Political Party Planning (exclusive web feature)

Posted: April 21, 2010

Unless you’re being held against your will in a darkened, soundproof cellar you’ll know it’s the UK’s General Election on Thursday May the 6th. What will the outcome mean for you and your business? Paul Smith went door to door and kissed babies until he was asked to stop, in order to canvas opinion on which parties mean what, to whom – and why…

The media is fond of comparing the General Election to the X-Factor or Britain’s Got Talent; the people of the UK get to vote for who they’d like to see go through to the next round. While you’ll note the parallels this ignores both the lack of Ant ‘n’ Dec and the hundreds of years of strife and bloodshed that brought us to the near universal suffrage – the right to vote – we now enjoy. I say near; the Queen, Hereditary Lords and those detained at Her Majesty’s Pleasure yet again get to sit this fight out. Lack of voting rights lead to the death of Suffragette Emily Davison, killed by a horse owned by King George V at the 1913 Epsom Derby, and even caused the American War of Independence to shake off British control in 1776 due to ‘taxation without representation.’ It sort of puts the Cowell phenomenon into context. This is a serious business. People will count your vote – people, your vote will count!

“Ask not what you can do for your country – ask what your country can do for you,” to paraphrase John F Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural address. And why shouldn’t we question what we get in return for our taxes? Especially when there seems to be so many of them. Road Tax, Value Added Tax, Income Tax, Death Duty, Stamp Duty, Council Tax, Capital Gains Tax, Fuel Tax, Window Tax… Admittedly that last one was repealed in 1851, but you get the idea. The English Civil War of 1641-1651 was sparked by Ship Money – an unpopular tax Charles the First levied without the support of parliament. Enough history. I only mentioned the civil war to get a Rump Parliament joke in, and I’ve forgotten the punchline now…

So what are the three main political parties offering in exchange for your support and, failing that, your taxes?

In decreasing length order of quote, Labour’s manifesto offers: “Championing an enterprise economy: At the heart of our approach to building a strong and fair Britain is a commitment to support enterprise. We will back those who want to get on, work their way up, and generate wealth. We will keep business taxation competitive at the same time as we increase capital allowances to encourage investment. There is no substitute for the drive and ambition that entrepreneurs bring. We will support small businesses and help with their cash flow by continuing our Time to Pay scheme that has already – through tax and NICs deferral – helped thousands of firms; offering a one-year holiday on business rates for small businesses; widening support for training and apprenticeships; and in recognising the special contribution of entrepreneurs we are doubling the Entrepreneurs Relief lifetime limit to £2 million. We will also create a new Small Business Credit Adjudicator with statutory powers ensuring that SMEs are not turned down unfairly when applying to banks for finance.

“We will help to create a new generation of entrepreneurs, ensuring that those studying for vocational skills are offered the opportunity to learn how to start and run a business, while the Flying Start programme will do the same for final-year university students.

“We will continue to simplify regulation and avoid unnecessary red tape. If it is used correctly, regulation can help drive innovation, as well as protect workers and consumers. We will seek to reduce the costs of regulation by more than £6 billion by 2015.”

Read more at www.labour.org.uk.

The Conservative manifesto promises voters they will: “Boost small business: In the end, it is not the state that creates sustainable employment – it is business people. And small businesses are especially important to the UK’s economic recovery and to tackling unemployment. Government can help boost enterprise by lowering tax rates, reducing regulation and improving workers’ skills. As well as stopping Labour’s jobs tax, for the first two years of a Conservative government any new business will pay no Employers National Insurance on the first ten employees it hires during its first year. To support small businesses further, we will: Make small business rate relief automatic; and aim to deliver 25% of government research and procurement contracts through SMEs by cutting the administrative costs of bidding. We will support would-be entrepreneurs through a new programme – Work for Yourself – which will give unemployed people direct access to business mentors and substantial loans. We need to make work pay, so we will keep the minimum wage and work to reduce the very high marginal tax rates faced by many people on low incomes who want to return to work or increase their earnings. We will look at how to abolish the default retirement age, as many older people want to carry on working. And we will force equal pay audits on any company found to be discriminating on the basis of gender.”

