A leading Conservative business figure has quit the party after almost 40 years, citing the party’s alleged “f*** business” attitude and willingness to put vulnerable groups on the front line of a culture war.
Iain Anderson, founder of the Cicero public relations group and named “LGBT business champion” in Boris Johnson’s government in September 2021, said he was switching his support to Labour.
Anderson, a friend of former prime minister Liz Truss and levelling-up secretary Michael Gove, said that after 39 years as a Tory party member, he was quitting. “It’s not the party it used to be — I can’t defend it,” he said.
When he was appointed, Truss, then minister for women and equalities, spoke of Anderson’s “considerable experience working with a range of businesses” and said he would be crucial in developing policies to improve the workplace for LGBT people.
But Anderson became disillusioned and quit that role last year in protest against the government’s approach to transgender issues. Now he has torn up his party membership too.
“The first thing is the party’s relationship with business,” he told the Financial Times, saying its approach seemed to reflect Johnson’s infamous comment “f*** business” in relation to Brexit.
Anderson, who wrote a book on Tory-business relations, said: “I’ve tried to understand why a Conservative leader could say that and nobody in the party blinked an eyelid about it.”
Business leaders have become increasingly critical of the Conservative government, notably over its perceived lack of a coherent growth strategy. The economic fallout of Brexit remains a running sore.
Tony Danker, head of the CBI employers’ group, last month said: “Denial of where our economy is right now compared to our international competitors is the surest way to leave the UK’s growth prospects faltering this decade.”
Anderson, who says he will support Labour at the next election, recently met Sir Keir Starmer to discuss business policy and said he was confident the opposition party leader would “do what he says”.
Starmer has wooed business in recent months, including attending the World Economic Forum in Davos. Business leaders, believing Starmer could soon be prime minister, are now in regular dialogue with Labour.
Asked if he was switching parties to secure commercial advantage for his company, Anderson said he stuck to the Tories when he was building his business in the 1990s when it would have been easier to back Sir Tony Blair, who led Labour to a landslide election victory in 1997.
Key to his decision to abandon the Tories now is his belief, based on discussions with party insiders, that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will ramp up the so-called culture wars as a central part of his 2024 election strategy.
“It was made pretty clear the plan is to run a culture war to distract from fundamental economic failings,” Anderson said. “It’s not something I want any part of.”
Anderson quit as the government’s LGBT adviser last year, claiming ministers were trying “to drive a wedge” between transgender people and gay, lesbian and bisexual people.
He opposed the UK government’s decision to block a highly contentious gender recognition law, passed by the Scottish parliament, which made it easier for a person to legally change their gender.
Anderson, chair of the LGBT charity Stonewall, said he was speaking in a personal capacity.
Labour said it had a positive vision for growth, based on economic stability. “Serious business people can see that Labour has changed and are signing up to support us,” a spokesman said.
The Conservative party declined to comment, but one Tory source said Anderson was “furious” about the government’s decision to block first minister Nicola Sturgeon’s “radical gender self-ID proposals”.
“Given Keir Starmer’s support for similar laws for the whole of the UK it’s unsurprising that he’s joining the Labour party,” the Tory source said. “We wish him well.”