George Osborne and making business feel bankers' pain

George Osborne's claim that there's an effort afoot to create an anti business culture in Britain makes for interesting reading.

Interesting because the claim, in a speech to the Federation of Small Business, appears to pull the whole of business into the morass caused by bankers, high finance and the City. His loose language suggests everyone who worked to turn a profit, whether in the City, manufacturing, service industries, technology - the full spectrum of money making activities - is now being pilloried for their part in the financial difficulties we find ourselves in. In short all business should feel the bankers' pain and its simply not fair.

But it's not true that everyone is to blame, but then he's not saying that. However, it's also not true that the anger out there is wholesale anti business. People are able to distinguish between the City and its complex financial deals, on the one hand, and the rest of business on the other.

Perhaps he's suggesting that the opposition is attempting this. I don't believe that's true. The opposition has clearly seen an opportunity to attack the government over bankers, but that doesn't equate to rubbishing all business activity.

No, by pulling all of business into the equation the chancellor may hope to convince the wider business community that it is under attack from the opposition and its supporter and as a result identify with his stance over bankers and the economy.

This approach only helps muddy the relationship between business and politics even further and clouds thinking about what the right policies are for the UK economy. A senior businessman I know recently said this in a note he sent me: "I may be viewing the past through rose-tinted lenses, there seems to be an absence of conviction politicians - biggest evidence is the lack of polarity, and whether or not leaders want to lead or simply follow the focus groups."

I think it illustrates a point. Osborne may feel he's loosing the business vote (there are more than two million registered enterprises in the UK and around 230,000 come into being each year and he's shifting ground opportunistically to persuade them round. He wants to have their backing, be the party of business, and one way of doing that is convincing them they are all threatened by the current row over bonuses and the place of vast institutions, like banks, in our civil society. But creating such a confusion does not articulate a conviction. Far from it.

The banks are different from "business" and to conflate them is to hold back from being entirely clear with the business community. Business likes clarity, in politics and in policy, and this confusion does not achieve that. Far better to work on "growth" policies for UK business than mire them in a political row with the opposition over bankers.


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