Political gurus like David Cameron’s former adviser Steve Hilton claim Britain has got a problem with Big Business. He is right. We haven’t got any Big Business.
This tiny fact seems to have escaped the Conservative Party modernisers – that strange breed of liberal Marxists, who began infiltrating the party back in 2005 – who since the election was over have managed to escaped the cupboard they were locked into. And they are very keen to claim credit for the Tory victory.
Some of them even believe that Cameron’s surprise win gives the Conservatives a chance to ‘shake things up’ and, taking advantage of a newly enfeebled Opposition, prove what a force for ‘modernisation’ the Conservative Party could be. It could stop bashing the public sector and the poor and turn its attention to the multinationals
The BBC seemed rather keen on this idea too as I discovered when I was invited onto the Today Programme, last Tuesday, to discuss this great new opportunity granted David Cameron with Ian Birrell, a former Cameron speechwriter and journalist. It all felt a bit ‘Occupy Movement.’
Like Daniel Finklestein, Birrell has chosen to interpret the election result as a clear vindication of Cameron’s modernising conservatism.
Notwithstanding this delusion (Cameron converted neither his party or the people to modernisation but rather won his fragile majority on the back of the most conservative manifesto in years and the nightmare prospect of a Miliband/Sturgeon alliance) the modernisers, including Cameron’s Hilton, best known for padding around No 10 in his bare feet, can’t wait to bash the ‘vested interests’ such as bankers and energy suppliers, cast big business as tax dodgers – and, as in Miliband’s phrase, predators rather than producers.
Life is just grand isn’t it? No sooner than Labour finally wakes up to the catastrophe of their party appearing to be “anti-business, anti-growth and ultimately anti-worker”, siren voices from the Conservative left are calling on Cameron to take up this mantle.
You couldn’t make it up.
What they should be pointing up to the PM is the need to back business, big or small – not attack it. Most urgently of all, Cameron needs sound advice on how Britain can create an environment that gets us back onto the global playing field of the worlds’ biggest companies.
The brutal truth is that we are not even players. That is the reality of the British economy. We neither incubate our own global firms or attract their headquarters, investment and jobs to our shores.
Go to the list of the world’s biggest public companies and you will see what I mean.
Britain does not even feature before number 36. The list is dominated at the top by the US and China, yet Germany still comes comes in at number 10 with Novartis and little Switzerland at 14 and 15 with Nestle and Roche. Even Belgium features at 22 with a beer company and the Netherlands at 27 with Royal Dutch Shell.
At number 36, you will see HSBC – ironically currently threatening to relocate to Hong Kong having had enough of banker bashing and ever more financial regulations. There is a message there. Our next appearance with BP (hardly a British company still) is not until 57. In between predictably there are several more German companies.
To argue, as Steve Hilton is reported to have done, that democracy serves only the interests of crony capitalism and that bankers should be paid no more than civil servants, is hardly productive. It is mind boggling. It’s nothing short of nationalising the banks. Does he want to bring the former USSR to our shores, for how he thinks he can fix bankers’ pay without state control I do not know.
There are all sorts of things wrong with our political culture, but I wouldn’t put crony capitalism at the top. Its professionalisation with spin doctors, image consultants and pollsters, of which Hilton was an admittedly eccentric part, has robbed it of its soul, as Nick Wood argued. This has nurtured the vested interests of an ever expanding government remit. The big crony state is far more of a worry than crony capitalism in my book. It is an odd moment to be advocating a conservative attack on capitalism.
Top Labour private sector donor and millionaire business tycoon John Mills accuses Labour of losing the election because of its failure to “reach out to the business world” and for alienating “.. some key electors by not promising an EU referendum”. Lord Sugar has resigned in disgust from the Labour party. But blinkered former Tory modernisers can’t wait to bestride their abandoned horse.
(Shortly, I will be blogging on Steve Hilton, the moderniser who has turned to marriage – will it be religion next?)