Tax & admin · 9 June 2017

How small business owners determined the many general election swing seats

Swing seats
A surge of swing seats were won by the Conservatives in Scotland

The outcome of the general election is the latest shock to the British political system. While Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party made the most significant gains, a number of swing seats captured headlines. Scotland, meanwhile, told an altogether different story to the rest of the UK, as the Conservative Party established considerable authority.

Undeniably, a key election issue for small business owners has been Brexit. Traditionally the party of business, the Conservatives, continued to run on a gung-ho approach to Brexit, with leader Theresa May willing to leave EU negotiations without any kind of trade deal.

The impact of losing single market access has been well documented since June 2016, and a recent survey revealed as many as one in three small business owners wanted to reverse the Brexit vote.

With a “hard” Brexit likely to stifle the trading prospects of British industry, did business leaders stand up and look for representation elsewhere? In Scotland, other factors emerged, with Scottish independence a serious issue for small firms.

To see how much influence, if any, Britain’s entrepreneurs had on the election, Business Advice took a look at some of the most significant swing seats to find out what issues mattered.

One of the most remarkable results of the night occurred in Kent. Canterbury residents elected their first ever Labour MP, unseating recently knighted Conservative MP Julian Brazier, who had held a strong majority for 30 years.

Despite recent efforts to boost skills training in his constituency, Brazier placed himself firmly as the pro-Brexit candidate – with UKIP stepping aside in the area. The bold Brexiteer’s anti-European ticket was clearly rejected by the town, not least by small business owners opposing his position.

Rosie Duffield now holds the seat after taking 45 per cent of the vote – a difference of just 187 votes.

Another high-profile swing saw the Liberal Democrats’ Vince Cable re-take Twickenham. Cable regained a seat he lost in 2015 after ousting the Conservatives Party’s Tania Mathias.

The former economist previously served as the coalition’s business secretary, and was outspoken on May’s “extreme version of Brexit” that his party believed threatened the UK’s trading prospects with Europe.

Cable campaigned with a focus on the impact of local manufacturing and services exporters once Britain leaves the single market. Championing tariff-free EU access within parliament was also a key part of Cable’s pledges to Twickenham constituents.

The Liberal Democrat’s holding of North Norfolk again demonstrated clear support for the party’s anti-Brexit agenda. Norman Lamb held off his Tory rival, James Wild, with a ten per cent increase in his vote share.

Speaking on his victory, Lamb said the vote indicated an “overwhelming imperative to negotiate a good Brexit deal”.

Overall, Liberal Democrats gains from other parties were few and far between. However, a significant majority was overturned in Oxford West and Abingdon, after a 14.8 per cent shift to the Liberal Democrats from the Conservatives put Layla Moran into parliament.

Moran stood on a platform of an “international focus”, which may have chimed with local business owners fearful of greater economic protectionism under a Conservatives government. She has also been a strong activist for local businesses in Oxford.

“Local residents know that leaving the EU would harm local businesses and educational establishments as well as diminish our standing on the world stage,” Moran said when she announced she would stand.

For the Conservatives, Scotland proved most fruitful, as May’s party swiped a total of ten seats from the Scottish National Party (SNP). The Tory surge saw previous Scottish first minister Alex Salmond and SNP’s Westminster leader Angus Robertson lose out in swing seats.

With the SNP banging the drum for another independence referendum, it looks as if much of Scotland felt a future within Britain offered more.

In 2015, it was reported Scotland’s trade with the UK was worth £49.8bn, four times as much as trade with the EU. This created a headache for nationalist entrepreneurs, and the SNP had a difficult time convincing the small business community of Scotland’s ability to thrive as an independent nation.

Despite SNP promises to small Scottish businesses to boost productivity, double the Employment Allowance and fight for Scotland’s place in the Single Market, it appeared business owners used the election to reject the prospect of an independent Scotland.

Pro-remain Conservatives candidate Douglas Ross was elected into Robertson’s Moray seat, proving his small business credentials after he stood firmly in the corner of local founders on business rate increases.

Clearly, Brexit was high on the agenda for owners of small companies and the wider electorate. However, in terms of “the party of business”, no party can outright claim the title.

Reflecting on the election on behalf of Britain’s self-employed and small business owners, Julia Kermode, chief executive of the Freelancer & Contractor Services Association (FCSA), the UK’s largest independent trade association, suggested steps towards greater co-operation between parties would vital to economic growth.

“Today, more than ever, we want to see the political parties co-operating and working together to bring economic security. Brexit has left the UK facing enough uncertainty and today’s result will have added to that insecurity.

“During uncertain times we know that freelancers and contractors are key to the economy and they need to be allowed to work and thrive without the shackles of red tape and burdensome legislation that holds them back.”

Read on to find out which small business policies are in jeopardy following a disastrous night for the Conservative Party

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Simon Caldwell is a reporter for Business Advice. He has a BA in politics and communications from the University of Liverpool, and previously worked as a content editor in the ecommerce industry.

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