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25 April 2023

What might replace the CBI?

The lobbying group was seen as the unified voice of British business. The race is on to supplant it.

By Freddie Hayward

Everyone seems to be giving up on the Confederation of British Industry after weeks of allegations of sexual misconduct at the business lobbying group. More than fifty businesses have cut or suspended ties with the CBI, and Jeremy Hunt, the Chancellor, has said that there is “no point” in continuing to deal with it. The situation is so bad that the CBI’s president has said he doesn’t know whether the organisation can recover.

The collapse of the CBI would leave a vacuum. Hunt has said it is “incredibly important” to him “to have someone I can turn to that speaks for British business”. Will Dunn, our business editor, has found that BizUK, which has been launched just as the CBI is floundering, has strong links to the Conservative Party.

As Will writes: “WPI [the lobbying group behind BizUK] was founded by Nick Faith and Sean Worth. Faith is a former director of communications at the right-wing think tank Policy Exchange and a regular contributor to Conservative Home. Worth is a fellow Policy Exchange alumnus who worked as head of the Conservative Party’s policy unit and as a special adviser to David Cameron.”

Political parties always court businesses in the year before an election. John McDonnell, Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow chancellor, spent “hour after hour in the City talking to asset managers and investment advisers” (albeit to prevent a run on the pound). Keir Starmer and the rest of the present shadow cabinet have devoted many evenings to winning over businesses and, I’m told, eagerly noting down their policy ideas. Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng blew up what credibility with business leaders that the conservatives had left after Brexit and more than a decade of stagnant growthRishi Sunak is now trying to rebuild that trust. Yesterday the Prime Minister launched a forum to create a direct link with industry called “Business Connect”.

The CBI is frequently seen in the media as the unified voice of British business leaders. Whatever comes out of the current crisis – a government forum, a right-wing lobbying group, or a reformed CBI – will have the opportunity to shape how voters and the media view business, and by extension the economy. A worthy prize.

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[See also: How much is Britain really working?]

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