Winning ways

Although recent history has served as a reminder of just how unpredictable a game politics is, it would take an upheaval of giant proportions for us to be facing anything other than a new Conservative term and a hard Brexit following next week’s election. For an industry that is largely - though not exclusively - left-leaning and pro-Remain, as our latest ad hoc reader survey (£) has again confirmed, it’s a dispiriting prospect.

The Conservative manifesto does contain some bright spots for the trade: a full review of business rates to bring it “up to date for a world in which people increasingly sho ponline”, a direct concern for booksellers; the promise of a robust system for protection of Intellectual Property after Brexit, a key issue for the whole industry. There will be investment in an R&D programme directed through our universities; and the promotion of cultural institutions overseas to “amplify Britain’s voice on the world stage and as a global force for good” - fine words indeed.

Conversely, universities will struggle with tougher visa requirements for overseas students, while publishers, already deeply concerned about their international staffers, will be worried by a doubling of the Immigrant Skills Charge levied on companies employing overseas workers. It’s also notable, as the Society of Authors’ Nicola Solomon points out, that the Conservative manifesto contains no mention of libraries at all. Sadly they are likely to get another hammering directly post-election, as local authorities look to prepare their 2017/18 budgets.

All of this, of course, in the context of the all-important Brexit negotiations, where the Conservatives, unlike Labour, have reaffirmed their belief that “no deal is better than a bad deal” when it comes to access to the European single market, still our industry’s biggest export market. Should, by some remarkable upset, Labour come to triumph, there will be “strong emphasis on retaining the benefits of the single market and the customs union”, as well as a National Education Service and a £1bn Cultural Capital Fund - yet few in the industry appear keen to champion Labour as the party to push business.

We must, of course, adapt. The university sector has lost influence in Whitehall, I’m told, by having been on the wrong side of the winning vote on Brexit, after ferocious opposition; by contrast, the Publishers Association has been canny in its messaging to government, whatever the private feelings of its membership.

With challenging times ahead, whatever the election result, the industry will need to stay focused, and on the front foot.

Benedicte Page is The Bookseller's deputy editor.