The meltdown of the two major British parties has foist upon the Liberal Democrats a huge number of opportunities. One of them has been claiming the mantle of the business party away from the Tories as they now seem likely to elect the man known for chucking an expletive in the direction of the business community as their next leader. However, simply relying on the Tories and Labour being poor will not lead to any long-term electoral gains for the Lib Dems – and looking at current business policy of the party is a great place to start seeing where it is currently not good doing well enough.
What are the Lib Dems policies on business? What would a newly minted Liberal Democrat DBEIS minister set about as his or her first tasks? As far as I can tell, the Lib Dems have the following as their major, top of the page business policies: move from a shareholder model to a stakeholder one; crack down on company tax avoidance and evasion; more regulation to disrupt monopolies; employees getting more say in the running of companies; increasing minimum wage and toying with the notion of maximum wage; mandatory employee re-training at company expense; green taxes.
Paul W says
I quite agree. If you look for differences between, say, the Liberal Democrats and the Canadian Liberal party, the main thing that hits you is that the Canadian Liberals are a business-friendly party. Of course, the Canadian Conservatives are also business-friendly. But that isn’t the point, the Democrats and Republicans in the United States are both business-friendly parties too. The key point is that each party has different emphases and priorities.
Historically, the British Liberals were a pro-business party, but business finally bailed-out for the Tories in the 1920s when the Liberal party went into decline. One of the most puzzling features of recent decades is that business leaders have not (with a few exceptions) returned to the Liberal Democrats in any visible numbers. Indeed, there are probably more prominent Blarite Labour types associated with business than there are Liberal Democrat equivalents And nor have the Liberal Democrats championed small businesses in any noticeable way – which would be the sort of thing the German Free Democrats would do. So why is this?
I would hazard a guess that the reason for the very apparent lack of empathy or interest in issues to do with business, finance, taxation etc – let’s call it “trade” – is that the Liberal Democrats are top-heavy with supporters working in white collar public sector jobs. In that respect, the Liberal Democrats are probably closer to the Corbynite Labour party, let alone the Greens. And about as trustworthy on these matters too.
When the founder of Richer Sounds, Julian Richer, made the decision to transfer his shareholding into an employee-owned trust, rather like the John Lewis Partnership, instead of selling out to some venture capitalist (or vulture capitalist, as I prefer to call them) wasn’t this a sign that capitalism needs to follow his example instead of the Anglo-american style of capitalism that has so damaged the planet. Perhaps if Nick looked at capitalism with a more sceptical eye, he would appreciate that the Lib Dem policies would actually benefit business and the planet.
All you are really noting is that the Liberal Democrats do not have to do very much at all to be quite obviously the most business friendly UK party. You could call it triangulation; the issue for the strategists is make sure that its most pro business stance does not prevent support from other groups.
I do not know why you have not mentioned the Single Market and reducing trade barriers, but these matter more to business right now than green taxes or whatever.
True, Liberal Democrats are ideologically committed to counteracting the power of monopolies; for the monopolies this is portrayed as ‘anti business’ and in practice can result in a lot of money for groups that are willing to make excuses for unaccountable monopolies, which is a bit of a problem if the monopolies also are in control of important media outlets.
Liberal Democrats have a record in government (including the two leadership contenders), I do not think Vince Cable is leaving parliament straight away. They do not have so much to prove.
Ben Vail says
You make some good points, but I had always assumed it’s only large businesses that do tax avoidance and evasion, which helps them unfairly out compete smaller competitors, and more regulation to disrupt monopolies helps smaller competitors too – which outnumber the larger ones, so I would argue you can be pro-business with these two policies in particular, but I agree it only works as a narrative with other polices too
More regulation generally helps large companies, as they can best afford to waste money complying with it; it keeps smaller competitors from challenging them by raising the barriers to entry to the market.
See how the Fleecebook is sending the Cleggmeister out to plead to be regulated. It’s not out of the goodness of their hearts; it’s because if they can establish that every social media company has to have, say, a ten-thousand person compliance team to scan for objectionable content and deal with complaints or they’re not allowed to sign people up, they can pay for that out of their petty cash but it will prevent any other social media firm form ever starting.