It has been over 12 weeks since we chose our new leader, deputy leader, candidate for the London mayoral contest and our new shadow cabinet. Now is the time to reach out to those areas of British society that we need to engage with in a more organised fashion. The self-employed and those running small and medium enterprises need to be persuaded that the Labour party is the most natural home for them.
It is predicted that in the coming years the number of people classed as self-employed will surpass those working in the public sector. SME4Labour is well placed to engage with this growing and increasingly critical sector of society. We want to strengthen the link between Labour as the party of workers and this particularly hard-working group who will propel economic growth in the years to come. These people are inherently close to the values of the Labour party and we should utilise our common values to the advantage of both. We believe that our new leader needs to develop a specific strategy for small and medium enterprises, and think that the appointment of Angela Eagle as shadow business secretary is an important and correct step in this direction.
Eagle has previously stated that she believes small businesses ‘are the backbone of our community’ – and we could not agree more. We also know that she takes the lack of funding and support for SMEs very seriously.
A Labour party that understands the fundamental issues facing SMEs will be a more powerful progressive force in the United Kingdom. In order to show how serious it is about this sector, the party should organise an annual conference for the self-employed and SMEs. SME4Labour is ready to take on this responsibility.
Not only would such a conference bring together the party and SMEs, it would also reach out to the Federation of Small Business, local chambers of commerce, banks and other organisations which support SMEs and of course the media. The presence of the leadership of the party at such a conference would also reaffirm Labour’s commitment to support local enterprise.
We have a great London mayoral candidate in Sadiq Khan, a candidate determined to get the best deal for Londoners, but attention now needs to turn to winning support across the capital, including in areas traditionally less inclined to vote Labour. The number of people self-employed or running small or medium enterprises is higher than in other regions. According to the Office of National Statistics, 17.3 per cent of Londoners are self-employed, compared with 11.5 per cent in Scotland for example.
Khan needs to focus on this particular source of Labour votes. These hard-working people are driving London’s economy forward as small business owners, many of them from minority backgrounds, and they need our support.
During his campaign, engagement with SMEs through visits, targeted research and polling should lead to policy formation with renewed vigour. Labour needs to understand how it can best support and promote the needs of SMEs and the self-employed and Khan is the right person to drive this agenda forward. We have been heartened by his support for initiatives such as ‘Save Our High Street’ and his description of small businesses as being ‘heart and soul’ of local communities.
We also support efforts by unions to reach out to SMEs and the self-employed and particularly applaud Community Union for its efforts in this area. We hope this will encourage others to act. Supporting SME owners and the self-employed in this endeavour will inevitably lead to important gains for Labour in the long run.