Retailers should look closely at the candidates for the general election and aim to pick up policy bargains as the UK prepares to vote.

Political uncertainty is bad for business. In that case, retailers will be awaiting the general election with all the eager anticipation of a patient about to be called to the dentist’s chair.

Even experts with years of predicting outcomes are baffled by the permutations offered by this year’s polls. One politician told me there are at least seven possible outcomes – only for an even more senior figure at the next table to lean over and inform us that the true number is in fact 14.

From a business planning perspective, however, the election outcome can be narrowed down to a much smaller set of possibilities.

Barring some game-changing event, we can assume that the next Prime Minister can be one of only two people: David Cameron and Ed Miliband.

We can also be reasonably certain that neither of those two will lead a majority government composed entirely of MPs of their own party – we’ll have either a minority government or a new coalition.

Which other parties get their feet under the cabinet table can safely be left to the real experts – keen readers can find out more from the sage analysis of Andrew Cooper of Populus and his team at

What does this mean for the retail sector? Neither outcome is an unalloyed blessing. While the Conservatives offer, as usual, a more business-friendly face, that is tempered by the disruption and risk of an EU referendum, perhaps as soon as 2016.

Although the retail sector does not speak absolutely with one voice on the question of EU membership, it is clear that the vast majority would prefer to work for reform within Europe rather than take their chances outside.

As for Labour, the benefit of avoiding a referendum at all is offset by some pretty negative language about business. There is also the strong suspicion that its current leadership largely does not understand business, and will be all too ready to reach for regulation, rather than the partnership approach of the present coalition.

The sensible approach is to make no assumptions and be prepared to work with a future administration of any political stripe. And this is exactly what retail is already undertaking.

The excellent Retail Week Manifesto demonstrates that the industry has ideas about how to promote jobs and growth – and hence boost tax revenues.

Expectations of an immediate hearing should, however, be kept under control.

As an American politician neatly put it, politicians campaign in poetry but have to govern in prose. In an election campaign, vote-winning ideas will always crowd out proposals for long-term economic achievement.

But that doesn’t matter. Retailers should always remember that when the election is over, the first few months of government are the time to take decisions that are necessary, if not always popular.

Like a sensible shopper, make a list and head for the Whitehall supermarket. You might just pick up a policy bargain.

  • Martin Le Jeune, director, Open Road