Most modern elections are fought on economics.
Support from business, big and small, is seen as an asset. Yet the 2017 election threatens to turn this tradition on its head. The Conservatives have in the past regarded themselves as pro-business, but now see the business community as an embarrassing and irritating lobby group. They have adopted an exit strategy from the EU, rejecting Single Market and Customs Union membership, which is almost calculated to inflict maximum economic damage.
The financial services industry has largely given up hope of rescuing an “equivalence” regime which is necessary to trade in the EU. Much-needed immigration will be heavily taxed and subject to bureaucratic planning rules set in Whitehall.
Energy price controls, dismissed as “economically illiterate” when Labour proposed them in 2015, are to be adopted. And manifesto costings have been introduced which fail, according to the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS), even a basic test of honest accounting.
Business leaders are voicing their disapproval. One FTSE 100 chairman recently described the “huge gulf” between business and government. Major employers and organisations such as the Confederation of British Industry and the Engineering Employers Federation are being excluded from government discussions on the Brexit negotiations, despite their importance to any credible final deal.
It goes without saying that the Labour party under Jeremy Corbyn will be no friend of business either. The Labour leadership’s model for economic management is the bankrupt, hyper-inflationary Venezuela. Corbyn’s plans for a spending spree, funded by taxing the rich and corporations, have been described by the IFS as wholly unrealistic, and will certainly scare off the investment and talent that are fundamental to our global economy.
Most shameful of all, Labour has put up no meaningful opposition to the government’s extreme Brexit agenda, despite claiming to be the “official opposition”.
Contrast this with the Liberal Democrats, who have put business at the heart of our manifesto. The key issue is of course Brexit – we are the only major party fighting to avoid a destructive Single Market departure.
Our opposition to an extreme Brexit – which according to treasury estimates could shrink GDP by up to 10 per cent over the next 15 years – is just one way in which we are standing up for the private sector. As business secretary in the coalition government, I worked closely with representatives of businesses, large and small, to help create a favourable environment for long-term investment.
Through our Industrial Strategy, we provided support for innovation, scientific research, apprenticeship training, and business finance via the British Business Bank. My party wants to build on these achievements.
We recognise the crucial role of entrepreneurship in generating the job creation, innovation and productivity improvements that are fundamental to our economic success. That is why we propose establishing a competitively allocated “start-up allowance” of £100 a week, to ensure that everyone with a good idea can have a go at implementing it. And it is why we want to expand the lending activities of the British Business Bank, and provide mentoring support for scaleups.
Despite the vagaries of the polls, the Conservatives are almost certain to win a majority on June 8. If the country is to mitigate the economic chaos that a Ukip-style Brexit and a Tory party gone cold on business would unleash, it needs a functioning opposition to hold the government to account. Jeremy Corbyn and Labour have time and time again demonstrated that they are incapable of doing so.
As the drawbridge goes up and calls for protectionism increase, only the Liberal Democrats will stand up for business and wealth creation.