With the election confirmed for May 6, we've put together this special edition with the main issues in mind (turn to page 26 to read more).

The manifestos weren't out when we started our research, but in many ways the die has already been cast. The Labour Party will stand on its record. And the Conservatives? Well, they will stand on that record too.

I wouldn't presume to tell anyone which way to vote, but I know there aren't too many retailers happy with the current government. The past decade has seen a huge rise in costly red tape, above-inflation increases in the minimum wage and increased interference in the business of retailing to suit political purposes, culminating in the unjustified tobacco display ban. Is there anything in the credit column? There used to be the economy but, hmm, enough said.

Flicking through the Labour manifesto as I write this, it seems that Gordon Brown has had a death-bed conversion to the cause of local retailers, promising support for rural pubs, shops and post offices, as well as (finally) committing to the Grocery Ombudsman to curb the power of supermarkets. So, at the eleventh hour, we finally have some recognition of the role that local stores play, both socially and economically, and the fact that it is even on the agenda is a step forward.

But would a Conservative government really deliver more? And if there is to be a hung Parliament, would that give anyone a clear mandate to support their local shops?

It's impossible to say, and I wouldn't go so far as to recommend one party over another. But an election does gives us the chance to change things, or at least to register a protest about the way things are going.

No rest for the wicked

One consequence of the election campaign is that civil servants take a step back from anything remotely connected to political life, and that includes our electronic petition to the prime minister calling for more protection for store workers in the face of rising levels of retail crime.

Because of the dissolution of Parliament there are technically no MPs and no prime minister either, so the petition has been suspended, but once the new government is in power next month it will be open for signatures again. In the meantime, please do all you can to secure your businesses, because although civil servants may get a month off, the criminal elements will remain active and on the lookout for the softest targets.