Nick Goodway: Leaping Lords mean the Coalition is being cast adrift from the City
No doubt many a boardroom will be hosting Strathclyde to lunch
Friday 11 January 2013
Strathclyde, Marland, Sassoon sounds rather like it could be the opening of the shipping forecast on Radio 4 long wave. In fact it is a list of defectors from the government (two of them in the past week alone) who have decided now is the time for them to resume their careers in the business world rather than watch the disintegration of the Coalition from the inside.
All three of them were government ministers in the House of Lords. All three are aged 50-something. All three began their careers in business and have maintained strong connections with business and particularly the City.
Lord Strathclyde was feted as the biggest political loss. His decision to step down as Leader of the Lords after 25 years on the front bench removes one of the Tories' last remaining continuous servants from Thatcher to Cameron. Strathclyde is already a member of the insurance market Lloyd's of London and has a substantial estate and business in his native Scotland. He was also a non-executive director of the hedge fund arm of controversial oil trader Trafigura before he resigned over the waste-dumping scandal.
No doubt many a boardroom in Mayfair and the City will be hosting Strathclyde to lunch in the coming weeks.
This week's other defector was Lord Marland. A former Tory treasurer, he was appointed a minister in Vince Cable's business department in last September's reshuffle. He quit as a key business bill starts its passage through Parliament.
Marland was founding director of the insurer Jardine Lloyd Thompson. He led the management buyout of Hunter Wellington Boots and is part of the group of rich men, including Rupert Lowe and David Ross, who took a big stake in stockbroker WH Ireland.
Marland has plenty of other irons in the fire and will have little trouble resuming his business career.
Lord Sassoon found his new berth at the end of last week and boy has he plucked a prime one. Reshuffled at his own behest last September he only finished working for the Treasury last week and has emerged (after the shortest period of purdah possible) as an executive director of the mighty Hong Kong trading company Jardine Matheson. Other directorships of subsidiary and associate companies (which include Jardine Lloyd Thompson) are set to follow.
Sassoon, a former UBS Warburg investment banker, is something of a Far Eastern expert and the Jardine job could not just bolster his bank balance but also severely reduce his tax bill.
But this is not a tale of how well Lords can do by leaping out of government but how this administration is rapidly losing its direct links with the City and the world of commerce.
Even Lord Green, the former chief executive of HSBC and now Minister of State for Trade and Investment, has been badly tarnished because he was in charge of the bank during the period it laundered drug barons' money. Lord Flight, of fund management fame, sits on the back, not the front benches. Lord Deighton, a career investment banker who then ran Locog, has rapidly been drafted in to replace Sassoon as Commercial Secretary to the Treasury.
The truth is that anyone who has made it in politics under the age of 50 is now inevitably a career politician with none of the grounding in the City or industry which their predecessors had. (And I don't count working in Papa's wallpaper shop in the long vac, George.) Yet these are the very people who will be voting on major changes to banking, regulatory and business legislation over the next couple of years.
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