Conservative or Labour? Which party has the best policies to crash the economy?

What could Ipswich Council do with the former BHS store in the town? Picture: DAVID VINCENT

What could Ipswich Council do with the former BHS store in the town? Picture: DAVID VINCENT - Credit: Archant

Surely there is no one left who doesn’t understand that high street retailing is facing a crisis – under pressure from the growth of online shopping, the migration of stores to retail parks, and a new squeeze on consumers.

So the Labour Party's suggestion at the weekend that local authorities across the country should be given powers to take over former shop units in town and city centres and turn them into something useful was bound to catch the eye.

And at first sight I can see why it looked attractive to many people - bringing abandoned shop units back into use is what everyone wants to see, isn't it?

Of course it is, but this was just the latest example of Labour looking for an easy-win headline with no costings behind it and no real explanation of how it would work in the real world.

Who would go in these shop units that the councils take over? Why on earth would landlords try to find a tenant if they knew they were going to lose control of their property after a specific period? Why would councils be any more successful in finding tenants than property professionals?

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It's difficult not to get the feeling that in this case Labour saw a problem, came up with a knee-jerk solution and went on to publicise it without really thinking things through.

It's a fault the party is demonstrating more and more - and for those of us with long memories it really isn't doing them any favours.

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In fact, I'm rapidly coming to the conclusion that both the Conservatives and Labour are hell bent on causing the maximum damage to the British economy - albeit in different ways.

The Conservatives' obsession with leaving Europe with or (almost certainly) without a deal has led to a situation where former cabinet minister Owen Paterson is calling for a "purge" of Remainers from the party.

As many of these Remainers are people with a business background genuinely worried about the impact on the economy of ripping up trade deals with our closest neighbours, I'm not sure that's really that great a move.

But just when Labour might be in a position to sweep up those votes, they start making economic promises that are either totally uncosted - or make cost assumptions that take no account of the impact of their policies on the confidence of those in key positions in the British economy.

The proposal to give councils the power to take over empty shops is just one example of this lack of clear thought.

If Ipswich council were to take over the old Grimwades and BHS stores, where would they get the money to compensate their current owners from? If they didn't have to compensate the current owners, what would that do to the confidence of every other commercial landlord owning town centre properties?

Then we have Labour's current mania for promising to re-nationalise businesses that were sold off by the government a generation ago.

I'm not going to go through the arguments on rail again. Labour has, however mentioned other industries - water, power distribution, some party members have even mentioned telecommunications.

How many people remember what it was like when these were in public ownership in the 1960s and 70s? How you had to wait for weeks for British Telecom (or the GPO) to find time to fit a telephone or for the electricity company to fit a cooker!

And then there's all this guff about how profits should go to "The many, not the few." That's totally disingenuous by Jeremy Corbyn and his keenest supporters.

They know full well that shareholders are not, on the whole, rich gits plotting to keep the ordinary folk subverted. They are pension funds that have been set up to ensure tens of millions of hard workers get a decent income in old age.

And millions of others will have a small number of shares in a savings scheme because bank interest rates have been so low over the last decade.

The Labour Party of Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, John Prescott and Robin Cook knew that in the 1990s. Today's leadership wants to hark back 20 years before that when their party really did leave the UK in the economic doo-doo.

The misfortune of the country at present is that when the government is trying to trash the economy one way, the opposition is looking to trash it another.

Maybe the electorate will only be happy after the next election if there is a truly hung parliament and no politicians are actually able to change anything!

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