Nicky Morgan is Chair of the Treasury Select Committee, a former Education Secretary, and MP for Loughborough.
I wrote in my last column for ConservativeHome about the red flashing signals that should be causing alarm amongst our Party’s leadership. But never did I think another warning sign would be added so soon: the cavalier attitude and, in some cases, complete contempt which some very senior people in the Conservative Party, including the Foreign Secretary, appear to have towards British businesses.
This is, of course, part of a pattern for some of our Brexiteers. If an institution dares to question their version of Brexit, then the immediate response is to undermine the institution. It is never to question whether, perhaps, Brexit could be done differently – in a way which doesn’t undermine our economy, our constitution or our values as a country.
The trouble with a response such as ‘f**k business’ is that it captures, very succinctly, everything about that person and the beliefs they have. And it is no good trying to justify it by saying that these businesses are owned by overseas entities, and that we should be thinking about ordinary working Brits – because it is these businesses who employ ‘ordinary working Brits’. So the peoeple who say such a thing clearly have both no idea and no interest in how business actually operates.
And if they have no interest, then they clearly have no understanding in how the economy works, how taxes get paid, how jobs are created, how productivity is encouraged, how wages grow and how investment decisions are made.
It’s the kind of lack of understanding I’d expect from our Marxist-sympathising Shadow Chancellor. Not from a Conservative Foreign Secretary, one of whose predecessors determined that our embassies and consulates around the world should be showcases of the highly successful and memorable ‘Great’ campaign, and who is responsible for staff in those very same consulates and embassies, whose job is to promote British companies to overseas governments and companies.
The Conservative Party is a pro-enterprise Party. We have always believed in the entrepreneurial spirit, we want to see the private sector expand and to employ more people, and we need them to be successful and pay their taxes and fund our public services. We have always wanted businesses of all sizes to invest and grow and come up with new world-leading technologies.
Sometimes a Conservative government also needs to be a critical friend to business. For example, we may need to point out that corporate behaviours in a small number of businesses are letting everyone else down, that we need them to be more diverse and to pay more in taxes. We may (and do at the moment) need to make the case that, although we are capitalists, there are elements of capitalism which aren’t working and which need reforming.
But we can’t do any of that if what businesses think, when they think of this Conservative Government, is of a Foreign Secretary who swore about them or a Health Secretary who thinks it isn’t appropriate that they should voice their concerns about Brexit publicly – in spite of the fact that they’ve been voicing their concerns privately for many, many months.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if the Conservative Party moves away from wanting to build a strong economy and supporting businesses and jobs then we are in real, deadly trouble.
Over the next week, the Cabinet has the chance to signal that they do want to listen to business in delivering a Brexit deal with the EU, and that they don’t want to unduly damage our economy in conducting the necessary negotiations. I firmly believe that the Prime Minister needs no persuading of this basic tent of conservatism, so it is the duty of every Cabinet Minister to support her in this. If they cannot then they need to relinquish their position.