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Westminster watch: free to trade?

The travel industry should support ‘disruptor’ companies seeking new markets when lobbying key Brexiteers, says Gareth Morgan

Brexit has torn up the rule book in politics and lobbying in many regards, but one of the most interesting aspects is the relationship between the Conservative Party and ‘business’.

The Conservatives have been the party of business for generations. They represent its interests; their MPs and ministers are often drawn from the corporate world and their funding model is largely based on donations from businesses.

This inevitably meant that the big business bodies ruled the lobbying roost. The CBI, IoD, FSB and BCC would campaign hard and frequently get their way.

But, in the past 12 months, something has shifted; there is now more of a distinction between what I would call a ‘worthy business’ and what is not – and this is primarily dictated by where you sit on the Brexit spectrum.

No.10, pre-general election, was certainly viewed with frustration by business. As the trajectory towards a hard Brexit gathered pace, there were many complaints that No.10 was not listening. The prime minister had decided on the direction and that was that.

It is worth noting that things are now better with No.10, but in the ministerial and backbench ranks there are still big issues.

On the ardent Brexiteer side, there is an odd distinction between incumbent and disruptive business. They frame incumbent business as comprising inherently conservative bodies that want to maintain the conditions that have enabled their success. They want to keep “mainlining migrant labour from the EU” and have seen Liam Fox accuse them of being “lazy and fat” with executives more interested in “playing golf on a Friday afternoon” than exporting products overseas. They are also, conveniently, Remainers and typified by the CBI.

This same group of MPs, however, holds up the contrasting idea of worthy business. The small, hungry, “disruptive” companies that look at the opportunities of Brexit and the new markets that are about to open before them. They want to shake things up, are in new sectors, creating new technologies, travelling beyond the EU 27 and doing business across the globe. No golfing for them.

Framing the argument
Regardless of its relationship with reality, it is an important idea that Brexiteer MPs are clinging to. It allows them to marry their support for the private sector and Brexit without getting into any intellectual difficulties and, crucially, it allows them to dismiss the concerns of the big business bodies.

The Remainers have clocked this as well. They learned in the referendum campaign that ‘big business’ had been devalued (along with experts) and they need small, agile, entrepreneurial businesses to come forward and talk about the investments they aren’t making or the difficult decisions they are weighing up. They need these stories to come to life and cut through the doubt that an effective Brexiteer comms campaigns has created.

It is also important for the travel sector. You always need to shape your message to resonate with the intended audience and the Brexiteers that sit in key departments (DfT, International Trade), and who are swimming shark-like around the prime minister, are in this worthy business mould. If we want APD to come down, or we want to encourage the expansion of an airport, then we need to ensure they are framed as policies that will allow disruptive businesses to get out there and do their thing, not for big business to further line its pockets.

If we are looking for case studies within our own clients, make them the challenger brands breaking into Asia, North America or the Commonwealth which just need the government to untie one hand from behind their back. And make sure it is the business travel sector that is seen as their indispensable ally in getting them there.

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