Almost half of entrepreneurs attending a small business debate on Monday said that they would vote Conservative in the upcoming general election.

The debate, hosted by Enterprise Nation – a small business network – featured Minister for Enterprise and Energy, Matthew Hancock and Labour’s Shadow Small Business Minister Toby Perkins. Representatives from the Lib Dems, Greens and UKIP were also on the panel.

The audience were polled on their voting intentions before and after the debate. Before, 37% selected Conservative with 30% for Labour, 7% for Lib Dems, 22% undecided, 3% Green and 1% UKIP.

The audience were polled again at the end of the 60 minute discussion. 45% said Tory, 31% Labour, 7% Lib Dems, 5% Green, 10% undecided and 2% UKIP.

Emma Jones, founder of Enterprise Nation and chairperson for the debate, said:

“Hopefully the political classes will have learned something from this experience – that small firms are worth listening to, that they are playing an increasingly important role in the electoral process and that by engaging with them, politicians can improve policy – and gain all-important votes.”

Business rates featured heavily in the debate, with the Lib Dems saying they would replace them with a Land Value Tax, which would tax big corporations more heavily. The Tories said they would do a complete review of the system in 2016, and Labour pledged to cut and then freeze rates.

Meanwhile, Hancock said the Conservative commitment to hold a referendum on Europe would ease ‘the public’s unhappy relationship with the EU,’ while Burt accused the Tories of creating uncertainty and ‘playing a dangerous game with the EU by flirting with the exit.’

Finally, to the disappointment of many in the audience, none of the MPs said they would raise the VAT threshold from £81,000 to £100,000.

Image via Harshil Shah