Catherine May – Head of Corporate Communications at SABMiller- introduced SABMiller to our attendees and guests emphasising its local champion/globally successful profile and explaining why the company were keen to hear what our guest speaker had to say. She then handed over to Karl Snowden – Chief Executive of the Westminster Forum – who formally introduced the speaker.
She commented on the interesting timing of her briefing on the coalition government as we are on the eve of county council elections and in year 3 of the coalition. She admitted she was looking forward to when, in preparing for the next election individual party members could start to get more party political. The Coalition was the ‘of its time’ and right in putting the national interest first but it had been distracted from this thrust by some of the ‘agreed elements’ such as the AV referendum and the necessary compromises meant that the government could go as far as she would have liked in reducing spending.
Ms Patel was supportive of the changes to the welfare system achieved and the good things around the NHS bringing constituents closer to NHS choices through their GP. Her business concerns are that the government are not deregulating fast enough and that it doesn’t contain enough business practitioners despite a number joining parliament in the 2010. On the Election front she hoped that political parties stopped looking and sounding like each other and for this reason welcomed the rise of UKIP which if nothing else will provide a good opportunity to reappraise policies on European Policy and Immigration and Taxation too.
She is relishing the coming resurgence of battles of ideas. In her constituency immigration has always been an issue raised by individual constituents and she still feels governments are tinkering at the margins on these issues. Her constituency also has 80% of its work force employed by SMEs so the more removed government is from business the more remote it is from understanding what makes the population – particularly in her area – tick. More integration of government and business thinking can only be a good grounding for the much needed economic recovery.
Ms Patel went on to give free and frank answers to a number of questions from members such as SABMiller, KPMG, BP, Reed Elsevier and Aberdeen Asset Management among others. The questions covered a wide range of topics including: what would you like to see Jo Johnson deliver to No.10; how are the Conservative party looking to engage with erstwhile UKIP voters; what ‘free market’ good news is there on energy; how close will we get to a Conservative minority government in the run up to the next election; and how can the government keep the talented 2010 intake happy through until the next election given restrictions on promotion posts.