It can’t be overstated what a milestone the Institute of Directors praising, even cautiously and with plenty of caveats, a speech by Jeremy Corbyn happens to be. That a properly socialist Labour leader could get praise from groups that are the backbone of British capitalism says a lot about how the Tories have allowed Brexit to distance the party from the concerns of the UK business community. “Liam Fox attacks business over support for Labour”, as a headline in today’s Times reads, is not a good look for the Conservative Party; the last time they were in this perilous a position with the business world, the Labour Party won three general elections in a row. So, this isn’t a minor or academic concern here. It goes beyond the fact that the business community underpins the Tory support base – it’s that being pro-business is a huge part of the modern party’s raison d’etre.
Brexit is supposed to be about freeing business from the shackles of Brussels in the minds of most Tory Brexiteers. That makes the fact that Brexit seems to be the exact thing that is separating the Conservatives from business slightly perverse. If businesses are so anti-Brexit, or at least not as gung-ho as the Tory Brexiteers would like them to be, does that not suggest to the Tories that their approach may be flawed in some respects? It’s one thing for the Conservative Party to deal with if London lefties think Brexit is racist and all that sort of thing – another completely if 94% of small business owners think the party is ignoring their chief concerns on Brexit and are flirting with Corbyn as a result.
Let’s take Brexit out of this for just a moment. Pretend that the government lands Brexit in March next year without too many bumps. There are fudges galore, of course, but the point is that no one notices how things are noticeably different for the average person in April 2019 than they were before. The Tories still have a repair job to do here that may be larger than they currently think. Yes, they have the fact that Corbyn is leader of Labour on their side, but that still doesn’t necessarily equate to full throated support for the Conservative Party as once could have been almost taken for granted.
The fact that business groups praised Corbyn’s speech obviously needs to be taken with a grain of salt. It’s about Brexit and nothing else. But they’ve still done it; the precedent has been set. This could be a bigger problem for the Tories than anyone outside of Labour HQ seems to think.