Chamber members told business community is key to UK’s political landscape

Author - Courtney Hiles

Date published:

The UK director of think tank More in Common spoke to the region’s leading businesses about the importance of the business community in shaping the country’s political landscape at a Chamber event.

Luke Tryl discussed the wide-reaching shift caused by the North East’s “political battleground”, as well as the need for stability from government as the country heads towards a general election.

Speaking at our 1815 Lunch, Luke said: “The truth is most people don’t think about politics and are a bit distrustful of what they read in the media. Instead, local businesses shape their views.

“The role of businesses in the community as employers, and the contribution of businesses to prosperity in general mean a business audience is much more important than politicians.”

He added: “The North East is, without doubt, the most important political battleground at the moment. This has triggered a really important development in the political landscape – meaning more attention is being paid to an area like the North East, something that is long overdue.

“Whatever happens in the general election, we’re not going to go back to North East as a one-party state. I think that’s a really good thing.”

Luke also spoke about “ordinary hope” and the need for politicians to improve daily lives.

He said: “What people basically want is for things to work a little bit better, and for things to calm down a bit. The internationally renowned academic and political strategist Marc Stears speaks of ordinary hope, devolution is an important part of this.

“People have always been a bit cynical of politicians – I think that’s healthy. But there is no doubt that it has moved on from healthy cynicisms to something deeper. The expenses scandal brought up the idea of one rule for them, one rule for us.

“Partygate was one of most damaging episodes of public trust. You’ll be surprised by how little cuts through to the public, but partygate was one of them. The reason for this is everybody had a story of what they sacrificed during the pandemic.”

He added: “Devolution might be the cure. Mayors such as Ben Houchen, Andy Street and Andy Burnham have managed to cut through to people in a way national politicians can’t.                 

“They’ve been quite non-partisan. People get the sense that they’re acting in the interest of the country and the region rather than a narrow political lens. Devolution must be one of the answers. Ordinary hope is really important and meets people where they are.”

Luke spoke about awareness around respect for people who “kept the show on the road” during the pandemic.

He said: “Parties should talk more about respect for people. To stop respect being seen as something for those who have a degree or live in London. Respect is misaligned with certain lifestyles and having certain opportunities.”

The former special advisor also spoke about the big unknowns around the upcoming general election, including the future of the Reform UK party, tactical voting and the “don’t knows”- those who voted Conservative in 2019 and don’t know who to vote for next.

He said: “Party messaging which focuses on stability and reassurance (after what the public see as years of turmoil) will appeal to the don’t knows. That group of voters is going to be absolutely pivotal to the result. My gut feeling is that the result of the general election will be closer than the polls suggest.”

Ben Simkin, regional director at CrossCountry Trains, shared the challenges faced by the transport industry in recent years, as well as future investments. The business is undergoing a £120million refurbishment programme, including an expansion of its long-distance fleet which will increase seat capacity by 35,000 extra seats per week.

John McCabe, chief executive at the Chamber, reflected on a historic few days for the North East, and emphasised the Chamber’s commitment to work across political borders to ensure the benefits of devolution are felt across the region.

More in Common is a think tank that works to tackle polarisation by better understanding what people think about the key issues of the day and why they think it. Through a regular programme of polling and focus groups, More in Common works to break down the barriers between elite and public opinion and to amplify the voices of those normally overlooked in debates about policy or politics.

Luke has had previous roles in politics and the civil service, including as special adviser to Nicky Morgan when she was education secretary, and as director of strategy at Ofsted.

Formally known as the President’s Lunch, the 1815 dinner and lunch events are a nod to the Chamber’s founding year. The events bring together over 150 senior leaders from the largest and most influential businesses across the North East, and feature high profile speakers.

The 1815 Lunch took place at Redworth Hall Hotel in Newton Aycliffe on 13 May. The event was sponsored by CrossCountry Trains.

Image caption: (l-r) John McCabe, chief executive at NECC; Ben Simkin, regional director at CrossCountry Trains; Rhiannon Bearne, executive director – policy & representation and deputy CEO at NECC and Luke Tryl, UK director at More in Common.

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