The business organisation London First, which campaigns on behalf of many of the capital’s larger employers, might seem an unlikely organisation to run at event at the Labour Party conference – especially that of the current Labour Party – in Liverpool. But they were there and they weren’t wasting their time.
Sadiq Khan was the star attraction and his off-the-cuff speech served as a restatement of his famous 2016 election campaign pledge to be the most business-friendly London Mayor so far. Those present heard him thank the business community for its contribution to the city, stressing that “London is successful because you are successful” and stating that “politicians don’t create jobs”. He repeated his post-Brexit message that “London is open” to talent and entrepreneurs from across the world.
The Mayor also spoke of Crossrail 2 as “critical” to London’s future, an issue London first is lobbying hard on. It was addressed too by Southwark Council leader Peter John, speaking in his capacity as chair of London Councils. At the recent London First Infrastructure Summit, John had sounded pessimistic about the project’s prospects, underlining the general importance of new transport infrastructure to the city’s prosperity and questioning whether a Conservative national government will rush to help a Labour Mayor claim a big success. “Party politics looms over infrastructure,” he warned.
But in Liverpool John was more upbeat, buoyed by what appears to have been a positive recent gathering of borough leaders, Conservatives included under the London Councils umbrella. He expressed confidence that London business, City Hall and the boroughs share a common view about what London needs, and not only with regard to Crossrail 2, and that such unity of purpose, can help London deal with whatever Brexit brings.
London First chief executive Jasmine Whitbread said that with six months to go until Brexit and everyone “navigating huge amounts of uncertainty” it is a crucial time for strong relationships and open dialogue between business and politicians. She emphasised that London First members “repeatedly tell us that access to talent is their number one concern, post-Brexit” and urged Labour politicians in the room to pressure national government to “keep our doors open to the international talent that has been key to the whole of the UK’s global success.”
Whitbread also spoke about London First’s collaboration with business groups across the country to make that the case that Brexit must not be allowed to slow either Crossrail 2 or Northern Powerhouse rail investment. She addressed a separate Northern Powerhouse Partnership event while in Liverpool, alongside Liverpool City Region Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram and Sadiq Khan’s Deupty Mayor for Business, Rajesh Agrawal. There was even a “quick catch up” with Jeremy Corbyn.