Some people love politics – the cut and thrust, cheering and jeering, pavement pounding and leafleting in support of their tribe. Others, not so much. For the haters and agnostics, recent months and years have been a trying time.
Brexit and Trump are more than enough politics for most of us; now we have a General Election on our hands. Commentators currently on the wrong side of history are either disconsolate or apoplectic. It feels like we’re one European election away from the liberal order collapsing, with President Trump a systemic threat – the Lehman Brothers of today. (Perhaps the doomsayers should take heart that capitalism is alive and kicking, despite hyperbolic predictions to the contrary in 2008. As Adam Smith wisely noted, “there is a great deal of ruin in a nation”.)
Though a few entrepreneurs are highly political, most avoid it, which is understandable. Starting and scaling a business is fast-paced and all about being in control of your destiny (even if it doesn’t feel like that in practice). In contrast, politics is slow and compromising and often about controlling other people.
While I would never recommend getting involved in party politics, business owners would be wise to engage in specific areas of policy. The fact is, bad policies can stymie and even destroy businesses, while good policies can help them flourish.
Just consider fintech regulation in the UK. A major driver of London’s fintech scene is the light-touch, clear regulation of the sector by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). We don’t quite have permissionless innovation, but the FCA’s regulatory sandbox provides a safe space for businesses to innovate.
On the surface, The Leap 100 is a practical programme – neither political nor policy oriented. But to paraphrase “the personal is political”: the practical is policy. At our monthly breakfasts, Leap 100 entrepreneurs will meet to discuss their successes, challenges and ambitions. The overlaps with policy are obvious – whether it’s intellectual property, access to finance, laws, regulations, taxation, exporting or visas, the practical often has policy implications.
Even if the political roller-coaster levels off in coming months and years, history isn’t about to end. Entrepreneurs should obviously focus on what they know best – building businesses – but a coordinated push in certain policy areas can make a difference. When home secretary Amber Rudd MP floated the idea of businesses publicly revealing their proportion of foreign workers, the reaction of business owners was swift, uniformly negative and resulted in a sharp policy shift away from the plan.
The Leap 100 is a microcosm of Britain’s exceptional entrepreneurial ecosystem. The personal risks each entrepreneur undertakes are significant, and even if they’re inspired by private gain – most aren’t of course – they’re performing immense public good. Whether you voted stay or nay, Brexit offers a unique opportunity to influence policy. After all, Parliament will become more powerful, giving it more scope to do both good and bad. There’s never been a better time to get involved.