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Cameron still hasn’t sealed the deal with business

Posted on 13 March 2009 | 9:03am

Last night I was speaking in Nottingham and was advised to
‘keep it short and funny’ by one of the organisers. 

I did my best but it was a long way to go for a Monty Python
sketch so I did 20 minutes, fifteen of them moderately amusing anecdotes about
people as varied as TB, Clive Woodward and Denis Thatcher, then five minutes
serious off the cuff about the state of the world.

The dinner was for chambers of commerce from Notts and
Derbyshire and I was rather dreading it because it was black tie (I’m with
Gordon on that) and because there had been a screw up on delivery of my books
for the guests (oh yes, still going very well).

But in the end I enjoyed it, not least because it
was an opportunity to take the pulse of business out of London.

I probably spoke, properly as it were as opposed to small talk, to no more
than a dozen people. But there were some interesting observations, some of
which I picked up on for my five minutes serious.

Some are the blindingly obvious – recognition that the economic condition is
serious and uncertain. A fear of the unknown. A sense that the problem really
is global.

But there were other points worth taking on board.

A real anger
at the national media’s refusal to report anything but dire news, which they
felt was making a bad situation worse, because so much of the problem was a
problem of confidence.
One man said he had just doubled his workforce.

A feeling that though some bankers may have been exposed
as greedy and irresponsible, there was a danger all bankers were being tarred,
which was affecting their confidence and ability to do the job they’re good at.
(The local president’s defence of local banks felt like a banking equivalent of
my blog on social workers yesterday).

A deeper and more sympathetic feel for GB’s job than is ever conveyed in the
media. Some criticism on specific measures, but more understanding than I had
expected.

A desire to see the whole government, not just GB, Alistair
Darling and Peter Mandelson, (who is going down well since his return to the
frontline) engaged in putting over a clear and confident narrative about how we
go from recession to recovery, and starting to paint the picture of what
follows. David Frost, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, was
fascinating about that.

But what was equally fascinating for me was the lack of real understanding of
what the Tory position was, and the lack of any real enthusiasm for them.

Now if course there will have been committed Tories in there – I
think I spotted a former MP in the room – and it may be that at events like
this, the diehards leave me alone. But it is usually my experience that Tories
like to have a bit of a go. Last night I felt very little of that.

I felt real understanding of the problems facing the country and the
government, some fear, but also a lot of confidence about their own firms,
growing anger at the media, and a feeling that the Tories were trying to get in
by default.

If Cameron has not sealed the deal with business, he has
certainly not sealed the deal with the public as a whole.

  • Pat Norrington

    I agree with you about Mr.Cameron, l am a Labour member, and looking at Mr. Cameron he is a man without substance, very good at trying to scare the Media,but are the media that gullible to believe him…..

  • Andy G

    I’m not surprised the Conservatives haven’t sealed the deal with business, or anyone else for that matter. All they do is complain about The Labour government. Is it to much to ask what they would do differently if they were in power, or what they plan to do if they are elected? I wouldn’t have thought so, but they rarely are asked. Sadly some of the high profile political hosts/journalists at the BBC are the most guilty of this.

    I hope as it gets closer to the election the Conservatives will be put under the spotlight more and their lack of ideas exposed.

  • James

    They believed in Blair…

  • Sean

    I work in London as a lobbyist (don’t all boo at once).

    You are right that business doesn’t know what the Tories stand for. Or maybe you’re only half right: business hears lots of things from the Tories it doesn’t like, but they get the benefit of the doubt because (a) they are Tories and most business people cannot conceive of an anti-business Tory party and (b) they are so far ahead in the polls people bite their tongues rather than have a go.

    When business people discuss the long list of stupid Tory policies they end up just shrugging their shoulders. Chief executives in the big companies just want to get as close to them as possible in the hope they won’t be so daft in office. And don’t the Tories know it – they treat business appallingly.

    As a result the Tory support is a mile wide but an inch deep. It’s a cliche but it is so true. Real business enthusiasts for the Tories are thinner on the ground than you’d think.

    But if the government and party want to do something about it they need to drop all the anti-business rhetoric. We (at least parts of us) sound more and more like a shrill anti-capitalists who never grew up and learnt nothing from 18 years of opposition.

    OK, rant over. But it is about time a few people at the heart of government realised that the Tories were the enemy and started doing something about it.

  • Stevo

    So how about a blog entry on the dodgy dossier being, in the final analysis, sexed up? http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2009/mar/13/iraq-documents-cabinet-office

    And why does the domain name alastaircampbell.com direct one to the BBC website?

  • Alina Palimaru

    First, good point about the importance of “confidence” in economic matters. After my Economics classes I was so surprised to realize that this subject matter is perhaps closer to Psychology than to Math or Statistics. So it really is imprudent for the media to churn out hype and induce unnecessary panic.

    Second, I understand why the business community does NOT understand the Tory position on business. Have you read their policy paper on the matter? Their main premise is fiscal conservatism. Then, they claim that businesses are overtaxed, so they promise to cut corporate taxes, funded by removing allowances. Moreover, while they reduce the extraction of revenue for the government, they pledge to involve the business community more by contracting out government spending programs. What logic do these people follow?

    The most ridiculous proposal, though, is to interfere with demand for government supplied goods and services, like welfare and crime. The Tories believe they can address the social circumstances that generate demand for welfare and public safety programs. Well, this is in stark contradiction with their embrace of the market!! Market means competition. Any market-driven system seeks to maximize efficiency, which necessarily means there will be layoffs, reduction in company-supported benefits and other problems for average citizens. Reducing or eliminating welfare at such critical times is detrimental to individuals and to society overall.

