Independent retailer Ian Middleton ran for the Green Party during the election, he explains why he chose the party.

It’s been a peculiar few months for me.

Regular readers will know that I’ve never been particularly complimentary about politicians, so it was with some bemusement that I found myself becoming one at the end of last year.

I was invited to stand for Parliament by the Green Party because of my business background as they move to engage more with SMEs.

As a firm advocate of social entrepreneurism I saw it as an opportunity to get it on the political agenda. 

I’ve never regarded myself as a traditional leftie, and I’ve been working to inject some pragmatism into the Green vision. 

I wear my rosette uneasily at times, whilst trying to avoid the ideological landmines, and inevitably there have been some internal dust-ups on issues like parking charges, leading me to being viewed as contrarian by both business friends and party members. 

I also struggle a little with the living wage of £10 per hour. Instinctively I support it, but the practicalities for smaller employers needs more thought. 

For them I’d prefer more of a profit sharing model, along the lines of John Lewis but with less fudge, plus a solid commitment to significant reductions on business rates and rents.

Ethical areas of retail

But I’ve always been totally opposed to zero-hours contracts. As retailers we rely on staff as the ambassadorial interface with our customers. 

I’ve never understood how we can expect commitment without offering the same in return. Sending someone a text at 7am telling them not to come to work is not a good way to build a loyal team. It’s sloppy resource management and it needs to stop.

Another central Green tenet is that economies can’t continue to grow for ever. 

“I think ethical retailing is about to explode again”

Ian Middleton

I have to say that intrinsically I agree with that. It’s a finite planet, with finite resources and we need to accept that a permanent state of growth is a fiscal fantasy. 

How we square that as an industry hooked on consumption is something I’d like to see more conversations about.

For me it means looking at more ethical areas of retail, where we aim to serve needs rather than just create more wants. Where businesses can authentically contribute to a society with more than token gestures like school vouchers or a pin board. 

It was encouraging for me to see some of that social dimension reflected in the presentations at Retail Week Live this year, particularly the focus on small start-ups and Anne Lise Kjaer’s discussions on the emerging fourth sector. 

The session about women in management was interesting too, although I’d have liked to see a more politically balanced panel.

And this isn’t all existentialism, tree-hugging or flower waving. I’m seeing increasing amounts of genuine social capitalism in business, which I’m keen to engage with. 

On a more mercenary note, I think ethical retailing is about to explode again and I’d like to be in the middle of the conflagration.

Assuming I’m not called to Westminster in the meantime of course.

  • Ian Middleton founded jewellery retailer Argenteus