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Conservative party leadership race: Who would be best for small business?

With all five potential candidates now announced, we assess the business credentials of those bidding to be Tory leader and prime minister

With prime minister David Cameron announcing his resignation immediately after the British public voted for a Brexit, those in the high seats of the Conservative Party have quickly turned their attention towards its leadership – and that of the country.

While no doubt much of the immediate focus will be placed on the candidates’ opinion of Europe and how quickly they would, or would not, activate Article 50 –strong business knowledge will be essential to guide Britain through, what could well be, rough seas ahead.

With this fact in mind, we’ve gathered a briefing of all five leadership hopefuls – and what they could do for small businesses.

Theresa May

Having campaigned for the UK to remain in the EU, the home secretary is marginally the bookie’s favourite to be the first female prime minister and Tory leader since Margaret Thatcher. Spending six years in the Home Office, experience would certainly appear to be no obstacle to the Maidenhead MP.

In November 2011, May introduced a £2m mentor scheme for female entrepreneurs in a bid for them to ‘fulfil their potential” and in 2013 an invitation-only fast-track visa service aimed at “top business executives”. Speaking about the mentoring scheme, she told The Guardian:

“For too long, as a country, we have failed to make the most of the skills, experience and talents of women and despite the difficult decisions that need to be taken, there is much we can do to make sure that our economy emerges stronger and fairer, and operates in the interests of the working majority.”

In contrast, May has come under fire from some business owners for changes to the Tier 2 visa scheme. Announced by May earlier this year, the new-ruling means EU migrants in the UK on a Tier 2 visa now have to earn a minimum £35,000 salary in order to qualify for settlement in the country. Critics have argued that the ruling will “hurt” UK start-ups who rely on foreign talent.

Andrea Leadsom (withdrew nomination)

Despite rumours she would back Boris Johnson’s campaign if he had run, the minister for energy and Brexit backer has announced she wants to run on an individual platform and succeed Cameron as both party leader and prime minister. Having formerly worked in The City before entering politics, which she describes as “the most creative and inventive financial centre in the world”, Leadsom was also strongly tipped to become chancellor.

The daughter of entrepreneurs, Leadsom was running Barclays Investment Banking team when Barings Bank collapsed due to fraud and was working in fund management during the financial crash of 2008.

She repeatedly supports young NEETS (Not in Employment, Education or Training) to set up their own businesses as a way of battling economy recession and believes British businesses will thrive after Brexit telling The Telegraph:

“It’s not about being a little islander. There are huge opportunities from the rest of the world. We do not need to be handcuffed to the European Union.”

On July 5th 2016, Leadsom called for ‘all regulation', such as a minimum wage and maternity rights, to be scrapped for micro businesses that employ between just one and three employees. Calling such regulation a ‘burden', she believes it would create an incentive for people that “if they can’t find a job, (they can) create one for themselves”.

On July 11th 2016, Leadsom withdrew her leadership bid with Theresa May becoming prime minister as a result.

Michael Gove (eliminated)

Co-convenor and one of the most prominent figures of Vote Leave, the secretary of state for justice described his backing for a Brexit as “the most difficult decision of my political life”.

Gove’s decision to run is surprising, given that he has repeatedly expressed throughout his career his lack of desire to become prime minister. “I don't know what I can do in a way but if anyone wants me to sign a piece of parchment in my own blood saying I don't want to be prime minister, then I'm perfectly happy to do that.” His decision to run is also believed to be a major factor for Boris Johnson opting out of the race entirely.

The adoptive son of a business owner, Gove’s father ran a fish processing plant in Aberdeen which was frequently referenced in the weeks leading up to the EU referendum.

On 7th July 2016, Gove was eliminated from the leadership race after winning backing from just 46 of the 330 Tory MPs.

Stephen Crabb (withdrew nomination)

Often described as a ‘blue-collar Conservative’ due to his working class council estate roots, Crabb is also known for sharing controversial opinions on homosexuality in the past as well as being linked to organisations that promote ‘cures’ for being gay – which he has since disputed.

The Preseli Pembrokeshire MP was made secretary of state for work and pensions in March 2016 and supported a Remain vote. More interestingly, Crabb has the backing of business secretary Sajid Javid with rumours the pair originally considered a joint bid.

On 7th July 2016, Crabb withdrew his bid for leadership after receiving 34 votes in the Tory leadership election and backed Theresa May.

Liam Fox (eliminated)

Having resigned in disgrace as defence secretary in October 2011 after allowing his best friend Adam Werrity access to the MOD without clearance. An ex-GP, Fox backed the UK to leave the European Union and believes his experience as a previous employer will help his leadership aspirations. The firm outsider, Fox originally challenged Cameron for leadership back in 2005 but came third.

On 7th July 2016, Fox was eliminated from the leadership race after receiving just 16 votes from fellow Conservative MPs in the first ballot. He subsequently backed Theresa May.


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