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Co-Chairman Sonny Leong’s speech at the SME4Labour Annual Gala and Labour Excellence Awards

Friends, thank you so much for coming tonight. It is wonderful to be with you. So – how has your 2017 been?! Quiet? Relaxed? Or have you, like me, been taking your social media feed intravenously for that constant hit of news?

What. A. Year. So I hope that, while yes – tonight is a bit about politics – it’s also about having a great time and taking a break. And boy do we need it. We’ve been through a lot. Thankfully, to see us through such choppy waters, we’ve had Theresa May’s strong and stable leadership! Ah – the landslide that never was.

Nelson Mandela once said that leadership is about putting other people in front. I hear that Jeremy was very grateful for the Prime Minister’s decisive leadership. Or to put it differently:  What an absolutely ludicrous, incompetent, absurd, make-it-up-as-you-go-along, couldn’t-run-a-piss-up-in-a brewery bunch of jokers there are running the government at the most critical time in a generation for the country.

The description is by Ed Miliband, but it’s pretty good. And it’s definitely accurate. I will say this – In the past, I have been angry with the government of our country. I have disagreed with it, strongly, in some cases when it was Labour. But I’ve never been quite so ashamed of our government as I am right now. How morally bankrupt it is. How self-interested it is. How hopeless it is, in every sense of the word.

I’ve been thinking a lot about leadership. Some of the places you see it most are SMEs. For an SME, the margins between success and failure are razor thin. They live and die on the strength of leadership. On vision and ideas. On clarity and purpose. On authenticity and accountability. On character and integrity. SMEs have these characteristics in spades, which is why they drive such incredible growth and energy in our economy.

You are here tonight because you know that. We are going to need that leadership from SMEs in the coming months and years. Even the Daily Express has now realised, to its shock, that Brexit will not be an economic nirvana. Instead, it’s going to make life very hard for us – and especially for SMEs. Brexit will challenge big companies, and while a lot of jobs – a lot of livelihoods – will be lost, the companies will go on… in some cases they are, yes, too big to fail.

SMEs face a much greater, existential risk. We don’t have the natural resilience that often comes with scale. We need to find new ways to be resilient 4 in the unpredictable onslaught and enormous changes that Brexit will bring. Labour has an important role to play in that. That is why we are all here. Because we need a government that understands how to provide the support we need to succeed; that knows how to empower SMEs and that helps us weather the storms.

We need a government that works to build a new, more sustainable economic settlement – where sustainability means durability, resilience and economic justice. We need a government that builds an economy on the growing and vibrant foundation of our SMEs. In short, we need a government of true economic and social leadership. Vision. Purpose. Clarity. Authenticity. Integrity.

We at SME4Labour are committed to ensuring Labour has the deep relationship with the SME community to become that government. And we’re grateful that you are here in support of that mission tonight. I’d like to finish by saying this. There are days when – let’s face it – the news is too depressing. It’s usually something to do with Boris. The future looks a little too bleak. But then you look at this room and you think – you know what, together we can do something.

Together, we can slowly, slowly turn this around. All of us have our unique contribution to make. We are each other’s strength in this labour movement. And I am grateful for it and for you. And I am grateful that you have come to support SMEs for Labour tonight. Thank you so much and have a wonderful night.