It is almost a pre-election ritual to complain that the incoming Parliament will be insufficiently representative of some group or other and the financial services lobby has long argued that politicians do not sufficiently understand business.
Findings in a recent study of prospective Parliamentary candidates by the Industry and Parliament Trust were ominous, with only 22 per cent of PPCs in marginal seats specifically mentioning the economy as a political interest. Yet for IFAs, in particular, there are grounds for optimism.
hey will by no means fill the green benches after this election but in Conservative candidate Deborah Dunleavy they should have one newly elected IFA as she is well placed to overturn a majority of 3,581 in Bolton North-east.
Well known IFA Philip Milton is also standing for the Conservatives in North Devon and needs to overturn a Liberal Democrat majority of 4,972.
More generally, a Tory election victory would be likely to strengthen business representation in the Commons. The study showed that more than half the Conservative PPCs work in business management or financial services – more than any other sector, the closest being public relations.
A more commercially aware political audience that has worked in the financial services industry and will be sensitive to the plight of IFAs can only be a good thing. At regulatory level, too, there are grounds for optimism with the appointment of IFA Amanda Davidson as a non-executive director on the FSA board.
Looking beyond IFAs to those with a background in finance, we can be confident of the election of Harriet Baldwin in West Worcestershire, formerly a JP Morgan Asset Management managing director; Steve Barclay in North-east Cambridgeshire, head of anti-money-laundering at Barclays retail banking arm; Mike Freer, in Finchley, a self-employed banking and financial services consultant; Karen Bradley, ex-KPMG, in Staffordshire and former banker and venture capitalist Amber Rudd in Hastings & Rye.
Andrea Leadsom is expected to win the new South Northamptonshire seat, having been head of corporate governance at Invesco until recently, and Tracey Crouch of Aviva looks likely to capture Chatham. Japanese equities specialist Gareth McKeever tackles a LibDem majority of 267 in Westmorland while venture capitalist Richard Fuller will contest Bedford and Accenture accountant David Mowat throws his hat in the ring in Warrington.
Other notable candidates include Jonathan Evans, for whom the rising tide of European financial services legislation will be familiar. Now Tory candidate in marginal Cardiff North, Evans was an MEP until last year and a former European spokesman on the economic and monetary affairs committee. Matthew Hancock also begins what is likely to be a sprint to the front bench. He was George Osborne’s chief of staff until this spring and is standing in the safe seat of Suffolk West.
Does any of this matter? If, as we anticipate, reforming the tripartite system of regulation is high on the post-election agenda, then the insight of MPs with finance backgrounds is valuable. Experience can help combat the tendency to debate financial services regulation in rather academic terms, with Lord Turner at times seeming to treat key issues almost as an intellectual conundrum.
Equally, MPs drawn from business can feed practical insight of the effects of regulatory change in the policy process. This will be a reality check on the reform of regulation as well as bolstering their party’s credibility – particularly with rumbling complaints about Tory Shadow Chancellor George Osborne’s level of experience.
It is not just the Conservative Treasury team that will benefit from new MPs with financial services experience. Sitting on the Treasury select committee will be a much coveted position for new MPs keen to cut their teeth in a high-profile committee. With some potentially gargantuan financial services bills going through Parliament, industry awareness will add a welcome dimension to the committee’s scrutiny of legislation.
A small majority for either party will heighten the power of backbenchers but it is also unlikely that a scattering of IFAs would profoundly improve Parliamentary awareness of industry issues such as the retail distribution review, for example, with an adjournment debate here and a Parliamentary question there.
The new intake will be welcome additions to the House of Commons at a time of unprecedented focus on business, the economy and regulation of financial services. Their previous careers make them sensible targets for influencing policy but we should be in no doubt that, new intake or not, the scale and gravity of the negative reputation suffered by the industry suggests little by way of quick fixes.
Ben Abbotts is head of public affairs and Chris Bose is an account manager at Lansons Public Affairs &Regulatory Consulting