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Tuesday's Business and Politics round-up

25 Apr 2017
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Rising from the dead

Liberal Democrat's membership has surged past 100,000 since the snap general election was announced. The party said 12,500 new members have signed up since last week and they are expecting to reach their highest in history. The biggest membership number the Lib Dems have had since their formation was 101,768 members in 1994.

Lib Dem leader Tim Farron is aiming to appeal to voters by being the only party opposing Theresa May's 'hard Brexit agenda'. He pledged to call a second EU referendum if elected to govern the country. 'It is still possible for the British people to stop a Hard Brexit and keep us in the Single Market,' he said. Mr Farron also insisted that he would not enter a coalition with either Conservatives or Labour.

Lib Dems' influence was wiped off the ground following the 2015 general election, which left only a handful of the party's MPs sitting in Parliament. It is fair to say that the party's pledge to give the people a say on the final Brexit deal gives them a real chance to win seats - both the Tories and Labour say that Brexit will be inevitable. Nevertheless, gaining real power will be more difficult than Mr Farron may anticipate, as some polls predict a Tory majority of up to 150.

Talking of those rising from the dead, Zac Goldsmith has announced he will seek to regain Richmond seat by standing as Conservative candidate. Mr Goldsmith resigned last year over Heathrow expansion and lost his seat to Sarah Olney in the by-election in which he stood as an independent candidate. But local Conservatives think Mr Goldsmith's chances will be much higher as the official Tory candidate, backed by the full party machine and its activist base.

New plan for Britain

Labour Party has said they would ditch Theresa May's Brexit strategy and guarantee the rights of EU citizens resident in the UK ahead of negotiations if elected in June. Retaining the benefits of the single market and customs union would also become a top priority. While accepting that the UK will leave the EU, shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer said they would seek a different deal, one which would prioritise workers rights and jobs.

Among other priorities upon assuming power, Labour will also pledge to replace the Great Repeal Bill with an EU Rights and Protections Bill. 'There could be no clearer signal that Labour want a close and collaborative future relationship with our EU partners,' said Mr Starmer. However, the Prime Minister has commented that Jeremy Corbyn's party is seeking to 'disrupt' Brexit talks. The party has been criticised for the lack of clarity in its approach to Brexit. Mr Starmer is set to outline for the first time Labour's plans for Britain's withdrawal from the EU in a speech later today.

Meanwhile, the Communist Party has promised to support Mr Corbyn and will not field candidates for the first time in almost a century. Robert Griffiths, the party's general secretary, commented, 'The higher the Labour vote and the number of Labour MPs elected, the more secure will be the position of Jeremy Corbyn and his left allies in the Parliamentary Labour Party.' The party vowed to produce its own manifesto 'in order to project our revolutionary strategy for socialism and a programme of clear, consistent policies for the labour movement' as it pledged support for Mr Corbyn's aims.

Energy bill cap damaging for consumers

Big Six energy firms Centrica and SSE each suffered a significant drop in shares yesterday after Mrs May signalled energy caps for the two-thirds of British households on standard tariffs would be included in the Conservative Party manifesto. Bernstein analysts predicted that such a cap would swipe £332 million off Centrica's (owner of British Gas) operating profits in just the first year. Centrica shares were yesterday trading more than a third lower than this time in 2014.

Profits aside, Scottish Power has warned that capping energy prices would 'stop competition' and 'damage customers in the long run', leading to fewer benefits for consumers and higher prices. Keith Anderson, Scottish Power's chief corporate officer, said, 'If you put a cap on prices, you actually stop competition. That's the danger of price intervention.' Instead, if Conservatives chose to intervene, they should abolish standard variable tariffs, commented Mr Anderson. Nevertheless, Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon, defended the plans, saying that the party 'wanted to see more competition' and 'wanted to see more people able to switch between energy users.' He added, 'That over the last three or four years has not happened. This is a market that is not working perfectly and therefore we are intervening to make markets work better.'

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