Image produced for Newsnight by the Oxford artist Rona



Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
Matthew 6:21

We have always been puzzled by the relative silence of senior politicians about the behaviour and impacts of the investment and financial services industries. It is hard to find anything resembling objective critique. Mostly, senior figures from both Tory and New Labour parties will make muted supportive statements of the industry ("Yes, but we must remember that"....), when a particularly juicy scandal hits the headlines - but otherwise one is left with the feeling that they would all rather keep quiet.
Maybe one of the answers to this puzzle lies below.

The Conservative Party.

We have started with the Conservatives, and will examine New Labour later. Incidentally, the writer has no party affiliations whatsoever, feeling that there is no 'right' or 'wrong' body of dogma, and that intelligent people can appreciate and adopt good thinking from right across the political spectrum.

The Conservative Front Bench.

The Register of Members' Interests catalogues the material interests of MPs. On a cold and windswept day in Scotland we were glancing idly at the Register and became arrested by the sheer volume of extra-parliamentary paid involvements of William Hague, Shadow Foreign Secretary.

This led to looking at some other politicians - and as government ministers are not allowed to receive direct financial support, it was far more interesting to examine Tory front benchers. David Cameron and George Osborne, Leader and Shadow Chancellor respectively, do not have recorded interests, so we looked at Cameron's supporters before becoming leader, when he was Shadow Education Secretary.

Getting the full picture needed a little detective work. For example, many top Tories receive financial support from named individuals; no organisational affiliation is mentioned. It is, however, not too difficult to find that these individuals are in many cases founders, directors, chairmen etc of Hedge Funds, Private Equity funds, property investment companies, PR and lobbying consultants and the like.

The Facts.

These are taken from the Register of Members' Interests, March 2007.

House of Commons:

House of Lords:

Grand Totals, both Houses:

Of course, Conservatives have many other paid business activities, as directors of and advisers to a range of service and manufacturing companies - but their involvements with the finance industry do represent the bulk of their interests.
The 14 individuals did not seem to have very many charitable or philanthropic involvements.


David Cameron - donations.

As Leader of the Opposition, it would appear that Mr Cameron is now unable to accept money or support from donors.
However in his previous role as shadow Secretary of State for Education, he received donations towards the cost of running his office and his leadership campaign from the following individuals and companies:

William Hague

Paid positions
Sponsorship, financial and material support.
Contributions from:
Paid speeches and hosting

Liam Fox

Sponsorship, financial or material support.
Personal contributions from:

Francis Maude.

Oliver Letwin.

David Willetts.

Contributions from:

David Davis

Sponsorship, or material/financial support.

Mark Hoban - Shadow Treasury Minister.

Financial or material support.

Current front-benchers:

Baroness Noakes.
Treasury spokes-person, House of Lords.

Lord Strathclyde.

EX-Ministers and advisers.

To counter our disappointment at not being able to do a full job yet on New Labour, owing to legal proceedings etc, we thought that a trailer of what the Labour top brass could (maybe soon, we'll watch this space carefully) expect if they keep their noses clean might come from an analysis of the good luck that has befallen Conservative ex-Ministers.

Lord Wakeham

was highly active - at one time he was a director of 14 companies, but will be best remembered as the chair of the Audit Committee of Enron in Europe. We have not counted him in the totals but include him just to jog the memory about how people can become drawn into multiple involvements which may go wrong if they do not pay them sufficient attention.
After the Enron debacle, Wakeham seems to have decreased his involvements, and is only recorded as chair of Genner Holdings, a family company that includes an investment trust in its portfolio.

The running has, however, been taken up by the following two peers........

Lord (Norman) Lamont of Lerwick.

Tory Chancellor, until the ERM debacle and exit from the job at the hands of John Major.
He seems to have done quite well, being a chairman or director of:

And, Stop Press! Chairman of the Advisory Board of Unistream, a Russian money transfer bank aiming to float on the London Stock Exchange.

John Major

no longer holds any public offices, so his interests are not freely available. However, on stepping down as Prime Minister, he stepped smoothly in to several lucrative posts:

Malcolm Rifkind:

Kenneth Clarke

Ex-Chancellor Clarke is deputy chair of British American Tobacco plc, and a director of Independent News and Media.
In addition, he has the following involvements in the finance industry:

Lord Powell of Bayswater

Not counted in the totals, but included just to show what can be done by close involvement with a Conservative government, is Lord Powell of Bayswater.
Lord Powell was not an elected politician, but a very close adviser to Margaret Thatcher on foreign affairs. After her departure, Powell was elevated to the House of Lords as a crossbench peer.
As can be seen, he has many other interests in addition to the House. In addition to numerous non-financial organisations, he is:

Now that we have got our breath back......

