Phony populism is rife in UK politics at the moment. Everyone is playing to the gallery. Our prime minister is nothing more than an impression of the last person to sit on him. Party leaders and senior politicians flit around like moths amongst the smoke and mirrors, insubstantial hostages to the wind of public opinion, desperate to stay close to the flame of approval.
In deference to the understandable public outcry over bankers’ remuneration, all the major UK political parties have condemned “crony capitalism” and fanned the flames leading to the Fred Goodwin and Stephen Hester debacles, where the former was stripped of his knighthood and the latter pressurised into foregoing his million pound bonus.
The Institute of Directors has warned against creating “anti-business hysteria” over the matter of Goodwin’s knighthood. Director-General Simon Walker criticised the decision of the forfeiture committee, claiming it “politicises the whole honours system”. Former Confederation of British Industry chief Lord Digby Jones referred to “the faint whiff of the lynch mob on the village green”. Goodwin’s service to banking may have proved to be significantly less splendid than originally thought, but he wasn’t solely responsible for the collapse of the credit-fuelled bubble and his public humiliation looks unedifying from where I’m standing.
Hester’s bonus was a reward for meeting targets set out in the contract he signed up to with the Government when he took on the onerous task of getting RBS back on track.
This climate of anti-business rhetoric is surely sending out seriously negative signals beyond our shores. Yesterday we learned that France all but secured a £10 billion order for fighter planes for the Indian air force, despite a British bid championed by David Cameron himself. It could be a sign of things to come as Britain’s ambiguity towards its business and financial sectors continues to baffle would-be investors.
Some scientists claim insects use light as a navigational aid. When the light is not moonlight, the hapless creatures get seriously confused. As our political leaders allow themselves to be buffeted by gusts of public anger, distracted by new moral compasses pointing to bright new varieties of capitalism, we’re entitled to wonder if they’re still aiming at the moon.