Magazine article The Spectator

Enough Indiscriminate Business Bashing: Time for Ministers to Start Cheerleading

Magazine article The Spectator

Enough Indiscriminate Business Bashing: Time for Ministers to Start Cheerleading

Article excerpt

There's something peculiarly cynical about a political strategy that involves alienating pockets of your own core support in order to attract larger numbers of floating voters. Thus, we're told, Conservative enthusiasm for High Speed 2 is partly based on the calculation that threats by foxhunting landowners to desert the Tory interest will provoke an uptick in the suburbs, where young mothers will feel more comfortable voting for a party that is no longer the preserve of red-faced rich men - and the recent outburst against the rail project in these pages by David Cameron's own stepfather-in-law, Lord Astor, was manna from heaven for Downing Street pollsters.

Thus also, indiscriminate attacks on big business, the only locomotive that can haul us back to prosperity, are freely licenced because they play to the vindictive public mood. Last week's stripping of Fred Goodwin's knighthood combined with the dissing of his RBS successor Stephen Hester - who the City believes is making a good fist of a hellish assignment - provoked furious responses from business chiefs. A few, notably Sir Martin Sorrell of WPP arguing in the Sunday Telegraph that 'business bashing' will drive vital investment abroad, were brave enough to go public. But many more were letting rip in private.

One household-name entrepreneur rang me unprompted to unleash a rant about the utter failure of Cameron and Osborne to empathise with the challenges facing firms like his, which are still providing jobs and paying taxes and flying the flag despite dreadful market conditions: 'It's the constant negativity of tone that's so bloody depressing.' And I hear of a clubland dinner of corporate grands fromages, CBI president Sir Roger Carr among them, on the evening of Goodwin's humiliation, at which there was thumping of the table and repetition of the refrain that if top footballers can earn £50,000 a week, behave horribly and enjoy the adulation of the crowd, why do top executives have to endure nothing but government-sponsored vilification and scorn?

Well, that is a bit unfair, though most top executives are not in the public eye and enjoy the admiration of their peers as well as comfortingly fat wads. The issue is one of misallocation of rewards, as between executives and shareholders and between executives who are high-performing, mediocre or useless. It is predominantly an issue for the financial sector, hence the need to strongarm Hester into setting a self-denying example; but it's also true that some bankers (Bob Diamond of Barclays for one) deserve bigger rewards than others. It is not a matter of the corruption or failure of shareholder capitalism as a whole, though that is the Milibandian tune which Cameron, Osborne and Cable (who really believes it) have lately chosen to play. It's time to redress the balance and start cheerleading for business.

Accordingly, this column will continue to scourge the overpaid banker and celebrate the under-appreciated entrepreneur. My search for promising new businesses turned this week to the university 'spin-out'. …

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