Coalition split on key business issues?

A BCC survey of Government MPs found some slightly worrying differences between the Coalition partners...

by James Taylor
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2013

Now we admit that we're already a bit bored with Coalition split stories (is it really a surprise to anyone to discover that some Lib Dems and some Tories disagree on particular policy issues?). But we're nothing if not self-interested, so we felt compelled to bring you the findings of a new MP survey by the British Chambers of Commerce, which found that the two sides appear to be split on some of business's biggest bugbears – viz., employment law, overseas trade and infrastructure. And although this might not matter as long as the front bench are on the same page, the latest musings of Messrs Cable and Alexander suggest that might not be the case...

The Lib Dems kick off their annual conference in Liverpool today, and the party's top brass won't be expecting an easy ride. Far from being grateful that they're actually involved at the top table for once rather than heckling from the sidelines, many of the party's grassroots supporters are pig sick about having to gang up with those nasty Tories. And with Clegg and co no doubt keen to keep on the right side of the masses, we're bound to see a bit of playing to the gallery this week. So it's worth taking everything that comes out of this Conference with a pinch of salt.

So what of this BCC survey? It found that while 87% of Conservative MPs felt that the balance of employment law had shifted too far in favour of the employee, a whopping 71% of Lib Dems disagreed; and while 62% of Tories wanted an international trade minister (the position to which HSBC's Stephen Green has just been appointed) around half of their Coalition partners think it's a waste of time. Then again, the Lib Dems are far more in tune with the weight of business opinion on infrastructure investment: 70% think current spending should increase or at least remain constant, compared to just 27% of Tories.

You might argue that the views of recalcitrant backbenchers don’t necessarily matter; coalitions are all about compromise, after all. But differences of opinion of this magnitude will undoubtedly make it harder to bring about the changes UK plc wants. More to the point, it's not just the backbenchers who are agitating: Business Secretary Vince Cable has been making waves again by criticising immigration quotas.

And then there's tax. Yesterday, Treasury Secretary Danny Alexander made a trenchant speech slamming tax avoidance as 'morally indefensible'. Since lots of businesses would argue (albeit perhaps not publicly) that they're duty bound to minimise their tax bill by all legal measures - which is what tax avoidance means, lest we forget – and many of the Tories’ corporate donors will inevitably have gone down this route, we wouldn’t be surprised if this turns out to be another significant bone of contention...

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