Where are the Lib Dem business networks?

 

After many years on the cusp of joining the party, I finally made the decision to join the Lib Dems immediately after that fateful day in May. My motivations, I am sure, were much the same as those of many other waverers – despite having a stubborn, independent streak that made me loath to join a party (any party), and hesitation over the policies of the Coalition, I could no longer stand by and expect others to shoulder the burden of protecting liberal values and defending individual rights.

I can safely say that I haven’t regretted my decision for a moment: the warm welcome from Greenwich Borough Lib Dems, and the party as a whole, has reaffirmed my belief that liberalism has a bright future in English politics.

As a small business manager, one aspect of the Lib Dems that I have always found most attractive is its independence from vested interests. Not being dominated by – or acting as a mouthpiece for – the sectional interests of organised labour or powerful corporations is, for me, what allows our party to genuinely stand for individual rights and wellbeing. It is this independence which also makes the Lib Dems the natural home of the entrepreneur, the shopkeeper and the SME business manager – the small and the brave – as the social freedoms which we strive for as a party are those which independent businesses require in order to thrive.

The party’s support for EU membership, free trade and immigration; the human and civil rights which allow an individual to stand up to a bullying state or monopolist corporation; and the devolution of authority away from the centre to local individuals: all are fundamental foundations of genuine, competitive enterprise. It is not too much of a stretch to say that entrepreneurs and small businesspeople form, as a group, a ‘natural’ liberal – and Liberal – constituency.

Bearing this mind, I was looking forward to discovering how the party accommodates and encourages independent commercial members within its network groups. There are twenty seven interest-based and occupation-based groups; surely a Lib Dem business network would be among these. I was sorely disappointed to find that this is not the case. This is surely a massive missed opportunity for the party as a whole: not only in engaging with an existing section of its membership, but also in creating a space for individuals from a naturally-liberal constituency to draw closer to the party.

For the party to thrive in its current, straightened situation, I believe that a wider concept of what the party exists for is vital. This doesn’t mean redefining our core values – what we stand for – but rather redefining our measures of success. At the heart of our liberal vision, for a nation where individuals are empowered to live their lives in a fruitful and happy way, lie not the grand policies of central government, but individual actions. The nurturing of enterprising behaviour and individuals, both within party groups and in wider society, is vital in achieving this.

* Simon Thornley is a member in Greenwich and joined the party after the General Election 2015. He is originally from Darlington.

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35 Comments

  • A valid point Simon.

    There is a Liberal Democrats “Group” on Linkedin. It is not that widely used but at least provides a forum of sorts (although it is regularly posted on by American liberal Democrats who don’t appreciate we are UK party).

    As an aside, I’ve noticed some ex-Lib Dem MPs appearing on Linkedin seeking opportunities as non-execs etc. Sad as it is to see so many lose their seats it may be good for the formulation of future Lib Dem business policy that some of our brightest and most able ex-MPs are introduced to the big bad world of business…

  • Paul Lucraft 27th Jul '15 - 11:46am

    Hi Simon and welcome to the party.

    There are several of us busy creating the kind of organisation / network that you may be interested in joining .

    The next meeting of Liberal Democrats in Business which is a panel discussion on what BREXIT might mean for UK business is on Wednesday see the link here to register:

    http://www.dtconferences.co.uk/events/event/4-ldib-networking-event

    We will also be at conference in September.

    Look forward to meeting you.

  • Eddie Sammon 27th Jul '15 - 11:55am

    A Lib Dem business network is a good idea, but the party has a problem with business and if anything it is getting worse.

    The last manifesto was overall net negative for business. I can understand in an age of austerity, but employees were promised tax cuts and more protection. The employer? Effectively nothing.

  • It is certainly the case that the Party has been dominated by the education (secondary and tertiary), health, local government and civil service sectors which may be why policy has tended to be dominated by those interest groups.

    Some years ago there was a Lib Dems for Business forum (called Connect if I recall correctly). A resurrection or relaunch would be great and would go a long way towards counter-balancing the public-sector centre of gravity in the Party.

