With a year to go until the next election, politicians may be about to turn their attention to retail in an effort to win votes.

With a year to go until the next election, politicians may be about to turn their attention to retail in an effort to win votes.

As of last week, the general election is one year away.The European and local elections to be held next week are viewed largely as indicators of potential outcomes for 2015, the policy initiatives that pepper that campaign trail merely stepping stones towards a broader electoral platform.

“Retailers could well move into the spotlight in the remaining months of the Parliament”

James Gurling managing director, MHP Communications

While there are plenty of electoral precedents as to who might ultimately be victorious, the impact of the first peacetime coalition government since the 1930s and the rise of an uber-populist right-wing fourth party mean there is greater uncertainty than ever before at this stage in the electoral cycle.

Setting aside the likely strong performance of UKIP at the end of this month, it is the Labour Party that leads in the national (Westminster) polls, and business needs to take a strategic look at what a Labour victory might mean.

However unfair and un-nuanced it might be, Ed Miliband has gained great media coverage and political traction by bashing energy companies, banks and landlords.

Despite the fact that Populus recently ranked supermarkets as having among the highest net public trust in business, the public clamour for politicians to ‘get tough on business’ might mean that retailers, as a prime interface in addressing the cost of living, could well move into the spotlight in the remaining months of the parliament.

Even if the rise in prices of food staples slows, it won’t stop politicians and media contrasting the cost of bread and milk now versus 2010.

As long ago as October last year, one Blairite commentator was drawing open comparison between the excessive profit margin of the energy sector (6.7%) and that of a leading supermarket (5.6%).

And despite the much-vaunted growth of Aldi and Lidl, the big four supermarkets (as opposed to the big six energy companies) have a market share of 75%.

A leaked Labour policy review, later confirmed in large part by the party’s spokesperson, makes clear the extent to which a Labour government might be prepared to intervene under the auspice of encouraging healthier lives.

The review proposes new laws to curb the amount of sugar, fat and salt in food aimed at children; a 9pm watershed for TV adverts for ‘unhealthy’ products that might appeal to youngsters; introducing a minimum alcohol price to stop ‘pre-loading’ by young drinkers; and banning supermarkets from selling drinks near the door, or sweets at the tills.

Meanwhile, as the Conservative Party reveals its intention to constrain the development of on-shore wind farms by amending planning law to remove the Planning Inspectorate from the process, one has to wonder about the implications for out-of-town supermarkets.

The political pursuit of beneficial intervention may well become the hallmark of the 2015 election.

And in an environment in which the outcome is as unpredictable as the electorate is volatile, the risks for business have arguably never been greater, and the rewards for engagement rarely higher.

  • James Gurling managing director, MHP Communications