Politicians and Business

Politicians and Business

“F*** Business” – Boris Johnson, British Foreign Minister
Relations between government and business – everywhere

Politicians in Britain are having a go at business. Nothing new about that except that this time it is from the Conservative ‘business party’ that they are firing. Labour has its ambiguities about business because making money is often at odds with their ideologies of fairness and equality. We all want that but are uncertain of the best way to achieve it. Since politics aka living life is, in most places, treated as a short-term affair, ‘we want it now’ is an inevitable consequence. Life itself is an increasingly long-term affair. We have reached the point where we can expect to be personally appraised by our grandchildren and even, in some cases, our great grandchildren, if we hand on chaos and confusion.

Many decisions taken today will echo down the future as individually, corporately or territorially daft. There’s a certain inevitability in that. Brexit and Trump aside, perhaps the daftest of them all will be the war between highly successful, powerful, relatively new businesses and the politicians who aim to control them. If cooperation between companies makes sense, cooperation between government and companies makes even more sense.

Business is exhorted to take a view beyond making money, to consider the climate, to treat employees better, to regard work as only part of life, to give generously to good causes and to use company profits ‘responsibly’. These are the correct and important priorities of top business people. But the same people are measured by shareholders almost exclusively by their return on capital employed – something that pays little attention to plastic or human sweat.

No laws will allow the creation of perfect briefs for CEOs and Boards. Nor can they be relied upon to self-control their own business behaviour. Just as an individual has to have some basic rules imposed on him or her, so boards of companies must work to some rules. The greater the number of these the more complex business is and the easier it is to evade and circumvent the rules.

The acceptable medium that we need is achieved by business and government working together. If that makes you laugh you have already become too cynical about what can be achieved. Unfortunately, cynicism will not resolve this one. Only one thing will. Closer cooperation between business and government where government doesn’t only lecture to business and receive a few sweetheart questions in return but where business tells government a few home truths – straight.

At present the line between business people and politicians is too heavily guarded by institutional tradition. Add to this, in Britain at least, the patronage available for politicians to distribute. It means the business-government dialogue is on an unlevel playing field, profoundly in favour of politicians. But it is tipping, gradually, in favour of big business. If it does so too much the result will be catastrophic for the ordinary consumer.

Time for business and politics to work more closely together. If politics, as has often been said, is the art of the possible then business surely must he the art of the impossible.

Only when the possible and the impossible cooperate will we get the desirable.