  • @Eddie Sammon “A Lib Dem business network is a good idea, but the party has a problem with business and if anything it is getting worse. ”

    When my comment above is released you’ll see part of the reason why. Another part of the problem is that our last three leaders have had no experience of life outside politics – Paddy, at least, had had a successful career in both the Armed Forces and the “Foreign Office” (ahem).

    If we’re really interested in diversity we need to bring in MPs who have had a career in Business and Industry, as surely that is an under-represented minority interest within the party if ever there was one!

  • Mavarine Du-Marie 27th Jul '15 - 12:06pm

    I completely agree.

    There is the Libdems Entrepreneurs network:
    http://www.libdems.org.uk/join-the-liberal-democrats-entrepreneurs-network

    But there is no general business network to speak of, and I would like to encourage its formation. So why don’t you and some other like minded Libdems start one as founder members?

    Look forward to seeing a Libdems Business Network appear in the near future.

  • @Eddie Sammon “The last manifesto was overall net negative for business. I can understand in an age of austerity, but employees were promised tax cuts and more protection. The employer? Effectively nothing.”

    You only have to peruse the musings of the usual suspects here on LDV to realise that many of them are actively anti-business, suspicious of it, and fail to see that it is the engine that drives everything else in the economy – namely, the employment and taxes that pay for what the State spends.

  • Eddie Sammon 27th Jul '15 - 1:12pm

    Hi TCO, just to keep it brief: publicly owned companies can make profits too, but yes overall I think the party needs to become more pro business.

    However, I have been saying this for over three years and I think it has got worse, so I am not hopeful.

    I’m not going to bang on about it though. The party needs to learn for itself.

  • @Eddie Sammon “Hi TCO, just to keep it brief: publicly owned companies can make profits too, but yes overall I think the party needs to become more pro business. ”

    I agree, and there are models of this happening in other countries. The difference is that the state is a majority shareholder in an otherwise self-governing enterprise and keeps its interventions supremely light touch. In this country, unfortunately, the temptation for government to steer things is usually too great.

    “I’m not going to bang on about it though. The party needs to learn for itself.”

    It does, though I’m not hopeful that it will given the reception given to those with business experience is not usually a warm one (for example, David Laws).

  • Mavarine Du-Marie 27th Jul '15 - 2:15pm

    I, on the other hand, am most hopeful:

    1) for the new liberal democrat members, who don’t have old school Marxist, Labour and/or Leninist leanings. There needs to be greater participation from all sectors of the party. End of.
    2) hearing and standing up for the despised, as Tim Farron has stated, as most in private sector are seen as the enemy of the state, and a Libdems business network should be a priority to overcome suspicion. And it has to start and flourish to see a positive change.
    3) warm reception is part of new membership welcome of an individual, whereas a business network needs to be a pressure group within the Libdem party to make sure policy is fair regarding business issues and be optimistic for the future.

  • Simon Thorley 27th Jul '15 - 2:19pm

    @Paul Lucraft – thanks, I will contact you directly.

    @Eddie Sammon: for me, the important thing is to highlight that being genuinely ‘pro-business’ from a liberal position means supporting individual rights, helping to build connections, and creating a level playing field – very different from the ‘pro-business’ approach we see from the Tories (ensuring that corporate donors are rewarded with patronage and juicy outsourced public sector contracts). One of the biggest lies that the Tories have got the country to swallow is that they support enterprise: what they actually support is their mates’ enterprises. We must aim at effectively countering this.

  • @Simon Thorley +1

  • Rabi Martins 27th Jul '15 - 9:46pm

    Rather than lament the fact that there is not a business network / forum within the Party why not members who are interested take the initiative and put one together
    I have no doubt individuals like Vince Cable, Duncan Hames, Jo Swinson who showed a significant interest in business matters when they were MPs will be only to happy to get involved and help
    @Simon Thorley – as you took the initiative and flagged up the problem why not take the first step to get one going

  • Simon Thorley 27th Jul '15 - 10:19pm

    @Rabi Martins: It’s certainly something I’d like to have a go at – as Paul Lucraft notes above, other members have already started to put something similar together. My point is more that I was surprised, upon joining a party which should have a natural constituency among business people, to find that no such network already exists…

  • Stephen Donnelly 27th Jul '15 - 10:47pm

    Simon, I would be interested in such a group. There is a need for an organisation that promotes the party within the business community, but also to provide a business perspective on some of the debates within the party.

