Does Parliament have enough business voices?
Published 07/07/2016
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The latest appointments to the House of Lords were notable for taking the chamber's membership to over 800; a status that makes it the second largest legislative assembly in the world after the 2,987-strong National People's Congress of China. Unlike the Lords, of course, the NPC's delegates are elected, after a fashion.
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One Conservative appointment that has prompted particular debate is that of “bra tycoon” Michelle Mone OBE, who founded the lingerie company Ultimo.

On one hand, it’s refreshing that she isn’t – unlike many of her new colleagues – a previously defeated politician. As Iain Duncan Smith’s so-called ‘start-up tsar’, she’s also been given the worthwhile task of identifying and reporting back on the barriers to new business growth in deprived areas.

On the other hand, some critics have questioned Mone’s credentials, suggesting that her elevation to the Lords owes as much to her vocal support for last year’s ‘No’ campaign in Scotland as to her own business successes.

While UK governments seem to like commissioning headline-grabbing reports from celebrity businesspeople – such as the 2011 Portas Review – the number of actual MPs with proper business experience still has room for improvement.

Recent research by the Industry and Parliament Trust (IPT) showed that while 68% of the 2015 Commons intake have some form of political background – a third primarily so – a more modest 15% have previously managed a business.

In retail, certainly, there is often frustration about governments and politicians not properly understanding the sector – whether that’s through procrastinating over business rates revaluation, introducing complexity to Sunday trading hours, or offering half-hearted backing to Mary Portas’ high-street proposals.

Perhaps Michelle Mone’s greatest achievement, in seeking to build a renewed “nation of shopkeepers”, will be if some of those new entrepreneurs in turn become a future generation of business-savvy politicians.

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