While the General Election result was a surprise to many, it does look set to restore confidence within the British business community
If there’s one thing entrepreneurs hate, it’s uncertainty – and there was no shortage of it during this General Election campaign. While few people could have predicted an overall Conservative majority, many SMEs and start-ups will be relieved this morning to see the country at least now has a clear economic agenda. And it’s safe to say it’s probably the economy that swung it for David Cameron and his party.
Indeed, a majority government was probably the least likely outcome but this was an election of many surprises. The Liberal Democrats were always going to take a hammering but the scale of that hammering has sent shockwaves through the party, making Nick Clegg’s resignation today inevitable. The party has been left with only eight seats, having lost major players including former minister of justice, Simon Hughes, and Danny Alexander, who served as chief secretary to the treasury for the coalition government. More surprising still was the defeat of Vince Cable, with small business owners now undoubtedly left wondering which Conservative MP will fill Cable's shoes as business secretary.
The Labour Party has some soul searching to do too, with Ed Miliband also stepping down, following what he described as a ‘difficult and disappointing night’ for the party. Despite polls suggesting Labour could assume power with the support of smaller parties, it failed to win many of its target constituencies and waved goodbye to Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor, who lost his seat in Morley & Outwood. The party has also been left with just one MP north of the border as the SNP swooped home with 56 of the 59 seats available in Scotland, something that will surely lead to another referendum on Scottish independence at some point down the line. But, if the fate of Labour has taught us one thing, it’s possibly to never trust a pre-election poll again.
Elsewhere, the Green Party held onto its only parliamentary seat in Brighton and Douglas Carswell remained as UKIP’s sole MP after leader Nigel Farage failed to win in South Thanet, prompting his immediate resignation.
A boost for business?
Nevertheless, businesses on a whole seem to be feeling fairly positive this morning. “We worked successfully with the Conservatives as part of the coalition and look forward to continuing that relationship to tackle the key issues impacting on our sector,” said Melanie Leech, chief executive of the British Property Federation.
Leech would like to see the next Tory government prioritise a coherent plan to deliver increased housing supply; to follow through on the commitment to fundamentally review business rates; and to take action to put in place the right infrastructure – including real estate – that will allow our country to thrive.
Darren Fell, MD of Crunch Accounting, pointed to the survey his company put together on the eve of the election, which showed signs that a majority of small business owners favoured a Conservative government. “It certainly seems the business community have made their voices heard,” he said. But he added that more could be done for smaller firms. “While the Conservatives have been quite strong on overall business policies, their support for one-man-band businesses has been less than stellar," Fell continued.
David Lamb, head of dealing at FEXCO, the forex specialists, said: "While the City is pro-Tory by default, today it is cheering a victory for continuity as much as for the Conservatives. After weeks of jitters, the relief was palpable on the currency markets - with the pound surging in early trading against both the dollar and the euro.”
One area of concern for Lamb is the Tory pledge to hold an EU referendum, which may bring further uncertainty. For now however, he, like much of the business community, is confident in “the UK’s robust economic position”. We hope their confidence is well-founded.