendship or partnership is on the table, it is clear that it requires effort on all sides in order to be forged. By his own admission the Shadow Chancellor has been touring the country’s businesses over the past ten months, getting ideas and inspiration but his low level charm offensive does not appear to have been reciprocated given the paucity of business attendees this week. Businesses are lying low; waiting to see what happens with the new-old leadership, waiting to see what “partnership” looks like as Labour develops its positions on the most important issues of our day. This might be a calculated move on all sides, but lying low when so much is at stake feels like a risky strategy. 

Michael Stott

Hill & Knowlton Strategies Search