Tories face backlash from business over policy shifts

The Conservative Party has been accused of sidelining business interests and losing touch with its traditional supporters as it grapples with an identity crisis ahead of the next general election. The party’s conference in Manchester this week revealed a shift in focus from economic issues to cultural and social ones, such as gender identity and net zero targets.

Business leaders dismayed by lack of vision

Many business leaders expressed their dismay at the lack of a clear vision for the economy and the role of the private sector in the Prime Minister’s speech on Wednesday. While he praised the entrepreneurial spirit of his parents and claimed to be the champion of small businesses, he offered no concrete plans to boost growth, investment, productivity, or innovation.

He also announced a radical scaling back of HS2, the high-speed rail project that was supposed to connect London with the North and Midlands, and create thousands of jobs and opportunities. The decision was met with outrage by many businesses that had invested in the project or hoped to benefit from it.

John Dickie, the head of lobbying group BusinessLDN, said the decision “pulls the handbrake” on levelling up. Construction company Mace, which was scheduled to work on the HS2 connection to Euston, said it would “seriously undermine business and investor confidence in the UK”. Stephen Phipson, chief executive of Make UK, said the U-turn “sends a hugely disappointing message about our commitment to completing major infrastructure projects”.

Tories face backlash from business over policy shifts

Tories lose trust and funding from business community

The rift between the Tories and the business community is not only damaging for the economy, but also for the party’s electoral prospects. Businesses have traditionally been a key source of support and funding for the Conservatives, but many are now reconsidering their allegiances.

According to a strategy consultant, the number of clients attending the Labour conference this year has doubled. They are making a conscious decision to go to both conferences, not just Tory. An insider at a centre-right think tank said: “A lot of businesses generally only go to one conference and this year they are going to Labour.”

The number of businesses purchasing exhibition space at the Labour conference this year has nearly tripled to over 40. Among them were Google and Lloyds Bank, as well as Blackwell’s bookshop and a stand for independent shops. A lobbyist said: “Businesses are looking for a credible alternative. They are not happy with the direction of travel of this government.”

Tories gamble on culture war issues to win votes

The Tories’ pivot away from economic issues is part of a deliberate strategy to appeal to their new base of voters, especially in former Labour strongholds in the North and Midlands. The party believes that by focusing on culture war issues, such as gender identity and net zero targets, it can mobilise its supporters and fend off challenges from other parties.

The Prime Minister used his speech to mock Labour’s stance on transgender rights, saying: “We believe in protecting women’s spaces – because we know what a woman is.” He also criticised Labour’s ambition to achieve net zero emissions by 2030, saying: “We will not achieve net zero by banning things or bossing people around.”

The party also unveiled several policies that were designed to appeal to its core voters, such as banning cigarette sales to anyone born after 2005, scrapping A-levels in favour of a baccalaureate system, and introducing voter ID laws.

However, this gamble may backfire if it alienates more moderate and pragmatic voters who care about economic issues and social justice. It may also create divisions within the party itself, as some MPs and members are unhappy with the direction of travel.

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