The Lib Dems must be the party of small business

As the staggering uncertainty around the Brexit process continues in Westminster, the risks faced by the millions all around  who back up the economy has been largely ignored. This must come into focus as the Davos conference comes to a close, an annual meeting of the global economic elite, the big business. While they sip away at their innumerable glasses of champagne, those who rely on Europe for frictionless and tariff-free trade are fraught with anxiety. The small-business community contains some of the hardest-working people in Britain, and they form the backbone of the economy. In the midst of the chaos in Westminster, the Lib Dems need to present themselves as the party of small business, the party of compassionate capitalism.

Early last the year, the Federation of Small Businesses said that it ‘saw the potential wins of an international trade policy’ that Brexit might present. It also said that it wanted to keep ‘the closest possible trading relations with the EU 27’ and that it was their top priority to secure a full, time-limited transition period for leaving the EU. Crashing out with no-deal would be catastrophic for the plethora of micro-sized companies up and down the country, with colossal delays and losses.

While they are deeply uncertain about the future, many small business owners have also had their doubts about the European project as well. The red tape involved with the SIngle Market and Customs Union made some vote for the Leave campaign in 2016, while others despaired at the break from the world’s largest trading block. Brexit has some opportunities for business (as well as many pitfalls) such as the ability for the UK to make independent trade deals with the rest of of the world. But they will not be simple. While wealthy Tories scheme and plot, those who most rely on their decision-making are not seeing any benefits.

Small business made up 99.3% of all private sector businesses at the start of 2018, and their workforce amounts to 60% of independently-run businesses. The Lib Dems must seize the opportunity to deliver on the success of the economic progress Britain continues to make. While Jeremy Corbyn plans to issue retribution measures against ‘fat-cat capitalists’ and drive much needed investment away from the City and the rest of Britain and Theresa May surrounds herself in the financial frailty of Brexit, there is a gaping hole in the political divide. The economic crash of 2008 proved that pleasing large multinational corporations is a higher priority to government than those scraping through outside of London.

The legacy of Adam Smith has been, rather ironically, monopolised by those with an agenda. While her pursued the idea of the ‘invisible hand’ and the benefits of what some might call laissez-faire economics, he also believed in state intervention when needed to increase competition, the driver of a healthy, growing and liberal marketplace. All of these things are central to the manifesto of the Liberal Democrats and have been of the economic and social liberal movement in Britain for centuries. They must continue to be a large part of our party for it to succeed in the future.

* Patrick Maxwell is a Liberal Democrat member and political blogger at www.gerrymander.blog and a commentator at bbench.co.uk.

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8 Comments

  • John Marriott 24th Jan '19 - 6:00pm

    There are some who reckon that ‘small businesses’ might all we’ll be left with if we crash out of the EU without a deal. Keep on blogging!

  • …..”The Lib Dems must be the party of small business”…..

    However, at the moment, we are “In the business of being a small party”

  • William Fowler 25th Jan '19 - 8:36am

    The internet is transformative for many small businesses, seed capital is readily available for good ideas and the UK is relatively benign with regards to the ease of setting up a small business… however, moving out of being a one-man micro business usually involves a huge hike in taxation, business rates, employment laws, etc., etc, with the end result that it is often not worth the additional effort. As other Liberal Dem plans involves mining the economy for even more tax, not sure how they can offer anything other than encouraging words to small businesses?

    One interesting policy post Brexit would be allow individuals to buy things from around the world tariff free up to say £5000 per person per year, if replicated in other countries it would make selling via ebay and amazon around the world still viable for small businesses.

  • Arnold Kiel 25th Jan '19 - 9:03am

    Let us not parrot the Leave-nonsense of small business=good, large business=questionable, or that their Brexit-interests differ. Many small businesses have no direct international experience, and therefore base their Brexit view on baseless slogans such as “red tape involved with the SIngle Market and Customs Union”. Even if they have no cross-border activities themselves, they benefit from efficiencies derived from single-market-wide activity of their suppliers or sales channels, or the availability of continental workers and consumers.

    Just wait for the red tape involved with accessing the Single Market and Customs Union from the outside, and the cost of that along their entire supply- and distribution environment. Besides, once big business and the related tax base has relocated, who shall finance social services? Small businesses, their customers and employees.

    Just drop the “small” from your headline.

  • Christopher Haigh 25th Jan '19 - 2:47pm

    I’ve been following the business development of James Dyson and this guy is not stupid. Singapore has free trade agreements with the EU China the USA and India. All his major export markets. Routing UK exports through Singapore could be the answer to the EU problem.

  • Arnold Kiel 26th Jan '19 - 8:13am

    Neil,
    please also ask them how they would vote today before leaving. The whole idea of a people’s vote is to give everybody a second chance.

  • David Evershed 29th Jan '19 - 1:01am

    Arnold Kiel

    All business in the UK is subject to the EU single market rules even though 85% of UK business activity is purely domestic.

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