Is Zac Goldsmith running scared of London businesses?

Zac Goldsmith is not a typical free-market Conservative politician
Zac Goldsmith is not a typical free-market Conservative politician
Adam Bienkov By

There have been numerous reports in recent months that Zac Goldsmith has been slow to reach out to the London business community.

Last month a number of senior business leaders told the Financial Times that Goldsmith had failed to engage with them since launching his campaign.

"Zac's engagement has been less than impressive," one senior city figure said.

By contrast Sadiq Khan has gone to great lengths to win over the city, often to the dismay of some of his Labour supporters.

Mimicking the current mayor Boris Johnson, Khan has called for Londoners to celebrate the number of billionaires living in the capital. He has also attacked his own party's plans to increase taxes on corporations and declared he will be London's "most business-friendly mayor ever."

Khan has also been engaged for months in what his campaign calls a "ceviche offensive" with London's business leaders. This has involved multiple meetings with big city figures and organisations in a bid to counter Labour's current anti-business reputation.

The strategy appears to be paying off. The most recent electoral commission records show multiple donations to Khan's campaign from property developers and other city sources. By contrast Goldsmith's only registered donation so far has been £50,000 from his mother.

Earlier this week Khan took part in a Q+A with the London First business organisation.

Senior business figures gathered in the basement of CBRE's London offices to listen to his plans for business. Interestingly quite a number of questions came from City Hall and TfL contractors. Khan came under pressure for his pledges to cut fares and oppose Heathrow expansion, but largely emerged unscathed. Most audience members I spoke to afterwards seemed impressed.

A Labour candidate for mayor is unlikely to ever be a darling of the City. Polling last month showed that most city executives tend to support the Conservative candidate in this race. However it also found that Khan is outperforming his own party in terms of support from businesses while Goldsmith is underperforming his.

As one City source told the FT, Goldsmith is "not quite the positive some Tories might be [for business]… Zac is not a typical free-market Tory, he is a bit more complicated than that.”

Goldsmith has a long record of disagreements with big business. While editor of the Ecologist, he led a crusade against big agricultural firms and railed about the corrupting effect of corporations on government.

"Governments are to a worrying and increasing extent controlled by these corporations," he wrote in a piece for the magazine, adding that: "Keeping big business happy is now one of the basic governmental priorities - both left and right -  in every country of the world."

One current major sticking point between Goldsmith and big business is his strong opposition to Heathrow expansion. While Khan has belatedly decided to oppose it, he made great pains at his London First Q+A to emphasise that he supports expansion elsewhere at Gatwick "unlike a certain other candidate".

In truth Goldsmith has moved away from outright opposition to airport expansion since being selected as the Conservative candidate. However his campaign appear to be wary of a public clash with business leaders supporting a third runway.

In fact I understand that Goldsmith's campaign have recently resisted requests to take part in a Q+A of his own with London First.

While other mayoral candidates, including the Green Party's Sian Berry have agreed to be grilled on-the-record by city figures at London First, sources tell me that Goldsmith's campaign have asked for a "roundtable" meeting instead.

A spokesperson for Goldsmith declined to comment on their arrangements with London First.  However, a spokesperson said he would "build on the growth that London’s firms have seen under Boris, to deliver his action plan for Greater London."

They added: "The important choice all Londoners face in May is between Zac, who stands up for them and has a plan to deliver, and the Khan-Corbyn experiment, with a £2 billion budget black hole that would undermine the stability our businesses need to succeed."

But while the Tories are currently trying to scare business about a dangerous and "radical" Khan administration, it appears they are not quite as confident in Goldsmith's appeal to business as you might expect.


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