"TONY BLAIR'S BEHAVIOUR TOWARDS THE CITY REPRESENTS 'A CRINGING APPEASEMENT OF THE RICH AND POWERFUL'" - Polly Toynbee, Guardian, 25 March 2004.
POLITICIANS AND BUSINESS
We apologise to Tony Blair for singling him out as appeasing the rich and powerful of the financial and industrial world - he is certainly not alone amongst politicians in doing this. But, Mr. Blair does seem to associate with some interesting people - think of the Hinduja brothers, tobacco barons entertained at Chequers, Bernie Ecclestone and tobacco advertising, steel magnates who want to acquire Eastern European businesses, Signor Berlescone and holiday retreats, and many others.
Polly Toynbee was chiding him in the Guardian of March 25, 2004, for a speech that he made to a City audience at Goldman Sachs, a company not untainted by scandal, the CEO of which had earned $21.4 million in 2003. Mr Blair praised Goldman for encouraging their staff to "Contribute a day of their time each year to charitable and community activities". He went on to enthuse, "What is being done here at Goldman Sachs, indeed the emphasis placed by more and more companies on corporate social responsibility, symbolises the recognition that prosperity is best achieved in an inclusive society". So never mind the pay and the continual habit of financial services companies to mislead and swindle their customers. Never mind the studious silence from government about the effects of the speculative excesses of so-called 'investors' (including Goldman Sachs, who, if we are not mistaken, are heavily into Hedge funds) on innovation, investment and R&D expenditure.
There are several dimensions to the relationships between politicians and business.
For a start, it is probable that companies like Goldman Sachs have more power and influence than the British government - in concert with others like them, they can move vast sums of capital and cash across the world. Any government of a smallish country like Britain had better be careful not to seriously annoy them, or there might be a flight of capital and business from London - something they could do little to influence. Just look what George Soros did to the pound when Norman Lamont was chancellor, and he is one of the good guys!
Second, it is certain that the government of the world's most powerful country is well and truly in hock to big business - how else can US politicians raise the hundreds of millions to run political campaigns in the TV age?
In Britain, we have not gone quite as far, and hopefully we never will, but there is no doubt that many senior politicians are comprehensively 'recruited' by business before and especially after they have hung up their political boots. It will not have escaped the notice of Tony Blair that John Major earns a lot through advisory roles, directorships and speaking engagements, or that Lord Wakeham was doing very nicely in the energy industry until, er, Enron. So, a business-friendly prime minister can expect to have pretty good pulling power when he retires from the heat of the kitchen.
None of this is immoral or unlawful - and it's a free country, we can all choose who we like to hang out with, and if wealth is a major criteria for choosing your pals, that's fine.
But, we are left with the uneasy feeling that British politicians are little different to those in many other countries when it comes to being 'recruited' by industrial and financial power. This is a considerable pity, because it may debilitate government from playing its proper role - one that no other institutions can - when it comes to regulating and curbing the power of finance and industry to affect the lives of citizens. For example, nothing much is going to be done about top executive pay unless government takes a hand, and the scandals of the financial services industry might be reined in if we had a state prosecutor like Eliot Spitzer.
The appearance and actualite of a little more distance between governments and big business would be comforting - as would governments devoting intelligent thought to how they could make the investment system work better.