Read more at www.conservatives.com.

From their ‘Enterprise in a Fair Society’ summary of Liberal Democrat policies for business, the party lead by Nick Clegg wants to introduce:

A stable economy:
Reduce the budget deficit and bring stability to the public finances.
Protect the economy by breaking up the banks.
£3.3bn economic stimulus package to create new jobs and invest in Britain’s infrastructure.

A financial infrastructure that serves business:
Ensure affordable access to credit for businesses.
Create new mechanisms to provide equity finance to smaller businesses.

A fair, stable tax platform on which to operate:
Rebalance the income tax system.
Reduce complexity in the tax system.
Reduce employment taxes as soon as possible.
Reform business rates.

Fair, proportionate regulation:
Active management of new regulations.
Change the approach to enforcement.

Effective corporate governance and responsibility:
Ensure that takeover rules serve the UK economy.
Provide stakeholders with reliable information on corporate responsibility.

An education system that provides skilled workers:
Getting the basics right.
Improved access to key subjects.
Excellent teachers.
Paid internship opportunities for 800,000 young people.
Full funding of adult apprenticeships in our first year in Government.
An additional 15,000 foundation degree places to get young people the skills they need.
A national bursary scheme for university students to address key skills shortages.

The strategic role of government:
Reform Regional Development Agencies to provide focused business support.
Give smaller businesses fair access to public sector procurement.
Protect diverse local high streets.

Read more at www.libdems.org.uk.

There’s a lot of other stuff in the manifestos too, mostly about the NHS, education, crime, restructuring banks, immigration, sustainable growth, community, green issues and electoral reform. The key word seems to be fair; craft, fun and all is in love and war.

ETO takes an unbiased approach to politics (but not to the point of saying, “don’t vote – it only encourages them.”) however Easy on the Eye’s Anna Arrowsmith nee Span has nailed her colours to the LibDem mast in spectacular fashion. Widely reported in the national press, she’s become the LibDem candidate for Gravesham in Kent – a council that didn’t respond to our licensing survey last year.

Anna told ETO –in a totally biased way – that she’s “Busy busy! Politics is something I’ve always wanted to be involved in. One day last August I was having a difficult day at work, while toying with the idea, and I thought, ‘you know, I could be having a difficult day at work while doing something I’m really driven to do’. I’m driven to do Easy on the Eye, obviously, but politics is an area I can develop more in, personally. So I decided to start the ball rolling then.

“I’ve always been passionate about women’s rights, and my career’s been quite political, so I’m expanding on that to fight for other causes I believe in as well. Perhaps naively I thought it would be an easy transition. It’s actually been both easy and difficult to move into politics. The central party of the LibDems has been extremely supportive and I had no problems getting through the assessment process. I was very upfront with everyone; I emailed Nick Clegg an article about me from the Telegraph magazine. Their attitude has been that it’s just another job. When I went through the local seat application system – the Hustings – I met more conservative –with a small c – views, for sure. I can’t blame the LibDem party for that.

“In the end it went to what’s known as a Paper Vote, where the available seats can be applied for centrally. They pick the best candidates for each seat and send that to the local area. At local level a candidate can still be rejected, I believe, but when I met them they were very supportive. We’ve got on very well and the local team is very lovely. I’ve grown to know and like them over the last months.”

