28 Sep 2023

What business leaders think of politics

Findings from our exclusive Savanta poll

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Best for business in the UK

Although it is true that medium/large businesses are significantly more likely to say the Conservatives are the best for business compared to small businesses (39% vs 29%), this is driven by medium/large businesses being less likely than small to say that they don’t know (13% vs 27%) rather than being less likely to say Labour (48% vs 44%).

While Labour’s lead over the Conservatives is 13 points among all businesses, Starmer’s lead over Sunak is just three points, and Reeves’ lead over Hunt is just two points.

Election outcomes so far

Medium/large businesses are more likely than small businesses to say that a Conservative government would be best for their business (38% vs 24%).

Labour Government prep

Just 24% of medium/large businesses will not be making changes/preparing for a Labour government, compared to 53% of small businesses.

A quarter (24%) of medium/large businesses have already made changes/prepared for a Labour government, versus just one in nine (11%) small businesses, while a further two in five (40%) of medium/large businesses have not yet made changes/preparations but will be soon.

 

Analysis from the team at MHP

Labour analysis

Josh Kaile, MHP Associate Director, Joshua Kaile, was a Labour Party political advisor until September 2023.

Over the past 2 years, the Labour Party has been engaged in concerted efforts to ‘woo’ business leaders, something once referred to as the ‘prawn cocktail offensive’. Keir Starmer, Rachel Reeves and the entire Shadow Cabinet have been doing the hard yards of meeting businesses up and down the country, explaining how a Labour Government is right for the country, and also good for business.

Today’s insights from MHP/Savanta into how businesses view the two main political parties suggests that Labour’s efforts are paying dividends. When business leaders were asked who is ‘best for business’ 45 per cent chose a future Labour Government, led by Keir Starmer, compared to just 32 per cent for the Tories. That’s a remarkable 13-point lead for the opposition, with a General Election potentially coming in the next 12 months.

The Leader Of The Opposition’s (LOTO) office, and SME4Labour will be particularly proud that 44 per cent of small businesses say Labour is ‘best’, compared to 29 per cent for the Conservatives. Political parties often fight to say that they are the party of ‘small business’, and right now, Labour appear to have the Tories on the ropes. Although, with over a quarter of leaders remaining unsure, there is still work to be done for the party to advocate for the interests of small enterprises.

Keir Starmer’s decision to put the economy front and centre of his pitch to the country, with his first “Mission” to ‘secure the highest sustained growth in the G7’ also appears to be paying off. Even Labour’s level-headed leader will be quietly pleased by his 38-35 percent lead over Rishi Sunak amongst business leaders.

Whilst Rachel Reeves holds a 2-point lead over Jeremy Hunt (29-27 percent) nearly half of all leaders are still undecided over who is better for business. But it’s important to remember the context of where Labour started this journey in 2019 with, then Chancellor Sajid Javid, leading John McDonnell by 45 per cent to 24. Few would have given Labour much chance of turning those figures around, let alone to be leading the Tories on economic competence just 3 and a half years ago. Yet here we are, on the eve of the political party conferences with a remarkable turn in fortunes.

Labour is understandably boasting that more than 300 CEOs and chairs of businesses will be attending their annual conference this year, more than even Tony Blair could manage in his prime. And the coffers are being filled with business sponsorship increasing from £200,000 last year to a significant £500,000. The FT reports that 43 business groups have bought exhibition space at Labour conference this year, up from sixteen last year.

Contrast this with a Conservative conference that, has just 28 businesses with exhibition stands, and organisers hope the entire show isn’t derailed by a rail strike that could provide a tempting excuse for yet more attendees to avoid.

Senior figures in the Labour Party will be the first to say that winning the support of business, let alone the wider public at a General Election is anything but a done deal. After a tumultuous few years for Labour, doors are finally being opened to them, but the hard work to convince people to vote for a Labour Government starts in earnest.

But with these latest insights from MHP/Savanta, it turns out that Labour’s ‘smoked salmon and scrambled eggs offensive’ is convincing many that the party is good for business.

Conservative analysis

Mario Creatura, MHP Director, served as a Special Adviser to Prime Minister Theresa May in 10 Downing Street from 2017 to 2019.

If a week is long time in politics, then a year is clearly an eternity. It’s hard to believe that just 12 months ago we had a different Prime Minister about to address her first party conference.

In that time the national fiscal picture has been tumultuous to say the least, with huge pressures on the cost-of-living and deep concerns about the resilience of our economy.

Labour have been consistently ahead in the polls for much of the last year, with Prime Minister Sunak and Chancellor Hunt determinedly sticking to their key objective of halving inflation – whatever the political cost. They have repeatedly re-committed themselves to that goal, seeking to calm the troubled political and economic waters they inherited, hoping to rebuild Conservative economic credibility ahead of the next election.

In that context, today’s fresh insight from MHP/Savanta shows the Conservatives have much to be quietly pleased about.

When asked who is better for medium to large businesses, Sunak beats Starmer by four clear points. 

There is work to be done for the Conservatives to regain the confidence of small enterprise, who rate Starmer more positively than the Prime Minister. Yet averaged out, there’s only a three-point lead for Starmer over Sunak among all business types.

When it comes to the Chancellor, Hunt is just two points behind Rachel Reeves.

If I were still in Government, less than a year on from the chaos unleashed by the Truss Mini-Budget and with perhaps a year until the next election, I’d be cautiously optimistic about what this poll indicates. It points to a clear resilience in Conservative business confidence, and with it the hopeful spark of potential Conservative success at the next election.

Overall, business does feel Labour will be better for the economy – with a significant 13-point lead. Yet beneath that headline, MHP/Savanta’s poll indicates that 38% of medium and large businesses still believe a Conservative government would be best for their business.

It’s clear that the Conservative brand has taken a beating on economic credibility, but whilst Labour is perceived to be stronger on it than the Conservatives, the team of Sunak/Hunt are neck-and-neck with Starmer/Reeves.

With everything that’s gone on, you’d expect Labour to be dominating not just on some, but on every economic question. Yet they aren’t.

With news from the ONS on Friday that GDP has increased three times more than originally predicted, the UK economy is now bigger than before the Covid-19 crisis. UK growth is higher than Germany and France.

If the economy continues to perform positively, and voters start to feel the benefit in their pockets, then you can expect Sunak and Hunt to recover even more polling ground – from a base that’s nowhere near as bad as many Conservatives feared.

Whisper it, but for an election being fought on the cost-of-living, this poll shows it really could be all to play for.

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