Distinguished Members of Parliament, distinguished Members of the House of Lords, colleagues, friends. Thank you for joining us at this SME4Labour Parliamentary Reception.My name is Ibrahim Dogus, and I am the co-founder of SME4Labour. I am a small business owner. I am a community activist. I am a proud member of Vauxhall Constituency Labour Party. We are here to make a simple argument: that there is no contradiction between supporting small and medium enterprises – SMEs – and being an active supporter of the Labour Party and Jeremy Corbyn.
Indeed it makes perfect sense for SMEs to want a Labour Government, with an economic plan for jobs, investment in public services, pump-priming the economy with infrastructure projects, and a commitment to regional development. Small businesses need customers with money to spend. When it comes to the cost of living crisis, Labour’s plans make the most sense.
I spent the election last summer as the Labour parliamentary candidate for Cities of London & Westminster. I have to say, the star of the campaign was the manifesto. That’s what came up on the doorsteps, in cafes, and street corners: Labour’s practical policies for a living wage, for more homes, for control over public utilities and transport, for investment in police and schools and the NHS. It struck a nerve.
A 9000 Tory majority in 2015 is now a 3000 Tory majority after 2017. Next time, it will be a Labour majority, and Labour will represent the hard-working families of Belgravia, Knightsbridge and St James’s. Her Majesty the Queen will have a Labour MP!
The election campaign taught me some important lessons:
- Ignore the opinion polls and keep on fighting.
- There are first-time Labour voters in every part of every constituency, especially in London. Even in the richest neighbourhoods there are some of the poorest people, especially recent immigrants.
- But to win the next general election, we need to reach deep into new territory.
And that’s where SME4Labour comes in. One key section of our society that we need to win over into our electoral coalition is small businesses – the entrepreneurs and owners, as well as the staff and suppliers.
SMEs are the backbone of the economy and the heart of the community. They create the jobs, the wealth, the opportunities we need as a nation in the uncertain world after Brexit.
- 99% of UK businesses are small or medium sized businesses.
- That’s 5.4 million SMEs alongside more than 4.7 million self- employed people.
- 96% employ fewer than nine people.
- Last year, total employment in SMEs was 16.1 million; 60% of all private sector employment in the UK.
- The combined annual turnover of SMEs was £1.9 trillion, or 51% of all private sector turnover in the UK.
Small businesses make a big impact. Recently, we have seen Labour win the backing of the CBI on our argument in support of a Customs Union. We are winning support from business. Labour can show SMEs that it has the right policies post-Brexit, and SMEs can help shape Labour’s economic policies for this uncertain time.
SME4Labour has an excellent relationship with the shadow Treasury team, and with the shadow business team, and with the Leader’s Office. There are real concerns about Brexit, about late payment, about sluggish growth. All credit to the Labour Front Bench for being open and listening to the concerns of SMEs. They’ve opened the door. Now it is up to local CLPs to set up local business forums, to meet with SMEs and their representative bodies, to engage with all the new members who work for, or own, SMEs.
We have over half a million members now as a national party. That’s an incredible asset if we engage with people’s experiences and expertise. When we talk to SMEs, we discover amazing things. We meet amazing entrepreneurs with energy and ideas. We often meet immigrants with stirring stories of courage and resilience. We hear stories of triumph over adversity. We meet the very best of British.
So of course SMEs should be for Labour, and Labour should be for SMEs.
SME4Labour is growing, and going from strength to strength, but we can’t do it without you.