As a British business person and entrepreneur, I have always felt that the Conservative Party was my natural political home. I never gave it much thought. It just seemed the natural place to be. I have always voted Conservative except once - when Tony Blair won his first term. At that time the Conservatives were looking tired and riven with internal warfare. I felt that the Labour Party should be supported for its recent modernisation efforts and that Blair represented the welcome injection of youthful vigour and optimism that the country needed. After that I spent a long period in the US and British politics seemed remote and not particularly relevant to my life.
Now my business interests are largely back in the UK and we are in an election year - an election year with more possible outcomes than in any of my previous experiences. I have decided for the first time to throw my support - and my vote - behind the Liberal Democrats. Why?
As always, there are both positive and negative reasons.
First the positives. I feel that the experience of coalition government has been a very positive one for business and for the country. Coalition forces discussion and the careful consideration of alternative perspectives when making policy. This is to be encouraged. A process of discussion and debate is an essential component of good decision-making - in business as well as policy. Single party government with a safe majority inevitably tends to be less thoughtful. I have also been impressed by the positive role the Lib Dems have played in the coalition. They have supported fiscal rectitude but injected into it a human face. As a result, Britain has recovered outstandingly well from the biggest financial crisis we have seen in our lifetime but has done so at a considerably lower social cost (though clearly there has been plenty) than we have seen in so many other European countries.
Lib Dem led policies have also been positive for business. From the highly successful apprenticeship scheme to the British Business Bank and the Green Investment Bank; the emphasis on spreading prosperity throughout the country through decentralisation initiatives such as the Regional Growth Fund, City Deals and Local Growth Deals; the moderating influence on legislation such as the Snooper's Charter which, if passed in its original extreme form, would not only have representing an attack on liberal and democratic values but would have been damaging to the UK as a base for the booming digital economy (damage that will only be surpassed by Mr Cameron's daft idea of banning end to end encryption of digital data). All these policies were a direct result of having the Lib Dems in government.
Next, the negatives. The Chairman of a FTSE 100 company was recently quoted as saying of the two main parties "One party hates Europe; the other party hates business. It is a worrying state of affairs." It is indeed. If we look at the possible outcomes of the upcoming election, any outcome that does not involve a coalition with the Lib Dems would be nothing short of disastrous for UK Business.
A slim conservative majority (a large majority is out of the question) would put the government at the mercy of the party's loony fringe. We would almost certainly exit the EU and the business of government would be held hostage by a few MPs with extreme views (and there are plenty enough of those). Business's ability to import the skills it so desperately needs would be severely restricted. The digital economy will likely be damaged further and Scotland will almost certainly secede.
Labour, on the other hand, has moved to what one could call a 'post-modernisation' phase; retreating into its past habits of business bashing and tax and spend polices. Yet, while the prospect of a Miliband government makes many of us reach for the nearest sedative, the fact that a Labour government held suspended by SNP puppeteers is a reasonable possibility makes us quake in our boots.
My conclusion is that should the upcoming election produce an outcome that is anything other than a stable, two-party coalition that includes the moderating influence and the liberal, decentralising, internationalist values represented by the Lib Dems, the consequences for UK business and, as a result, the whole country, would range from the bad to the disastrous.
That is why I am supporting the Lib Dems in this election and I would urge others to consider doing the same even if, like me, they have, in the past, just gone with the flow and stuck to whatever seemed to be their natural home - whether that was on the centre right or on the centre left.