Sunday, 27 July 2008

Liberalism - The Natural Friend Of Small Business (?)

As my friends will probably know, I have spent a considerable working in the small and medium enterprise research and development field, particularly internationally. I personally have always seen both the Liberal Democrats and liberalism as an ideology as being thoroughly compatible with the worldview of small business people given our historic and current emphasis on the freedom of the individual, concerns with excessive concentrations of power (hence the need for competition policy to mitigate the effects of excessive monopoly power on both consumers and producers), the desirability of self-reliance against dependency and our support for the idea of free trade. The very foundations of the party have made us reluctant, and rightly so, to be dependent on donations from large business and the trade unions. Historically the Tories have always been seen as the creatures of big business and Labour as the friends of the trade union movement. This has started to break down.

In fact, I would even be as bold to suggest that the Liberal Democrats ought to be seen as the natural champions and home of small business people for the pure and simple reason that our campaigning practice has in so many ways shown very enterprising characteristics. I was therefore a little bit surprised when several years ago I bought and read Conrad Russell's "An Intelligent Person's Guide to Liberalism" and noted that his chapter on economics was somewhat brief. I greatly admired Conrad and thought that this book was fantastic except in this one aspect.

Whilst I have been working in Croatia I have become aware that the EPP-ED Group has an SME Union which is effectively a federal forum of SME groups associated with Christian Democratic, Conservative and Centre-Right political parties. I am also concerned that the UK Tories have also tried to make the running a bit on SMEs with the Richards Report.

I know that there are a number of Liberal Democrats who are self-employed and there might be merit in starting an AO to represent our views on SME policy and the (sometimes needlessly difficult) business environment we face and what can be done to create a better business environment in which people can start, sustain and grow their own business.

There would also be strong merit in ALDE member parties and ALDE as a whole creating a representative body to represent the interests of Liberal small business people across the Union and showing why we are the natural friends of the small business community. After all, the EPP 9 reasons why small business people would vote EPP in next years European Parliamentary Elections are pretty insipid to put it mildly (actually, I think they are crap).

The fact that Cameron is about to engage in the usual Europhobic madness and pull out of the EPP group creates an opportunity for both British and European Liberals to become the natural representatives of small business. Let us grab this opportunity!

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