Mark Leftly: Business dominates British politics as the two become inextricably linked

Westminster Outlook In 1826, many years before he embarked on a Westminster career that would eventually see him reach 10 Downing Street, Benjamin Disraeli wrote: "In politics, nothing is contemptible."

Aged just 22, "Dizzy" had shown in his first novel, Vivian Grey, that he was well on his way to mastering the art of the devastatingly cutting epigram. Later, this rhetorical device would serve him well in brushing aside such formidable opponents as Robert Peel ("reminiscent of a poker – the only difference is that a poker gives off the occasional signs of warmth") and, to a lesser extent, William Gladstone ("not one single redeeming defect").

And Disraeli was right about what he described as the "Grand Game": in politics, anything goes.

But what he failed to note was that this does not prevent politicians from drawing on their own considerable reserves of contempt for those who do not want to play the game and have arguably failed in other pursuits.

Today, the Palace of Westminster is filled with politicians of every (or no) ideological persuasion who take every opportunity they can to voice their discontent, fury and revulsion at a business world they blame for pushing Britain to the edge of economic ruin. The City and big businesses are, then, particularly deserving of their contempt.

On 9 August 2007, BNP Paribas told investors that they would not be able to take money out of two of their funds. This was the 21st-century economic equivalent of the day that Archduke Ferdinand was shot: the credit crunch, which became the financial crisis, had begun.

From October the following year, when Royal Bank of Scotland was rescued by the Government, politicians have taken more interest in business than at any time since Margaret Thatcher's privatisation programme three decades ago. Anonymous business secretaries have come and gone, but today's incumbent, Vince Cable, is as well known as any of the occupants of the traditionally great offices of state, such as the Home or Foreign offices.

A quick look at this week's parliamentary business, the first of 2014, shows just how business now dominates Westminster's agenda. The regulator Clive Adamson has come under fire for approving the extraordinarily flawed and ill-qualified Paul Flowers to chair the Co-op Bank; the arms export trade has been attacked; Northern Ireland's banking system debated; and there's even a hearing into what retailers are doing to stop shoppers using so many environmentally unfriendly plastic bags.

This all comes at a time when both sides of the House seem determined to encourage the private sector to spark a recovery through spending billions on vast infrastructure projects, from super-sewers to high-speed railway lines.

Politicians also want businesses to break what they see as the Civil Service's bureaucratic mishandling of services traditionally overseen by the state. The government contractors Capita, Serco, G4S, and Atos alone received more than £4bn of public sector work in 2012, in the hope that their commercial nous would lead to huge cost savings and therefore slash the deficit. But the many scandals on outsourcing contracts that have engulfed some of these companies, in particular Serco and G4S, have dominated the headlines of the political pages – and Westminster – for the past year, leading to yet more inquiries.

The boundaries between business and politics, the Square Mile and the Westminster village, have then all but disappeared. The two disciplines never practically operated in isolation, but with the scrutiny that business now faces, there can no longer be any pretence that the two are anything but inextricably linked.

That other great wordsmith prime minister, Winston Churchill, once said: "Some see private enterprise as a predatory target to be shot, others as a cow to be milked, but few are those who see it as a sturdy horse pulling the wagon."

This new weekly column looks to show who holds these differing views of business in Westminster, why that matters, and whether the City is successfully responding to the concerns of British democracy at a time when its reputation is so low.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
Powdered colors are displayed for sale at a market ahead of the Holi festival in Bhopal, India
techHere's what you need to know about the riotous occasion
Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
News
Details of the self-cleaning coating were published last night in the journal Science
science
News
Approved Food sell products past their sell-by dates at discounted prices
i100
News
Life-changing: Simone de Beauvoir in 1947, two years before she wrote 'The Second Sex', credited as the starting point of second wave feminism
peopleHer seminal feminist polemic, The Second Sex, has been published in short-form to mark International Women's Day
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Evening Administrator

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This Pension Specialist was established early...

Guru Careers: Executive Assistant / PA

£30 - 35k + Bonus & Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Executive Assist...

Ashdown Group: Graduate Application Support Analyst

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Reach Volunteering: External Finance Trustee Needed!

Voluntary post, reasonable expenses reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Would you ...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable