A report in the Financial Times has suggested that business leaders are frustrated by a perceived loss of influence in Theresa May’s administration – what they called “a huge gulf between business and the key decision makers.”
In response, the CBI is spearheading an initiative to regain influence on policy making. The current loss of influence may, of course, seem somewhat minor should Labour win the election. But should Theresa May be returned to Downing Street, what would make business more effective in its attempts to have a greater role in policy discussions?
Having something new to say
The first question any administration would be asking itself is whether business has genuinely got something new to say. The issues associated with Brexit and immigration control have been well rehearsed. The Conservative manifesto clearly lays out the party’s vision of Brexit. Many business people will surely disagree with such a vision, believing it may be catastrophic for their interests and the economy. But these arguments have all already been made and, seemingly, either ignored or rejected.
So the question for the new government is whether there is much new to be learned by engaging in a further dialogue with business. There will likely be little appetite at the highest levels simply to sit and listen to what will be seen as yet more bleating.
In order to gain influence, and given the Brexit trajectory laid out in the manifesto, business will need to show itself capable of creating its own clear vision for a post-Brexit Britain – a vision that is in line with the manifesto on which a new government will be elected. So far, we have seen precious little of that coming out of the business community.
Becoming part of the political trajectory
As with Brexit, so with the general political trajectory laid out in the Conservative manifesto.
Ever since she became Prime Minister, Mrs May has made her views on the political economy crystal clear. Her intention is to reduce inequality and provide opportunity for the many. It is her belief that this requires government intervention. Free markets on their own will not deliver.
Once again, the temptation for many will be to resist this philosophy. That would be a sure way to ensure continued exclusion from the heart of decision making. To be taken seriously, business leaders need to come up with constructive ways of reducing rising inequalities and the increased concentration of wealth. They need to be seen as credible and positive contributors to the chosen political trajectory.
In this, business still has a mountain to climb in terms of its own credibility. To take just one example; in spite of years of political pressure, executive compensation continues to soar and the pay gap continues to increase. Left to its own devices, business has totally failed to tackle the issue. Given that and numerous other examples, why should the government see business as a reliable partner in policy making?
If business is to re-gain its seat at the top table, it needs to follow the political trajectory set by the democratically elected government. It needs to come up with credible approaches to how the chosen political direction can best be implemented.
It cannot afford to be seen as merely putting spokes in the wheels or wielding its power to frustrate the political will. That is a sure route to further exclusion.