THE BLOG

Time to End 'UK Plc' Really Meaning 'United Kingdom Politician of Limited Capability'

23/09/2014 15:20 BST | Updated 22/11/2014 10:59 GMT

Politicians are fond of referring to 'UK PLC' when they want to burnish their business credentials. What a pity so few actually have any, despite the recent recession.

It would be unheard of for a manufacturer to employ, say, a finance director with no experience, or for anyone to commission a portrait from an artist unable to paint.

Yet an entire nation is run by Cabinet ministers routinely - almost invariably - from a political class that knows nothing about the practicalities of making firms work.

Business is not an afterthought of life. The absence of experience in its practicalities by politicians is a deficiency in Britain that might have been expected to change, given the economic shock.

Yet most of the Cabinets put together by most recent Prime Ministers have been from that class of professional politicians, albeit mildly spiced with the odd ennobled businessman or woman parachuted into the House of Lords, a junior ministerial role, and then their apparent true destiny: rapid political obscurity.

Of course, in a democracy politics should represent the diversity of its electorate, not just its interests, so this is not a plea for the country to be run by chief executives.

But this is a plea for more people with a true, gut understanding of what keeps countries functioning, which is their economic vibrancy, to have a significant voice in decisions on taxation and spending.

Unfortunately, there remains the pernicious prejudice that 'business' people are somehow out of touch. The caricature is utterly untrue. In fact, most business people in the UK run small enterprises that keep them in touch not only with economic common sense, but also the concerns of those they employ. Who better to represent the broad church of our interests at Westminster?

Yet the professional DNA of the modern politician might as well be Martian, such is their disconnect from most lives. Theirs is often a rather simple genetic structure: political research, speech writing, advising, some heredity, and rather oddly, public relations. One up from landowning and trades unionism, perhaps, but still not suitable for a modern nation.

For example, George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer and the man in charge of the nation's money. His degree? History. His career? Politics. At least Alan Johnson, his Labour shadow for a while, was a postman once.

We keep allowing a class that has little business acumen beyond offering a professional service, and even that is unusual, to those who do complete authority over the economy. It was reported in 2010 that management consultants and bankers would replace teachers and doctors at Westminster; and that one in eight new MPs had a background as a private sector consultant. Two cheers only. Where were the factory owners, the shop keepers, the technology entrepreneurs waiting on podiums in dusty town halls for the votes beside their names to be counted?

More regional business people must be encouraged to become MPs. It is not good enough just shunting the super-successful amongst them into that rarefied, but politically second-rated second chamber. They need to be elected in order to be where power lies, which is in the House of Commons. Michael Heseltine managed to represent Henley, create a publishing giant and be a significant politician.

The problem, I suspect, is that politics has become like the old trade union closed shops, a place where networks of individuals guide and reassure each other down similar paths from an early age. Outsiders are distrusted, or at least discouraged from standing for election. Key seats are traded discretely through these networks like stamps by avid collectors.

So, next time you hear a politician refer grandly to UK PLC remember what they are really shorthanding is, 'United Kingdom Politician of Limited Capability', and worry.