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Today is my birthday and having reached 51, I’ll vote at my eighth election. I’m still perplexed at how politicians manage to offer us all paradise but paid for with our children’s money.
I write as somebody with a pretty unique perspective. In my professional life I run a business, in my spare time I’m chairman of one of the North’s largest business groups and politically I have history – having stood for Parliament twice and acted as a media officer to both a Prime Minister and a Leader of the Opposition.
In this election – partly due to the sad death of my wife last year – I have no official role so I am spectating. This has led me to me more thoughtful than is normal during the cut and thrust of electoral battle.
My first observation is that both of the two large parties know they are being pressed by the new challenger parties and they don’t like it because they end up engaged in four way arguments. Briefing notes before TV interviews are much longer and the LTT (‘lines to take’) research from head office is more complex. Nevertheless, talking to Labour and Conservative MPs recently, both are utterly convinced of victory and determined to win. Both play out a web of scenarios involving losses to the SNP or UKIP, then they layer on the effect of massive Lib Dem losses to each of their own parties and reach entirely different conclusions.
Minor parties posture as king makers and offer policies at the extremes. The Greens are like carrots; green at the top but redder the further down you look. The SNP are nationalists of the left and UKIP are nationalists of the right; none of them appeal to me.
David Cameron is moderate, centre right and level-headed. That he is well-spoken and went to good schools are assets not deficiencies. However, we live in the media age when moderation is a vice and having a loud mouth and a small party is a virtue. I hope the rise of the minor parties is short-lived and the two larger parties start to feel their way back into the nation’s affections. The fringe is inhabited by people whose agendas are narrow and whose experiences won’t lead us to greater prosperity or success.
The media lampoon the age of the ‘professional politician’ but consider this; the opposite is an amateur politician. What good is an amateur in a world where we expect our politicians to understand how to push the buttons of power to achieve the results we expect and deserve?
Above all we want a thriving economy. We want jobs and opportunity. The Golden rule of all big election campaigns is; ‘It’s the economy, stupid!’ Last week we saw the growth figures published, they demonstrated the UK economy growing faster than expected, and faster than at any time since 2006. So, when 100 business leaders gave unambiguous support to the Chancellor’s stewardship, they deserved to be heard. I know some of them personally; they are enterprising people who are risking their money to create the wealth we all need to fund the public services we all want. They are people of integrity too, some backed Labour in the past, and others rarely enter political debate. They care about our economic future. Together they employ over 500,000 people and in each case their company’s corporation tax has gone down from 28% to 20%. The tax cut generated more money for the businesses to invest and more resources from which to employ people and grow. Labour would put it up.
Labour launched its own ‘Better Plan for Business’ which focused on the EU, presupposing that a pledge not to hold a referendum would be welcomed by business. Only around one in ten business people think the EU social and economic model is working. I think significant reform is needed to boost the private sector across the continent. Few in business would vote to leave, but they do think it is sensible to hold a referendum based on reforms, which the UK can achieve if it works with European partners.
There are plenty of other important issues that will be in the minds of businesses in the run-up to the election. Labour must make sure that warm words are backed up by practical policies. Businesses will support their commitment to remove international students from arbitrary net migration targets, for example.
There is one thing that business wants more than anything; stable Government.
I welcome that business is highly regarded by both big parties but I’m worried that fringe parties will generate protest votes that give us unstable Government in the years ahead. There is nothing wrong in challenging the status quo, but if it results in back-room deals and drawn out negotiations it could damage hard-won confidence. This election I hope for a decisive result; one party needs to win outright. I know which Party I support but if the other team win I’d want to engage positivity for the good of our country, our region and our communities.