New government-same problems

‘To be quite frank with you, I really couldn’t give a monkey’s who gets in’ was one prominent marketing director’s verdict on the current election. Frank and, the suspicion is, representative of a wide swathe of this magazine’s readers.

When all the electoral posturing is over, whichever party gets in faces a fairly restricted range of policy options.

To be sure, Gordon Brown may wish to portray himself as particularly macho with a swingeing early interest rate rise if he becomes Chancellor. But the fact is, rates will have to go up anyway, with some inevitable consequences for mortgages, the feelgood factor and spending power in the high street. Ditto taxes, in some form or another.

Likewise, the Europe issue will continue to suppurate like a running ulcer. Opinion will polarise for the good reason that there is no simple business rationale for opting in or out; on the contrary ‘Europe’ is all about visceral reaction and relative position. For the Sir Stanley Kalms of this world, ‘Europe’ signals ‘bureaucratic weeds’ clogging the wheels of free enterprise. For other captains of industry, such as Niall Fitzgerald of Unilever, ‘Europe’ is all about a powerful trading block enhanced by monetary union. This vision in turn has little appeal to smaller companies with national markets, which are likely to experience most keenly the deflationary consequences of EMU’s introduction.

Still, for all these generalisations, there are some nuances between the parties which are worth noting. The notion that a Labour administration will be less sympathetic to self-regulation is very likely true. Whether this means a less than Herculean assault on the Hydra of Brussels, a robuster espousal of statutory controls back home, or more probably both, remains to be seen.

What we do know is that Labour will ban tobacco advertising, would seek to strengthen trademark law, and will take steps to emasculate Camelot. The media world’s status quo may also find itself subtly challenged. For a start, Labour might break up, or modify, the Department of National Heritage – which the Conservatives built round little more than the media and artistic enthusiasms of David Mellor.

Then too, Labour has toyed with the creation of a single media and communications regulator, combining the roles of some or all of the Independent Television Commission, Oftel, the BBC’s Board of Governors, the Radio Authority and the Broadcasting Standards Commission. In theory, this would be a pleasing, rational solution to the nightmare skein of conflicting regulatory codes. In practice, it could create a tyrannous body of great power in a sensitive area.

And let’s not forget a few other hardy perennials which will burst into bloom over the next five years. The privatisation of Channel 4 and the precise status of the BBC licence fee being but two of them.

Cover Story, page 38; Higham, page 19; Pitcher, page 25

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