    Aside from market-related casualties, welfare safety nets also support young mothers, working mothers, seasonally unemployed, disabled people… What are the Tories going to do about them? So their business plan is contradictory and shallow.

    The best way to engage the business community is to support market principles when/where they work (to help businesses) and to assert government influence where they don’t (to help people). The Labour Party has done a good job at walking this fine line!

    Finally, I second Sean’s points about Labour’s need to explain why its policies work for everyone’s interest and to expose the Tories for the illogical, desperate, half-baked brains that they are.

  • Sean Cassidy

    I am a little out of the loop currently living in Jamaica and having to rely on the internation version of news, and while I agree the Tories have been pretty silent on a recovery plan, I am also a little unsure that there is a Government plan. There appears to be a lot of reaction and emergency bailouts, and some quite personal persecution of individuals. It seem very little is being done to make any real changes that might avoid a return to the same recklessness.

    We have a virtually unprecendented opportunity to place curbs on the reckless capitalism seen of the last few decades. We should be looking to limited trade in derivatives, get some independent oversight on eth ratings agencies, amending the bonus culture of business to only bonus on closed positions, limiting leverage on all companies, banning shot selling

    Sir David Tweedie and the IASB need to get involved. Marking to Market on investment positions might give an accurate snapshot of the current position of a fund or a company but tells very little about sustainability. It has helped create the short-termism that has become all to pervasive throughout business in general and the city in particular.

    The increasing returns to capital, than labour, compounded with the increasing leverage applied to companies, either through private equity or simply over enthusiastic banks has accelerated under Labour’s watch. We are now seeing still profitable companies exploiting the downturn to shed staff or requesting pay cuts simply to maintain consistent returns to shareholders.

    I am not advocating shunning capitalism in its entirely, but we can look to better balance the risk and reward equation. People who invest their lives working for a company arguably risk as much or more than the wealthy investor and his gullible partner bank.

    The bailouts have drawn a line under what has happened and the public has been left to carry the cost. In addition to a coordinated recovery plan, I’d like to see a plan of assurance that we won’t rebound directly to where we were.

  • Alan Quinn

    Airbus are currently having engine problems on their new military transporter the A400M. They are propellar engines made primarily by Rolls and the French, they are designed to fly the aircraft at high altitude at speeds normally expected from jet engines. They could herald a new generation of fast, fuel efficient passenger aircraft vastly cutting down on emissions.
    The wings are of Carbon Fibre made by Airbus in Chester, again cutting emissions due to their low weight.Both produtcs are made by highly skilled, well paid technicians. The aerospace industry supports hundreds of suppliers in the sub contract basin as well as the major players such as RR and BAE. Delays in high tech products are not new , the 747 jumbo nearly crippled Boeing but it’s still in production 40 yrs later.
    The tories would cancel the RAF’s order and buy US “off the shelf” products. So much for supporting UK industry!

  • Alina Palimaru

    Sean,

    I agree with you regarding this excellent window of opportunity to curb excess. I agree with you on increasing returns to capital vs. labour, and also about the greed of companies exploiting the downturn. But I would like to point out that this trend is most prevalent among big, transnational corporations that have often bullied their way to favourable business climates, regarding of a country’s political orientation.

    I subscribe to the ‘Naomi Klein’ school of thought, arguing that international corporations have accumulated power in excess of that of individual states. As such, it is not enough for one country to take measures against this trend. It’s necessary, but not sufficient.

    In this sense, Gordon Brown is aware of the need for a concerted global effort to impose an international regulatory system, that, as you say, does not shun capitalism entirely. In his speech to Congress, GB averred that “The new frontier, is that there is no frontier!” So he invited the U.S. into this new framework, a “global new deal” where powerful nations reach a consensus against capitalist abuse.

    Also, a New York Times op-ed, published two days ago, explains why GB is the man with the plan, and how he asserted himself as a true global leader.

    Alina

  • Danny Kelly

    Alastair unfortunately we in Scotland have faced the negativity onslaught much longer than the rest of the UK with our SNP Government leading the moaning. Sadly like their Tory counterparts they have nothing positive to offer.
    They spend so much time complaining and politicking that they fail to recognise that if this was war time they would been incarcerated as traitors. Careless words from an incompetent Shadow Chancellor MR Osborne has cost jobs already and they should be told that misleading comments when they are not in charge of the facts as Gordon brown points out at PMQ’s every week is a game this country can ill afford.
    I would also love to hear about the relationship between Mr Osborne and Alan Waters
    Comments attributed to Alan Waters – Thatcher’s Chief Economic Advisor – On Milton Friedman
    In the early 1950s, Mr. Friedman started flogging a “decomposing horse,” as Mrs. Thatcher’s chief economic adviser, Alan Waters, later put it. The horse that most economists thought long dead was the monetarist theory that the supply of money in circulation and readily accessible in banks was the dominant force — or in Mr. Friedman’s view, the only force — that should be used in shaping the economy.
    In the 1963 book “A Monetary History of the United States, 1867-1960,” which he wrote with Anna Jacobson Schwartz, Mr. Friedman compiled statistics to buttress his theory that recessions, as well as the Great Depression, had been preceded by declines in the money supply. And it was an oversupply, he argued, that caused inflation.
    Is he Mr Waters connect to AIG?