Opinion from Lord Digby Jones

Double standards or what?

Published Thursday 9 February, 2012

I was lucky enough to learn a lot during my time at the CBI and again in Government. One earth-shattering truism that became clear to me during those years of which I have been forcefully and sadly reminded over the past few days is "don't listen to what politicians say; watch what they do." That way you will see what they're really like, you'll understand what they really mean.

"One of the great benefits of doing business in the UK is the rule of law" are approximately the words used by the Prime Minister only a few days ago. Really?!? Contracts are so honoured in this Country that when it is deemed politically necessary to throw a vulnerable bone to the hungry-for-blood populous for some short-term, opinion-poll-driven gratification all that inconvenient stuff about contractual obligations is thrown out of the nearest Special Advisor's window. Stephen Hester is bullied into surrendering a bonus due and payable under a contract drawn up by Ed Milliband's Government and happily maintained by the current one. So much for the rallying cry to potential investors in this Country about the Rule of Law; David Cameron says he's pro-business; Ed Milliband says he's on the side of responsible business. Isn't "responsible business" about keeping your word; honouring your obligations?

Forget what they've said; watch what they've done ...

I look forward to them explaining to the next well-paid leader of a private sector business whom they are seeking to attract into a public sector job that she or he can rely on their promise; that the politicians will keep their word; that the respect for contractual obligations is alive and well in the UK. That the mob is not pandered to in the name of political expediency.

How will Ed Milliband and David Cameron explain that one away when they go calling for the business vote before the next General Election?

Meanwhile, I am straining to catch the cries of condemnation, the baying for sacrificial blood, from Mr Cameron, Mr Milliband, Dr Cable and Mr Balls about the six million pounds a year that a certain Signor Capello receives for being the Manager of the England football team. The silence is deafening. Now why can that be?

Perhaps the politicians will say it's because the voting taxpayer owns Mr Hester's bank but doesn't own the England football team. They didn't set his pay.  Well gentlemen, the voting taxpayer doesn't own Barclays Bank either so I look forward to your silence when Bob Diamond's bonus is declared. Oh, and Mr Diamond leads a team that generates huge tax revenues to pay for our schools and hospitals, a team that employs hundreds of thousands of people. Mr Capello's team can't even beat Algeria in the World Cup! Six million quid for failing? Double standards or what!

The resignation of the England Manager does nothing to alter the principle of there being one rule for football in the eyes of politicians and another for wealth creative business.

So we are asking people to risk their capital, invest their talent and their hard work in a Country where, if you do what you said you'd do and then look for your employer to meet its side of the bargain you can expect to be disappointed if your employer is Her Majesty's Government. Where no leader of a major enterprise in the private sector can feel free of the threat of interference from politicians who pick and choose their targets to suit their quest for good poll ratings.  

Mind you, I suppose they will always find someone to run RBS after no one from the private sector is prepared to trust HMG; Ed Milliband would presumably be happy for a Senior Civil Servant to do it. There is, of course, a precedent for civil servants running banks; it's called the Soviet Union!