  • ISHvinder S Matharu 27th Jul '15 - 11:26pm

    Brilliant first post by new member Simon T.

    Welcome

    Strike whilst the iron is hot!

    ?Perhaps contact Lord Wrigglesworth as he is ‘Pro’ Business

  • Simon, I could not agree more with your post.

    The SME sector is a significant contributor to the British Economy. Some will belong to trade bodies that lobby MP’s and the Government, some will belong to bodies such as the FSB. These by definition are non political and must remain so. The same applies with Professional bodies. They contribute to Government consultations on policy etc and can bring about changes to those policies. Sometimes they can get them dropped but rarely.

    The Conservative Party will by definition listen to its donors (often representative of big business) and of course good constituency MP’s of all parties will raise the concerns of small businesses if they have been approached directly by a constituent who is in business.

    However time after time governments nationally and also the EU come up with ideas that just have not been thought through, or because an error has been made in the statistics in the number of businesses affected by such a measure.

    I myself am not in business, but I have grappled daily with Taxation matters for SME’s and their owners for the last 25 years (and now there is no friendly Bank Manager for a business to call when they have a problem, often this can cover other areas).

    I would certainly encourage such a group and like you am surprised that there is not one already.

  • I’m in the Lib Dems for sound money and social justice. Without a thriving business sector there will be no sound money for social justice. Without business people in the party we will lack the necessary input to inform the business policies we need to generate sound money. We have a traditional orientation towards SMEs for the reasons Simon has identified; the small and the brave. We also need to engage with the big boys as well to ensure that our policy thinking is rounded. September conference would be a good time to kick-start something.

    Bravo Simon for your post

  • Lester Holloway 28th Jul '15 - 10:13am

    We need a LibDem business group to develop more policy in this area and ensure the business community know about it and are engaged with us. I would add that the issue of entrepreneurship probably needs a separate group as many issues are different. In particular, young entrepreneurship. It is not just the right thing to do but the Left thing as well because start-ups are a pathway that avoids the endemic biases in the job market against BAME people, working class etc.

  • Mavarine Du-Marie 28th Jul '15 - 10:50am

    Just a suggestion: to lower the barriers of suspicion/discord regarding what the Libdems Business Network eventually does and what it will do for the party, can there be some form of openness in communicating to the rest of the party members, who have an interest in business (myself – academically) so that the Libdems Business Network is a) principled by liberal transparency which is seen to be working b) input can be acknowledged party-wide as to their value in steering policies. As I believe this will go some way to diminish the hostility towards business people.

  • @Sara Scarlett “A radical, anti-rentseeking, decentralising, demonopolising set of policies towards business would be both welcome and popular.”

    +1

  • Simon,
    Welcome. It’s brilliant that you’ve joined and clearly this is where you belong. But just so you know, the party has a strong future in Scotland as well (and I’m sure in Wales). Not just England. 😎

  • Peter Bancroft 28th Jul '15 - 12:02pm

    The Lib Dem entrepreneur’s network is interesting, but the having a default membership fee of £2,500 is a bit off-putting. As anyone who has started their own business will know, most entrepreneurs are rather short on cash most of the time. If the aim is to gather the party’s enterpreneurs together (and there can’t be many), this isn’t an ideal way to do it.

  • Nigel Sarbutts 28th Jul '15 - 12:23pm

    Hello Simon, good to see this raised. As a new member I attended the post election “what did we learn from the election” result in the North West and was surprised that words business, economy and wealth creation were not mentioned and afterwards I made enquiries about whether a business group existed. The result of that is one is being formed in Manchester and we are meeting to discuss purpose and actions on Wednesday 25th August at 5pm, at ALDC HQ in Manchester. One of the main outcomes of that meeting for me is that we try to share knowledge and contacts with like minded groups elsewhere. I would encourage anyone who wants to attend that kick-off meeting in Manchester to get in touch with me at Nigel at Sarbutts dot co dot uk.

