So conference season has been and gone and what have we learnt? Given that we’re mere months away from an election, it’s been a pretty unremarkable few weeks. The Conservatives lead Labour by just one point according to the latest opinion polls, attributed to Cameron promising tax cuts to 30 million people. Yet have the two party leaders done enough to make the nation feel like there’s a clear vote winner come 2015? Hardly.
First we had Ed Miliband with the forgotten speech, where perhaps owing to the difficulties of committing an hour long speech to memory, he missed a section which discussed the deficit. Unfortunately some undecided voters might find it difficult to trust a man who puts style over substance when he’s trying to persuade us he can run the country. Labour’s big problem going into this election is the two Eds. If they can put forward a cogent case for how business would flourish under a Labour government, they might win over some of the doubters. There’s still plenty of time until the election, but they really need to make their case. And fast.
Then came Cameron at the Conservative conference with his Richard Curtis inspired speech, almost drowning in a sea of Union Jacks rousing up the party faithful. From a marketing perspective it was impressive stuff, he seemed almost Presidential, as if this was a US primary and not just a conference in Birmingham.
We’ve seen proposals to raise tax thresholds for the bottom and the top earners and mansion taxes that are realistically never going to happen in the next parliament even if the bill gets through, given the bureaucracy involved.
From a business perspective, to those helping prop up the economy and drive the UK’s standing in the world as a centre of commerce and innovation, both speeches failed to completely reassure. Miliband was slammed by some business leaders for barely touching on business issues, while attacking energy companies, banks, tobacco companies and the wealthy.
For Cameron’s part, the promise of implementing the lowest rate of corporation tax of any major economy is a welcome move, but many are left wondering – what’s the catch? There’s a feeling that both could have done more to appease more of the concerns of businesses in the UK. Let’s not forget that we have a growing deficit, interest rates are likely to rise, an NHS on its knees and another possible £25bn in cuts. We’re not out of the woods yet.
Of course, away from the two main parties, Nigel and Nick wait in the wings taking pot shots at both leaders. It’s their right to, as minority parties that will never win a majority in Parliament or be responsible for seriously radical bills. Yet neither of them have added much to a serious discussion on future business policy. That said, the Lib Dems have achieved something like 75% of their manifesto pledges, which isn’t bad going.
As someone who runs my own business, it’s a little unnerving that the two Ns hold the balance of power in the event of a lack of majority at the next election. Whilst it can potentially be in the best interests of the population and business in general to have a minority party moderating the policy implementation of a Conservative or Labour government, it’s hardly the pinnacle of democracy.
Whatever happens in the build-up to the election, there is still plenty to play for. None of the major parties have set down a clear roadmap for a post-election business landscape with them in charge. The messages from political parties to individuals remain on the weak side. That will no doubt change as the election draws nearer, but there’s still a vacuum of information for how I – as a law-abiding, tax-compliant UK employer – should determine which party is going to be good for me and my business.