On the election trail – can a leopard change its spots?

I was in Birmingham yesterday, by coincidence the Leaders debate was taking place at Birmingham University, being hosted by my Alma Mater, Aston University, where I was delivering the keynote address on entrepreneurship at an event organised by the excellent Aston India Foundation & Deloitte.

In conversation with a few guests who’d been invited to the Aston event, one person expressed an opinion which over the past few weeks has been aired but not really hit home with me, as I was too naïve and (perhaps) young to remember the last Tory government.

The gentleman, who’s a small business owner explained that he’d either be voting for Clegg or Brown, when I asked him why he wouldn’t consider Cameron, he said that it didn’t seem to him that they’d do anything to support SMEs – an argument I’ve heard several times, but the killer blow to me was that he went on and explained that he lost his house under the last Tory government. He relived the experience and took the time to, very painfully, explain what happened.

Similarly, I was talking to a hospital doctor, who spoke about how Labour’s done an amazing job in rebuilding hospitals and under the last Tory government, the situation was very bleak – as if they just didn’t care about the NHS. I’ve been expecting nurses and support staff to tell me these kind of stories, but not a doctor.

I’m a Governor of my local school, and in line with this duty, a parent approached me to echo exactly the same theme. He went further to point out that at least there some sense of normality out there – where we live – restaurants seem busy on Saturday nights, shops seem to be trading etc – during the last recession, he remembered reading the headlines in newspapers of people committing suicide because they couldn’t afford to pay their mortgages.

It strikes me, that after all this, can the Tories change the perceptions of being the so called, “nasty party” that people have been relaying stories about to me?

It may be cool and hip to jump on the bandwagon, but can a political ideology and set of values really change that much in such a short span of time?

Enterprise at Downing St

It was an honour to be invited by the Prime Minister and Mrs Brown to a reception at Downing St for entrepreneurs a few days back.

The reception coincided with the launch of a new strategy for enterprise and a set of counterproposals by the Conservatives. From my experience of starting businesses in the UK and in India, I have to say that the UK is way ahead and easier to navigate for the budding entrepreneur. We’re always going to have issues, and we’re always going to feel that the Government isn’t doing as much as it can to reduce red tape. However, if one takes an objective look (at our bottom line), our businesses are growing.

In conversation with the PM, many of us expressed that we faced the real danger of talking ourselves into a recession. Despite the negative media that the economy is receiving, the overwhelming consensus was that our businesses were growing, orders and contracts were being sealed and in general terms, we were all confident of weathering any economic downturn that we may face.

However, what I found very interesting was that everyone I spoke with at the reception said that they already had some kind of relationship with a high growth economy like India or China. Whether it was the lady who specialises in glass architecture, or the guy from Wales who’s set up an incubator for hi-tech companies in Wales.

Looks like the Government’s fear that medium sized businesses weren’t aware of the opportunities of India and other high growth economies presented, is misplaced. Raising awareness is not the problem. What they do need to worry about are the next steps…

Companies like mine specialise in helping British companies crack India. www.saffronchase.com