Finance · 31 July 2015

Labour’s Tom Watson: We’ve got to have a policy for the UK’s millions of micro businesses

Tom Watson has been the Labour MP for West Bromwich East since 2001
Tom Watson has been the Labour MP for West Bromwich East since 2001

Much has been made of how the Labour party can win back voters in general following the 2015 general election defeat, but another frequently mentioned problem point has been convincing the public they can offer enough for businesses. Now Tom Watson, the long-running favourite for the deputy leadership has spoken out on why micro businesses are an overlooked priority for his party.

In an interview with the Huffington Post, Watson said he feels Labour can make inroads by helping small businesses. “I met them in Nuneaton, I met them in Stockton, I met them in all those key seats.”

“We’ve got to have a policy for the nought-to-niners, those micro businesses that employ up to nine staff,” he added. “These are people who work long hours, very often not getting paid much because they are running small businesses, family businesses and there’s millions of them and they are growing.”

Watson also said his party needed to be more in tune with how the labour market was transforming too, compared to its big general election triumph in 1997.

“Back then you might have been a warehouse manager – now you’re an outsourced supplier. You might have been running the canteen at work, now you’re an outsourced caterer. Those individuals have got a very different sense of themselves,” he said. “They’re probably not in a union now, but they were still powerless in the market.”

He added that when the banks started to foreclose in 2008, “they were the ones whose lines of credit were shut down first” and that very often “they have less security than those vulnerable workers we were targeting in 2015”.

He set his sight on micro businesses as a key target for 2020 and feels Labour can make them a priority, “without compromising our values”.

Watson recalled a constituency visit where he met an employer of six staff who couldn’t get a mortgage because he had “an insecure cash flow”. The six employees however, all had a mortgage because they had a regular income from the employer.

“I just think to myself that’s where governments can provide reassurance to businesses,” Watson pointed out. “Look at Germany where there’s still a strong tradition of supporting family businesses. I think we can make the case to those groups of people. We need to be very methodical in re-engaging with those micro businesses and SMEs.”

The West Bromwich East MP and former government minister is facing off against Stella Creasy, Caroline Flint, Angela Eagle and Ben Bradshaw for the deputy leadership. He has become a well-known opposition figure, with tackling the phone hacking scandal a particular crusade of his in recent years.

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Rebecca is a reporter for Business Advice. Prior to this, she worked with a range of tech, advertising, media and digital clients at Propeller PR and did freelance work for The Telegraph.