Thursday, 3 October 2013
Conservative Party Conference, Manchester Tuesday 1 October
As Chief Executive of the Industry and Parliament Trust I would each year attend all three Party Conferences. This gave me an incredibly useful view not only of British politics and the present issues, seen from different perspectives by each party, but an insight into the possible impact of political decisions made by the Party in power and how well MPs and MEPs understand the potential impact on business. As time was very limited I attended a wonderfully spirited session on the political scene chaired by Eleanor Laing MP, who had presented me with the Voluntary Sector Achiever of the Year Award in 2007. Sir Robert Worcester, an old friend and founder of MORI, who attended my installation, provided his usual wonderful insights into elections past, present and future, with Fraser Nelson, editor of the Spectator, giving an entertaining commentary. Over supper afterwards, the conversation ran on to discussion about the next two years and the view I had expressed to the Home Secretary, when with us at Merchant Taylors Hall in January. Nobody votes for a coalition and there needs to be a visible degree of separation between parties evidenced well before the five years are up. I then moved on to discuss European matters in which I make every effort to remain well versed. The City of London is not complacent about the risks of leaving the EU and the possible loss of the foreign banks. If the UK pulls out we would have to abide by single market rules without any of the benefit and with no influence. The EU could bring in legal rules to protect itself from the City of London. The risk in not being part of the debate is substantial and the competitive agenda is vital to the whole of Europe. The burden on SMEs could be intolerable. I pointed out that the principle of free movement of people and goods across Europe is not something business or individuals would at all wish to lose. A salesman commented that he only exists because he can load up his car with product and sell easily across so many countries. British Citizens being stopped at borders would not go down well with the general public, now accustomed to easy entry and departure to so many holiday and business locations. The UK would lose the considerable political, social and economic benefits which are generated by our membership of the EU. Focus, as we know, on the costs of membership obscures the fact that a UK outside the EU cannot expect cost-free access. My last port of call at the Conference was to listen to Boris Johnson, prior to returning to London by train for the Marketors visit to Lambeth Palace followed by dinner at Mansion House with the Lord Mayor in the company of two most distinguished people - Oxford Professor of the History of the Church, Diarmaid MacCulloch and Lord Peter Hennesey, English historian of Government.