As the final two leadership candidates embark on a tour of the country to sell their vision for Britain to Conservative party members, the business leaders I speak to are clear on what they need: the next Prime Minister must be able to facilitate a successful future for our economy, society and communities, while bringing a divided country back together.
Boris Johnson and his supporters hark back to his time as mayor of London, particularly the success of the Olympics, to demonstrate his qualifications for the role. And despite some quibbles, our experience of working with Boris was that he was a strong mayor for business.
But Brexit Boris troubles us, with his reckless talk of crashing out of the EU, which would do huge damage to the economy.
The question is: which Boris will turn up if he secures the keys to Number 10 Downing Street?
Olympic Boris harnessed a positive vision of the city, and was a strong champion of a diverse and outward-looking London.
More homes were built under his tenure than under his predecessor, and he supported critical infrastructure in the capital during a period of austerity – from continuing to back Crossrail, for which London First campaigned, to defending much-needed Tube upgrades to the Jubilee, Victoria and Piccadilly lines.
Of course, there were also some wildly ambitious vanity projects, gaffes, and often outlandish claims, which have been well-documented. And his opposition to expansion at Heathrow was a major mark against him from a business perspective.
Interestingly, in his leadership campaigning Boris has seemingly softened this stance. This is to be welcomed – a third runway is vital to safeguard the UK’s future international competitiveness and improve London’s connectivity with the rest of the country.
But perhaps Boris’ greatest strength as mayor was to build a strong team around him. This made up for a stuttering start and enabled him to notch up some impressive achievements. This bodes well if he is to be the next Prime Minister.
However, the priority for whoever gets the job must be avoiding the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal at the end of October, which Brexit Boris has at various points appeared to endorse.
Brexit Boris’ derogatory comments regarding business are also a concern. The next Prime Minister must instead send a strong signal that the UK will remain open for business and commit to ensuring that we have a fair and managed immigration system.
A quick win would be to extend the post-study work visa for international students to two years. Then he should slash the salary threshold – currently set to come into effect at £30,000 – to the level of the London Living Wage. If this isn’t lowered, it will leave employers in the capital and beyond facing critical skills gaps in many sectors.
The government also needs to bring the country together by investing in infrastructure. So, let’s see the Prime Minister throw his weight behind the National Infrastructure Commission’s recommendations which would give the green light to Crossrail 2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail.
And there’s much more to do to unlock private sector investment on housing, freeing up more land and backing better ways of building if we are to avoid a flight of talent from the capital.
Whoever is the next Prime Minister, he will need to hit the ground running and start by surrounding himself with good people.
Boris as mayor proved that he could work with London businesses to keep our capital at the top of the global charts. We know that he could very well be heading to Downing Street. If he is, let’s hope that it’s Olympic Boris, and not the cavalier Brexiteer Boris, that enters Number 10.