Labour is speeding up meetings with leaders of Britain’s biggest companies as it ramps up efforts to win the City of London after the Conservative Party’s small budget led to economic chaos.
The diaries of Keir Starmer, his shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves and shadow business secretary Jonathan Reynolds have been filled with coffee in recent weeks Meetings and dinners as executives clamor to contact Labour frontbenchers.
The move has been described as “Prawn Cocktail Offensive 2.0”, a reference to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown’s efforts to win over Britain’s financial industry during the opposition and a landslide victory in 1997.
The next big engagement between the Labour leader and his senior economic team and executives will take place in London in early December, when the party will hold its next ‘Business for Labour’ event, including a panel discussion and lunch.
This was followed by a packed Labour party meeting in Liverpool with executives and entrepreneurs, with tickets sold out in record time. Starmer and Reeves were among the senior politicians, speaking to more than 600 business leaders and international guests at the event.
Labour said the September meeting in Liverpool attracted the largest number of companies since 2010, including one owned by a major Conservative donor.
Since the meeting, Labour’s lead in the polls has widened following market turmoil, a weaker pound and a surge in government borrowing costs triggered by the ill-fated small budgets of Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng.
Relations between the Conservative Party and business leaders have struggled to recover during Boris Johnson’s tenure as prime minister, after he reported “fuck business” in response to employers’ concerns about a hard Brexit.
The Tory infighting and Truss’ resignation have only made matters worse, a notable change from the party’s previous stance as the self-styled business party.
Labour sources say contacts among business leaders have grown significantly in recent weeks as the party’s relationship with New York City is shifting, which has soured under Jeremy Corbyn.
The Guardian understands that Labour is expected to meet its target of meeting with executives of Britain’s 250 largest listed companies early next year.
HSBC and NatWest Bank, as well as professional services firm Ernst & Young and multinationals such as Siemens and Nissan, have all held meetings with Labour.
The country’s biggest retailers and major employers, including Tesco and Sainsbury’s, have also made contact with Labour’s top team in recent weeks.
Reynolds described the business as “a vital partner in building the fairer, greener Britain we all want to see”.
“We’re unabashedly a pro-business, pro-worker party, and it’s great to be able to talk to businesses of all sizes,” said Reynolds. “I’m very grateful for the insight and support of the companies we’ve spoken to. Business Community Leaders know that when it comes to economic growth, only Labour is there.”
Labour is understood to be increasing its engagement with smaller companies through a national network of regional chambers of commerce. It also expects more meetings with small companies ahead of Small Business Saturday in early December.
A Labour source said the party and business didn’t always agree, but they believed the recent wave of corporate engagement showed it was now seen as a “credible alternative” by councils.