Harry Cockburn: The outcome of the European Elections should worry British businesses

Nigel Farage is not wrong to say that “the UKIP fox is in the Westminster hen house”. The far-right Euro-sceptic party has made irrefutable gains across much of the UK, after being largely ignored by Westminster and written-off by much of the media as incoherent and racist. Though the final figures are still outstanding, the undeniable outcome of yesterday’s poll is that British politics is being thoroughly shaken up.

With just a year to go until the general election, today’s results will define the next 12 months of campaigning. The clear reality of the UKIP threat must finally force the main parties to take action.

This presents an opportunity to British politics which, to much of the electorate, has seemed stale for a long time. But for businesses, choppy water ahead is a far less welcome prospect.

The issue of “political uncertainty” is at the top of the list of concerns for the CBI, who last week revised their economic growth predictions up from 2.6% to 3%, but also warned that progress could be undone if the current business environment is not maintained.

CBI director general John Cridland warned politicians against “headline-grabbing policies that weaken investment, opportunity and jobs” in the run-up to the 2015 election.

“The UK now has more stable economic foundations,” Cridland said, “and political risks must not jeopardise this.”

As the parties jostle for supremacy and try to differentiate and define their ground, the worry for businesses is that the economic recovery may take a back seat. Tax structures and membership of the European Union are likely battlegrounds. But the uncertanity and confusion it will generate is precisely what could hobble investment in the UK.

Politicians must react to the UKIP threat. The Conservatives stand to lose a considerable proportion of their votes if they’re not seen to take heed, and a split vote could edge a Labour government to victory.

Labour are not immune to losing voters to UKIP either. Besides its right-wing Euro-scepticism, UKIP has carefully positioned itself as a party that appears to represent the concerns of lower-income people across the UK. Their recent advertising campaign included billboards reading “26 million people in Europe are looking for work. And whose jobs are they after?”

The other key attraction of UKIP is the party’s leader. Farage’s straightforward manner is a million miles from Miliband’s automated delivery. And his conservatism looks more genteel middle-England than Cameron and Osborne’s city-boy vibe. For a man whose name and party is never that far away from accusations of fascism and racism, he seems remarkably human.

This potent combination differentiates the party against the bland incumbents in Westminster. It’s not hard to imagine that support for UKIP could sweep through a significant band of an electorate who may otherwise have remained apathetic.

With just 12 months to go until the general election, the main political parties have limited time to reduce Farage’s hopes to dust. And British businesses will be affected. Any hope that the status quo can prevail is just wishful thinking.

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