In 1997, the question that reverberated around shops, offices and pubs the morning after Labour’s landside was: ‘were you up for Portillo?’ – referring to the high profile Tory MP and cabinet minister Michael Portillo, who lost his seat and underlined how bad a night it was turning out for the Conservative party. So what to say today? Were you up for Danny Alexander? Vince Cable? Simon Hughes? Jim Murphy? Esther McVey? Ed Balls? What about Nigel Farage?
It was a night that will change the political firmament dramatically.
What does this all mean for independent retailers? Well, I said yesterday that political uncertainty would be bad news of small businesses, placing the policies designed to help them on the cutting room floor of any coalition agreement.
With the Conservatives securing a majority, this risk has been avoided, but can we say for certain that it’s been a good night for retailers?
On the one hand, the authority that this result gives the Conservative party will help it pass through the recommendations of its business rates review, a promised £10bn cut in red tape for businesses and support pledged for ‘business-led collaboration’ to improve local areas. These manifesto commitments will benefit independent retailers and, if implemented effectively, could further cement the Conservative’s position in voters’ minds as the party of small business.
Yet there are two caveats to this.
First, this is not the thumping victory for the Conservatives that it feels like today. They have, at best, a majority of less than 10 to work with. For Thatcher or Blair it would have been considered a dire performance.
For those that remember it (or like me, have read up about it later), this will almost certainly be a parliament like the final years’ of John Major’s premiership, where by-elections, internal frustrations and unforeseen events can make a majority evaporate.
With an EU referendum likely to split the party (Europe was a similar headache for Major) this will be a serious issue that could stop the efficient workings of government.
There is another point., too. While the coalition got the UK economy going again, there has been a rise in food banks, zero-hour contracts and inequality. The people who buy from most convenience stores in most parts of the country have therefore not had the disposable income to spend as many shop owners will have wanted.
It is therefore a huge challenge for the Conservatives to cut a further £12bn from the welfare budget while not exacerbating this and further squeezing the budgets of many independent retailers’ customers.
Whatever happens, it will be a fascinating few years for small businesses nationwide.
What is your reaction to the Election result? Leave your comments below.