The author has been around for quite a long while, but it has never occurred to him that one can accept money, favours or paid employment from people without an obligation being created. It seems pretty clear that many senior Conservatives are involved in a close symbiotic relationship with the financial services, investment and property industries.
[SYMBIOSIS - "An interaction between two different organisms living in close physical association, usually to the advantage of both, or, a mutually advantageous association or relationship between persons" - Concise Oxford Dictionary.]


MPs, Shadow and Government ministers have every right to their opinions - in a way, that's what we elect them for - they are our representatives in, not our delegates to, Parliament.
But it seems very wrong to me that our elected representatives should accept money and support from individuals, companies, industries or Trades Unions which inevitably have interests that they wish to advance. So I would strongly support any move to stop contributions to individual MPs from whatever source - if their expenses are inadequate to run their offices, then increase them and ensure that the use of these expenses is audited. If the research facilities of Parliament are inadequate, then improve them - MPs and Lords need access to the best.
As for the murky topic of funding of political parties, let's wait for the current investigations to reach their conclusions. It is likely that both parties will stand accused of receiving large sums of money without any transparency about why or what for.
What we absolutely must avoid is the American position where only those with huge funds behind them can stand for high office, and any interest group can 'recruit' candidates if they have the money. The US has something much closer to a Plutocracy than a true Democracy and we don't want that here.
So campaigning expenses should be severely curtailed.
In the end, we will hopefully gravitate towards transparent public funding of campaign spending. The history of modern parliamentary government shows clearly that politicians who live in a pressurised, febrile and somewhat artificial environment can go off the ethical rails quite easily.

As to the Conservatives, two facets of their relationships stand out to me:

Also there is a serious risk that their objectivity and stringency when taking a view of the public interest will be somewhat skewed.
Here is George Osborne, Shadow Chancellor at the annual dinner of the British Venture Capital Association on March 13 2007: "As a group of investors, your internal rates of return are higher than almost any asset class. Listen to the critics and you would think that the only winners are a secretive bunch of millionaires. But the real winners are the millions of people with pensions invested in funds that invest with you".
It must be said that Mr. Osborne does later in the speech refer to the fact that there is hardly any genuine venture capital (support for start-ups) activity in Britain, and asks for improvements.
In his speech, he quotes figures supporting a very positive view of the private equity and venture capital industry - a possible source of these figures might be the private equity industry itself?

Lest we are suspected of bias, New Labour is all for it too........

Tony Blair is fulsome about the finance industry.
In 2005, he visited Investment bank Goldman Sachs and praised them to the skies: "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"
The Prime Minister was probably referring to the fact that Goldman in London gave staff a day a year off to work for charity. He didn't refer to the fact that City bonuses reached an estimated £20 billion in 2006, whilst his Chancellor, Gordon Brown was calling for public service pay rises restricted to 2% or so. Nor did he mention that Goldman was probably about to share out an $11 billion bonus pot - or half a million dollars per employee.
Recently Mr Blair rushed to the defence of the private equity industry: "Britain is the Number 1 place for private equity and I think the private equity market brings a lot of benefit to the economy." Or the City: "One of the strengths of this country has been the pre-eminent position of the City, which has increased under us in the last 10 years".
Mr Blair is backed solidly by other ministers:

Alastair Darling: "Taken as a whole, the private equity industry has brought significant benefit to our economy"

Peter Hain, when attacked by some MPs for New Labour accepting substantial donations from private equity investors and hedge fund managers: "I don't think we should get into the business of saying that private donations are bad, all rich people shouldn't be contributing to the Party - we want people to contribute to the Party."

Gordon Brown frequently refers to the importance of the financial sector to Britain, but leaves a vague feeling that his support is a little muted.

Peter Mandelson, a founder-member of the New Labour 'Project' had no such reservations: "We should be seriously relaxed about people getting filthy rich".

So, New Labour projects itself as a City-friendly government - at their strongest its criticisms of the excesses and misbehaviour of the finance industry is a sort of 'Yes...But'..., leaving the serious critique and demands for enquiries to come from the Trades Unions and the left wing of the party.

Who is going to stand up for the Public Interest?

One was left with great feelings of concern, especially for the majority who do not have close relationships with financiers, business or high-worth individuals. As many leading politicians seem to have been comprehensively 'recruited' into the orbit of the rich and powerful, who is left to speak for ordinary people, many of whom suffer at the hands of the financial services, savings and investment industries - and do not have privileged access to private equity?

When time allows, we'll dig into the relationships between the City, business, the seriously wealthy - and New Labour.

You may also like to read our article entitled A lord on the board

◄ Previous article
Great investment blunders and disastrous political dogmas
 Next article ►
Strong government is an essential component of healthy societies
Go to top