Last week Labour wheeled out its creaky ‘business-friendly’ bandwagon ahead of next year’s election campaign.

Last week Labour wheeled out its creaky ‘business-friendly’ bandwagon ahead of next year’s election campaign.

Confusingly, Ed Miliband appeared to have hitched it to the Conservatives’ localism hobby-horse by mistake, as he suggested he could help retailers by giving local authorities the power to set business rates. 

It was an idea that left me open-mouthed, in between bouts of hysterical laughter.

These misjudged claims to retail fealty are nothing new. I still remember the Conservatives wooing major retailers prior to the last election.

Samantha Cameron’s tenuous retail connections were even cited as evidence of the bright new dawn we’d witness come the glorious day.

Yet apart from a succession of lacklustre high street ministers picking at the problems like an irritating scab, the coalition has done little to tackle easy wins like parking, rates, rents or planning. Apparently five years just isn’t enough to actually get anything done.

Recently the triumvirate of Pickles, Cable and Lewis have carped from the sidelines, championing policy proposals drafted on the backs of envelopes, with the only tangible ‘help’ being a postponement of business rates revaluations.

That’s something that everyone, with the exception of the inexorable Mr Lewis, regards as about as helpful as a wasp in your underpants.

So last week’s news that MPs were lining up to promise jam tomorrow on business rates reform didn’t have this cynical pundit salivating. Especially because a few weeks before, government policy advisers had rejected the only fair and easy replacement for the current system: a local sales tax.

After seeing little ministerial support for retail during the worst recession in living memory, I’m not optimistic about it being forthcoming from whichever bunch of careerist politicos gets in next time.

I’m hoping for an alien invasion followed by benevolent dictatorship. I think that’s more likely than government reform and if nothing else, it might open up a whole new customer demographic. But remember: in retail, no one can hear you scream.

  • Ian Middleton, managing director and co-founder, Argenteus