  • Oh this is so exciting!This is just what I hoped would happen when all those new members joined. We are definitely in real fight back mode now and hopefully will soon be forging ahead on a much better basis than before.

  • Chris Burden 28th Jul '15 - 4:55pm

    In an era of, on the one hand, wage stagnation and a Minimum Wage that people cannot live on, and on the other, the EXPLOSION

    it shouldn’t be surprising that many LDs with no business investment or management experience are somewhat sceptical about ‘business’. Conventional business thinking doesn’t generally go beyond complaining about corporates, especially the trans-nationals which exist in a world of their own (as a result of successful lobbying).
    The LibDems should take the Bull by the Horns, and unashamedly come out in support of ethical business (most businesses) but also alternative types of business organisation such as worker co-opertives

  • Chris Burden 28th Jul '15 - 5:14pm

    This is an era of arbitrary hire & fire for those in new and temporary jobs, with very limited protection for others, of wage stagnation, and of a Minimum Wage that people cannot live on, on the one hand. And, on the other, a completely unmerited EXPLOSION in Board-level reward. It really shouldn’t be surprising that many LDs with no business investment or management experience are somewhat sceptical about ‘business’.
    And, this isn’t going to be challenged by conventional business thinking that doesn’t generally go beyond accepting nostrums about the necessity of ‘free trade’ and ‘free markets’, and complaints about corporates, especially the trans-nationals which exist in a world of their own (as a result of successful lobbying).
    The LibDems should take the Bull by the Horns and unashamedly come out in support of ethical business (many businesses) and also alternative types of business organisation such as supervisory boards on larger companies and co-operatives. Both of these are perfectly viable but don’t suit the Pirate Capitalism of the age.

  • Richard Underhill 28th Jul '15 - 11:00pm

    Tories, Labour and Liberal Democrats all agree that we need to get people into jobs, for lots of reasons, and that Small and Medium-sized Enterprises are most likely to do that, while large businesses invest in machinery. The push for apprenticeships came from Steohen Lloyd, MP for Eastbourne 2010-2015, who now has a job in Eastbourne.

  • Simon Thorley 28th Jul '15 - 11:05pm

    @Sara S: “Radical, anti-rentseeking, decentralising, demonopolising” – I think we have a vision!

    All those who’ve expressed interest in getting something going, please feel free to LinkIn with me.

  • Hi Simon

    I have been following the discussion and agree that this sort of group focused on business policies is vital if we are to fully appeal to the electorate. I wil link in and hope this discussion leads to action.

  • James Ridgwell 29th Jul '15 - 8:57pm

    i also agree we should start/promote a LD business network, the better to make sure pro-business policies make it into party policy & to take our message to businesspeople. We can’t leave the ‘pro-business/pro economy’ piece to the Tories

  • This is excellent Simon !!
    Accurately or not, we were once described I recall as a “nation of shopkeepers” i.e. small business owners / traders and with all its good and bad we lead the way in “the industrial revolution”. In other words we should know this stuff in our DNA.
    As a former bank employee trying to help small businesses, I know how vital they (and larger ones) are to the country and the sector deserves a high place within the party’s efforts and structure. And we don’t need to ignore the employees or their customers as a party either, after all if a business ignores those…
    Let’s get this imbalance in the party put right.

  • Nigel Quinton 4th Aug '15 - 1:29pm

    I welcome this thread and hope we can get a more open business group going. I’ve been in business all my working life except briefly when standing for parliament in the run up to 2010, and have never felt the party to be anti business, although clearly there are many involved who lack experience and are suspicious of business. But I see that as an antipathy to big business, monopolies and patronage as exemplified by the Tory approach. We stand for the less advantaged (or I hope we do) which should include SMEs, self-employed and entrepreneurs of all sorts.

    I had not heard of the entrepreneurs network, but if it requires a four figure subscription that is not going to interest me! Likewise the Lib Dems in Business group mentioned above regularly invites me to part with £30+ for a discussion evening, and the impression I get is that the business community is seen as a soft touch for donations rather than a source of policy ideas.

    I’d be very happy to get involved with creating a more inclusive and hopefully creative group, there is a big constituency out there that we should be talking to and representing.

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