With the general election approaching and dominating the news agenda, one major issue that is currently being discussed is how the result will impact on business.
Several high-profile business leaders have already made clear where their allegiances lie. Most prominent among those who have spoken out is Boots’ Italian-born chairman Stefano Pessina. He said of a potential Labour government: “If they acted as they speak, it would be a catastrophe”.
Miliband responded by highlighting the fact that Pessina is Monaco- based and that Boots moved its formal tax residence from the UK to Switzerland.
So what does this mean for Boots itself? A traditional staple of the British high-street and a much-loved brand, are potential customers going to be alienated by Pessina’s stance?
YouGov BrandIndex data indicates that in the immediate aftermath, the comments have had a negative impact. YouGov’s Buzz Score metric measures whether a respondent has heard anything negative or positive about a brand in the past two weeks.
Our data shows an overall fall in Buzz among all respondents from a score of 8.2 at the start of January, to a low of 1.6 at the beginning of February.
The more pertinent data is revealed when comparing scores by political party allegiance. The score among those who align themselves with the Labour party shows a particularly dramatic decrease. Boots had shown a score of 13.5 prior to Pessina’s comments, before dropping to a low of minus 4.5 in the aftermath.
Among Conservative voters, there was still a drop off, although not as dramatic, this time the score dropped from a high of 10.5 to 0.8.
While Boots will be confident they will recover in the months ahead, the data does raise the issue of whether such business leaders should become so entrenched in political discourse when there is a risk of negative headlines that could distance the company from a some of its customer base.
On the other side, business leaders who are in part responsible for the livelihoods of a large number of employees may feel it is their prerogative to speak out should they feel that those jobs may be threatened by a change in policy from the government.
The issues of business and tax will no doubt be central to the narrative until May, and how the public side on the issue will be a contributor to the final result. Stephan Shakespeare is the chief executive of YouGov