Thu, 20 Apr 2017 | Insights
By Tim Wallace, Economics Correspondent: Theresa May has a tough job ahead if she wants to win over Britain’s small businesses, who greeted the announcement of a snap general election more with dismay than delight - particularly taking offence at her sharp U-turn on the idea of holding an early vote.
Opinion polls show the Prime Minister has a commanding lead among polls of the public at large, but small companies have revealed an alternative view.
The Daily Telegraph Business Tracker - an analysis of thousands of comments on social media carried out by Impact Social, shows Britain’s small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) did not welcome the snap election.
The next biggest annoyance among the business community was the Prime Minister’s refusal to take part in a televised debate with other party leaders.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and the Liberal Democrats’ Tim Farron both say they want a TV head-to-head, but the Conservative leader has declined to participate.
TV debates formed major centrepieces of the 2010 and 2015 elections, though they were not part of earlier campaigns.
Almost one-fifth of the negative posts related to the refusal to take part in the much-watched live shows.
The next most popular complaint, voiced in 16pc of the negative online posts, was that the election would distract from an investigation into election expenses from the 2015 campaign.
The Conservative Party was fined £70,000 last month by the Electoral Commission for failing to declare more than £275,000 in election-related spending.
A dozen police forces have also passed files to the Crown Prosecution Service relating to expenses investigations.
The CPS had planned to decide by the end of May if any cases should be brought to court, but any decisions around the 2015 election will be less significant if another round of voting has already taken place.
A further 10pc of companies’ negative social media posts indicated concern that the decision to hold a vote betrayed a panic over Brexit, while 9pc said that the vote could weaken the UK’s position.
Another 11pc of the posts concerned Mrs May’s own voting record.
Meanwhile 3pc of the downbeat posts expressed irritation at the cost of holding another major election. After the Scottish referendum in 2014, general election in 2015 and EU referendum in 2016, this is the fourth big vote in four years. Another 3pc were distressed at the FTSE’s slump that followed the announcement.
On the positive side, just over one-third of the upbeat posts said it was a good move to hold a snap vote now.
The Prime Minister said it was important to create a more unified parliament through a new vote, giving her more authority to negotiate with the EU, and a substantial chunk of SMEs appear to agree - that group amounted to around 250 positive comments online.
Meanwhile 28pc said it should strengthen the UK, again backing the Prime Minister’s message and indicating the increased heft that Mrs May could wield should she win a substantial majority.
Stamping out domestic opposition also won some fans - 15.5pc welcomed the chance that the snap election could derail a second independence referendum in Scotland.
A further 8pc cheered the rising pound, 7pc said the Conservatives’ substantial poll lead was a positive, and 3pc noted the International Monetary Fund had upgraded Britain’s growth prospects in its latest set of economic forecasts.
But even among the positive Tweets, there is room for some doubt - the final 4pc gave the rather more ambiguous comment that holding a snap election is a “brave move”.
What is the Daily Telegraph Business Tracker?
The Daily Telegraph Business Tracker is an analysis compiled by Impact Social.
It tracks the Twitter messages of 25,000 British companies and business people, searching their public posts for indicators of their sentiment towards the state of the economy, their own business performance, and their reaction to government policies.
In the time from 12 noon on Wednesday to 11am on Thursday they had tweeted more than 10,000 times.
Those aggregated search results are then analysed manually by Impact Social’s researchers to assess whether the messages are positive, negative or neutral.
That process also strips out posts that are promotional, leaving only the businesses’ opinions on the topics in question.
The study of online posts in the 24 hours after Theresa May stood outside Number 10 and announced the referendum found that 28pc of SMEs’ comments were negative.
Just 18pc expressed positive sentiments regarding the snap election. The remaining 54pc were neutral on the topic.
The biggest concern among the vocally dissatisfied businesses is that the Prime Minister has performed another U-turn.
Theresa May had repeatedly stated in the past that there would be no new election until 2020, in line with the Fixed Term Parliaments Act.
But she changed her mind without warning, earning the ire of 28pc of those negative Tweeters - amounting to roughly 320 individual comments from business people online.