Posted: Tue 26th Nov 2019
A political debate, which explored manifesto pledges specifically affecting small firms and entrepreneurs, saw a dramatic swing towards the Liberal Democrats from Conservative and Labour, according to an exit poll.
Political heavyweights including international trade secretary Liz Truss, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats Ed Davey and Labour's shadow minister for small business Bill Esterson battled it out in front of an audience of entrepreneurs last night/Monday November 25, with the Liberal Democrats seeing an increase of 14% to clinch 54% of the final vote.
The debate, organised by Enterprise Nation in partnership with the Institute of Chartered Accountants England and Wales (ICAEW), the Association of Independent Professional Self Employed (IPSE), The Entrepreneurs Network (TEN) and digital start-up coalition Coadec, asked members of the audience to vote before they sat down to hear the deputy leader of the Green Party Amelia Womack and the Brexit Party's Hector Birchwood join the panel to answer questions around issues including business rates, prompt payment terms, IR35 and Brexit uncertainty.
The first poll before the debate gave the Liberal Democrats 38%, a tiny two percentage point lead over Conservatives (36%) and Labour (21%), with the Green Party and Brexit Party neck-and-neck on 2% in the first round.
By the time the final vote came around, the Lib Dems had boosted their lead by another 14% to take 54%, with Conservatives trailing on 24%, Labour on 11% and the Greens up to 7% and Brexit Party on 4%, up two points.
Emma Jones, founder small business support network Enterprise Nation, said: "For the last three elections and the 2017 referendum we have held these small business debates so founders can understand what the major parties offer - and they have become a bellwether for the voting trend for the small business community.
"On Monday night we saw a significant swing from Conservative and Labour to the Liberal Democrats. At the previous debate we held, ahead of the referendum, there was a marginal swing towards Leave from Remain which heralded what was to come in that historic vote.
"It demonstrates that the small business community is looking for a party that has done some convincing thinking about the issues that matters to them like business rates, tax and advice.
"Any party that champions the entrepreneur and the small business community will get their vote - and there are more than five million of them up for grabs."
Battle lines were drawn around business rates, with the Conservatives, Labour and Brexit Party promising a review and the Lib Dems and the Green Party offering a proposal around a Landlord Levy - an alternative taxation on landowners, rather than businesses that would see a tax on commercial land rather than buildings and machinery under the present system.
Amelia Womack pointed out that currently 25 per cent of business rates are drawn from the retail sector, which only represents five per cent of the UK's total business community.
Other battles were drawn around IR35, late payment, and the time to strike trade deals post Brexit.