"You're joking, not another one?" This is the now-famous reaction of Brenda from Bristol, when a BBC reporter asked for her opinion on Theresa May’s decision to call a general election in June, almost three years before the country was due to vote for a new government. Since the prime minister’s announcement on Tuesday 18 April 2017, many commentators have reported on ‘election fatigue’ being felt by the British public who, like Brenda, are reluctant to go to the polls and deal with another wave of political debate so soon after the European referendum. However, the general election is not the only vote that will affect our nation during the coming months. The England mayoral elections take place on Thursday 4 May 2017, and while the vote is only being held in certain regions across the country, the ramifications will be felt on a national scale. There is also a third vote that we cannot ignore; the final round of the French presidential elections will be held on Sunday 7 May 2017 and the results will shape the future of Brexit negotiations.
So, why does each of these votes matter to British business owners and the wider public? As it is the first vote on the calendar, let us begin with the England mayoral elections. Six regions will be voting for a newly created position of combined authority mayors when they go to the polls. The regions are: Cambridgeshire & Peterborough, Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region, Tees Valley, West Midlands and West of England. Held in mostly urban areas, the remits will cover multiple local authorities, with a responsibility for deciding on their region’s economic strategy, along with transport and housing, although the level of their power depends on individual agreements with the government. As my company’s headquarters are here in the North West, I am particularly keen to see the results of the Greater Manchester vote, but the results of the other regional decisions will be equally significant in painting a picture of public opinion ahead of the general election. I would be extremely surprised if anybody other than Andy Burnham wins the Greater Manchester vote, as in my opinion he is by far the most qualified for the job. The whole purpose of our elected mayors is to give the regions a stronger voice on a national scale and we especially need this if we are to fulfil aims of becoming a true Northern Powerhouse. I have total confidence that Andy Burnham would help us to achieve this ambition, and I hope other business leaders in Greater Manchester pledge their support for the Labour candidate. Whatever the outcome, I will be interested to see the results and whether this gives any clues about the way the wider public will vote when it comes to the general election in June.
On the subject of the general election, it is important to start considering which way to vote as soon as possible as we have been given far less notice than usual, and therefore every debate truly counts. We are yet to see the manifestos of the main parties but we know headline issues, like the fact the Liberal Democrats are pushing for a second referendum. Labour, on the other hand, are putting the NHS and schools at the forefront of their campaign, as well as attempting to win votes with a pledge for an additional four bank holidays in the year. It is unclear to me whether the economy can afford such a luxury during these challenging times, but I hope the manifesto will clearly outline how the budgets will align to fulfil this promise. While many people have already ruled out Corbyn and the Labour party, I would not be so quick to judge. A lot can change in a matter of weeks, and we all witnessed the capacity for shock in the referendum last year, as well as the US presidential elections just a few months later. The winning party will change the course of Brexit negotiations; even if the Conservative party does remain in power, a stronger representation in parliament could mean that our stance changes to a firmer Brexit, while a Labour win might mean we have to go back to the drawing board. Provided there is a solid, clear win, I feel confident that the country will benefit from the stability that a new government will bring, but a hung parliament or coalition would be disastrous.
While the UK comes to terms with the prospect of a new government, our friends across the Channel are also making a decision about who will be the next President of France. The first round of the elections has placed far right candidate Marine Le Pen and centrist Emmanuel Macron in the final two, with a vote to decide the overall winner to be held on Sunday 7 May 2017. It is the first time in decades that neither of the two main parties in France has been voted through to the second round. And the two final candidates could not be more different in terms of their stance towards Europe, which is why this election is so important to British politics. Le Pen is a staunch nationalist and vocally anti-Europe, with some suggesting a win for her would signal the end of the EU as we know it, while Macron is pro-Europe and has said he will lead a ‘rebirth’ of the EU if he is voted into power. Macron may well take a harder line on Britain’s exit from the EU, in a bid to prove the point that being part of Europe is more advantageous than being on the outside. The vote seems an obvious choice for me, with Le Pen’s ideology arguably even more extreme than that of Trump, and I sincerely hope my counterparts across the Channel opt for the sense and stability Macron has to offer.
Whatever results come of these three key votes, one thing is for certain, we cannot escape the politics that is happening regardless of whether we want it to. I for one have taken the decision to embrace these turbulent times and get involved with the debate, which continues to rage whether we like it or not. As business leaders it is up to us to ask those difficult questions and get answers for those who we represent, as many of our elected leaders seem incapable of fulfilling this remit in the current climate.