Given the ‘controversial nature’ of her business, we wanted to know if she’d just picked the party with ‘liberal’ in its name or whether her choice of party was more ideological. There may be some truth in the suggestion that the Conservatives and Labour wouldn’t have considered her to stand for them…

Arrowsmith replied: “No, I’m a real Liberal Democrat. I’ve been voting LibDem since Labour took us to war in 2003. I used to vote Labour before that but when Blair ignored something like three million of us walking through the streets of London I felt I couldn’t support the party any more. They didn’t get a lot of press then and I didn’t know much about them, but as I looked more into their policies I felt they were right for me. I joined last year and found, to my surprise, that I absolutely, whole-heartedly agreed with something like 98% of the policies. It was revealing to me how much I had in common with their views on the freedom of the individual, as well as the responsibilities of the individual, without too much state influence. I am fully committed to the party. If I was offered a Conservative seat, I wouldn’t take it and as I say I’m disillusioned with Labour. They’ve had some good policies over the last 13 years, but there have been some terrible ones since 1997 too, with over 4,500 new laws introduced. I’ll be sticking with the LibDems through thick and thin. This is the breakthrough election for us; people are seeing beyond the two-party system, seeing too many similarities between the Tories and Labour.

“I think people are unsure what many parties stand for these days. You have to know what their policies are before you can agree or disagree with them. I think the LibDems have the right policy on immigration, for example, with a balanced points system based on location to help workers get jobs where they’re most needed. Rather than just get off the train or boat and stay wherever they’ve landed. It’s a workable, pragmatic policy to address the problem of saturation, while acknowledging immigration adds a lot to this country, rather than a knee-jerk reaction seen elsewhere… This is a big issue in Gravesham, which is why I’m producing a leaflet about it. As a centre-ground party we’re not pandering to the Right or Left; we aim to be… sensible.”

Speaking about the campaign process, Arrowsmith said she was surprised and pleased with the mostly positive reaction by the press; even the Daily Mail. Apparently it has a significant LibDem voting readership. Janet Street-Porter was rather more dismissive in her column for the Mail though… A local paper in Gravesham, Kent, where Anna is standing for parliament, discovered 35% of local voters were undecided if they’d vote, or unsure who to vote for. A significant proportion Arrowsmith hopes to swing her – and the LibDem’s – way.

For the sake of balance, other political parties are available. But no others have a porn director running for parliament for them.

George McCoy, the flat-cap wearing, massage-parlour reviewing man behind the well-known McCoy’s Guides, is deeply concerned about state interference in the public’s sex lives. So much so he’s launched a website calling for politicians to keep their noses – and everything else – out of what goes on between two consenting adults and their bank-balances. The site is at www.sexlawsandmps.com and features a very handy tool; input your postcode (although I found the ‘Regional Directory’ to be more accurate) to be shown who your current MP is, what their attitude to the sexual services industry is thought to be, plus who is standing against them, along with their known (or best-guessed) stance. There are contact details for MPs as well as suggested points for voters to make about proposed legislation.

For a while Ann Summers had some fun with sponsored links at Google.co.uk; typing in Conservatives or Lib Dems would give you a link to the firm’s site along with the suggestion that they favour a well-hung parliament, or long, hard elections. You can say what you like about knob gags; there’s no beating them. Big in the polls doesn’t work due to spelling though, and as for getting in via the back door, well, that’s just stretching things…

Ultimately, who you vote for might come down to who your parents vote/d for, who knocked on your door, shook your hand in the shopping centre or isn’t hideously ugly on the cover of a pamphlet which came through your letterbox. At least some of these reasons mean MPs – and prospective MPs – are trying to reconnect with the electorate after a bad eighteen months to be Champagne-Socialist class-traitor, Tory-Sleaze fat-cat duck-house owner or House-Flipping holiday-funded-by-the-tax-payer snout-in-the-trough representative of any other party. Or maybe while you distrust Party X, you don’t hate them as much as Party Y or Party Z, and that’s why X’ll get your vote. On the other hand, perhaps you’ve done your research and feel one particular party has both your best interests at heart and can be trusted to deliver on their promises. A triumph of hope over experience, but a leap we should all try to take. People – many of them – made unimaginable sacrifices to ensure this stays a free country. Free enough, anyway. You owe it to them if not yourselves to get out and vote on May the 6th. You can always change your mind later…