My Lords, ladies and gentlemen, Members of Parliament, distinguished representatives of the media, friends from the trade unions, and from businesses, fellow Labour supporters. Welcome to the Park Lane Sheraton Hotel, and to the SME4Labour Gala Dinner.
My name is Ibrahim Dogus, and I am the co-founder of SME4Labour. I am a small business owner. I am a community activist. And I am a proud member of Vauxhall Constituency Labour Party. And the point of this evening is to say 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 and the self-employed 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 this summer as the Labour parliamentary candidate for Cities of London & Westminster. We fought hard, with a noisy, lively campaign. If you know me, you know I like to be noisy and lively! I have to say, the star of the campaign wasn’t the campaigners, or the shadow cabinet, or even the candidate… it 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.
We knocked on doors in Pimlico and Soho and Marylebone. Where I live in Vauxhall we have roads, and streets, and squares. But in Westminster and Belgravia I never knew there were so many ‘Mews’.
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 several new and historic constituencies. 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.
Never forget: 99% of UK businesses are small or medium sized businesses. That’s 5.4 million SMEs alongside more than 4.7million self- employed people 96% of SMEs 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.
Labour can show SMEs and the self-employed 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, and about the revised slow growth forecasts in Philip Hammond’s Budget. All credit to the Labour Front Bench for being open and listening to the concerns of SMEs and the self-employed.
They’ve opened the door. Now it is up to local CLPs to set up local business forums, to meet with SMEs, the self-employed 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.
I know most enlightened MPs do it already, but I would urge candidates and CLPs where there is no Labour to engage with their SMEs too, and SME4Labour can assist in that task.
When we talk to SMEs and the self-employed, 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, and struggles and set-backs. We meet the very best of British.
So of course SMEs and the self-employed should be for Labour, and Labour should be for SMEs and the self-employed. We don’t know when the next election will come. It could be as soon as 2018, or else the year after. The Government is weak and wobbly. It is teetering on the brink of collapse. Labour is the Government in waiting. Jeremy is the Prime Minister in waiting.
When we win, SMEs and the self-employed will be at the heart of Labour’s programme, because they mean so much to the future prosperity of the country. I am delighted that SME4Labour is playing its part. We have exciting plans for next year, and I hope you will join with us.
Finally, let me thank our business partners tonight, who have made the event such a success: Bira London, First Capital, Cheviot Capital, Cobra Beer.
Thank you to the SME4Labour team for organising our event. And thank you for coming. SME4Labour is growing, and going from strength to strength, but we can’t do it without you.
Thank you, and enjoy the evening.