Trade has much to play for

We awake today to the most febrile political situation since 1974, and the uncertainty that we have long been told is bad for business all around. For the book trade, there is much to play for.

The electorate have dealt the politicians a hand that almost seems to guarantee instability in the immediate weeks and months. One scenario, a Lib-Lab pact, would have the benefit of support of nearly half the electorate, but the position of Gordon Brown within that is intriguing.

Could he remain as Prime Minister after presiding over such a poor result for Labour? Or, could another Labour politician be brought in as leader - but they would not have been voted for as Prime Minister by the public.

The other scenario, a minority Tory government, would see a party with a tiny popular vote - only 36%  - running the country, clearly against the wishes of a majority of voters. Both outcomes imply a significant democratic deficit, and it may be that the end result will be a reform of a voting system that is now discredited. (The theoretical possibility of Tory/Lib Dem coalition seems too far-fetched to entertain, although their respective leaders have much in common in terms of age, education and background).

As our snap poll of yesterday showed, the book trade as a whole is firmly in the Lib Dem camp (the results were Lib Dem 38%, Labour 32% and Tory 37%). We approached all three party leaders in March for interviews and only Clegg took up the offer, although David Cameron had agreed in principle, and it may just be that the interview we ran with him ten days ago swayed the readership - or it may be, as I often affectionately remark, that the book trade is the Liberal Democrats at work.

What the trade wants from the politicians is pretty clear-cut: the removal of Vat from e-books and the continuation of book's VAT-free status, the protection of libraries and library funding, modification of the digital economy act, the protection of copyright and reform of libel laws. The PA and the BA need to get their bids in now, and ensure that the trade's concerns are at least registered with the power-brokers. There would be little point in waiting for the dust to settle and then try and influence the new administration.

The downside of this political uncertainty is two-fold. The ongoing noise in the media of all this politicking is squeezing book coverage; the serious book buyer is likewise absorbed by the political drama; and the uncertainty of the timing and extent of public spending cuts and tax rises is spooking consumers and making them hang on to their cash.