IT is too premature to say that Labour lost the 2015 general election this week, the conclusion of two-dozen business leaders who have condemned the Opposition’s pledge to raise the top rate of tax to 50p.
The arbiters will be the British electorate in May next year and voters should never be taken for granted.
Yet it is clear that Saturday’s surprising announcement by an under-pressure Ed Balls, the Shadow Chancellor did effectively signal the start of the election campaign and this was reflected by the contrasting policies on small business put forward by the Conservatives and Labour yesterday.
David Cameron could not have been more bullish. He accused the Opposition of being “anti-business” as he announced with glee that his will be the first government in modern history that “at the end of its Parliamentary term has less regulation in place than there was at the beginning”. Already the coalition has scrapped 800 rules and another 2,200 regulations are in the firing line, including the need for premises selling oven cleaner to hold a poisons licence for example.
Contrast this common sense approach with the interventionist stance of Chuka Umunna, the Shadow Business Secretary and one of Labour’s key economic strategists. His response was the promise of another new quango, a Small Business Administration, to help such firms with their dealings with Whitehall departments.
In fairness, Mr Umunna does have a point. Even though small companies are the lifeblood of the economy, and the subject of political platitudes on an almost daily basis, their interests are still not championed by Whitehall – or the rest of the public sector for that matter.
Yet it should not require the creation of a costly new quango, the default response of politicians to many issues, to remedy this. It requires the same mindset that the coalition is demonstrating with its crusade against red-tape.
However, as the Institute of Economic Affairs pointed out in response to the PM’s speech, Mr Cameron should look towards a more radical reduction in business rates as well as a lowering of employers’ National Insurance contributions if he is truly serious about seeing small businesses flourish in the UK. After all, the Tories do need this sector to thrive if the party is to successfully counter Labour’s election strategy where the politics of envy will clearly be taking precedence over the long-term economic interests of the country.
The dividing line could not be clearer.
Stemming the tide
EVEN though Yorkshire has, thankfully, escaped the worst of this year’s floods, concerns about the inadequacy of the Government’s response are as applicable here as they are in Somerset where communities have been marooned for a month.
It has taken a month for Owen Paterson, the Environment Secretary, to appreciate the seriousness of the situation. This smacks of complacency. His promise of an action plan in six weeks time also failed to inspire confidence.
Yet this pedestrian response is not new. Both Defra and the Environment Agency were equally slow off the mark when large parts of Yorkshire were left submerged in 2007. And they have been equally ambivalent to calls by farmers and landowners for more frequent dredging of Britain’s rivers to lessen the likelihood of flooding in the future.
Such an unhelpful attitude does little to inspire confidence. The people calling for a return to dredging in Yorkshire are people steeped in the history of the region’s rivers. And, while they are the first to accept that it is preferential for farmland to be flooded rather than residential homes, they also know that this will adversely affect crop yields, and the price of food, later in the year.
Rather than dismissing dredging out of hand, Mr Paterson should, at the very least, have the courtesy to consider such expertise.
Taken for granted
EVEN though police officers, firefighters and ambulance crews do outstanding work, their task would be even harder without the dedication – and sacrifices – of those volunteers whose rescue expertise has saved countless lives along the Yorkshire coast or when walkers have become stranded in the remote wildernesses of this county’s two National Parks.
Take the RNLI. Its crews rescued more than 1,000 people who encountered difficulties off the East Coast last year. Though their work often takes place close to the shore in relatively benign conditions, the North Sea is not a place for the faint-hearted in stormy weather – even though the design of lifeboats has been modified to withstand large waves.
And then there is the work of inland groups like the Holme Valley Mountain Rescue Team which is looking to raise £50,000 for a new base following confirmation that Marsden Fire Station will close. The beneficiary of a thirst-quenching new ale, Rescue Red, that is now being specially brewed to raise much-needed funds, it is important that such charities are not taken for granted.
For, without this fourth emergency service, Yorkshire’s coastline and countryside would be even more perilous for those whose safety becomes endangered.