Sajid Javid – the man from the ministry without a plan

Outlook: the Department for Business, as we know it, is clearly not long for this world

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The Independent Online

I was looking forward to hearing what Sajid Javid had to say for himself at the Tory conference. Him being the business minister and all, I thought it would be great to hear what his plans are for … well, business.

On first view it seemed he’d given nothing away. No change there, I thought. Since his elevation in the spring, he’s left pretty much every industry guessing about what he stands for at the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills. 

Ah well, I said. Clearly he wants to save his moment for the autumn Spending Review, when he’ll dazzle us with a business-boosting bonanza – saving himself for a dramatic “big reveal”. 

But then, watch the speech again and it starts to dawn on you: he’s not … he wouldn’t … he can’t … is he? Really? He is! He’s going to torch the whole thing! He doesn’t have a plan at all. He’s just going to close the Department for Business down!

Watch him again and you’ll see what I mean. For a good quarter of the speech, he lays into his department, ridiculing its previous incarnations as the DTI, BERR, and, now BIS. 

He then characterises its past 20 years as: “Two decades of sidelining and marginalising business …” before his killer payoff line: “Including five years of Vince Cable. And believe me, that was more than enough!”

That attack on Vince Cable was critical for BIS, because Cable was the epitome of strong and effective government policymaking on industry. Most business leaders backed him to the hilt during his time in office, saying his five years were the most successful for government policy on commerce in decades. 

I don’t recall the Tory side of the Coalition complaining about Cable’s strategy of supporting key industries. I don’t remember hearing Conservative groans at the acceleration of apprentice schemes. And I certainly don’t recall hearing anyone from No 11 arguing against the privatisation of Royal Mail.

But there was no mention of any of those policies, or what might replace them. Apart from slagging off Labour’s new leadership – a puppy kicking contest, these days – he presented not a single concrete idea of what he wants to do.

He swept away the old, and offered nothing of the new. That can only lead to one conclusion: the Department for Business, as we know it, is not long for this world.

Adonis’s lack of  loyalty is a bonus 

First Liberal, then Labour and now Tory. Lord Adonis, today declared by Chancellor George Osborne as his new infrastructure commissioner, has  happily worn every political hue  during his career in Westminster’s  centre ground. 

It seems the one-time activist in Jeremy Corbyn’s Islington North just couldn’t stomach what masochistic Labour has become under the deepest red of its new leader. Meanwhile, the appeal of a decade in opposition, plotting in dark corners with Chuka Umunna, can’t have been overly alluring.

Politically, Adonis’s defection is a major coup for George Osborne, and proof perhaps that the Chancellor is developing the silky powers of persuasion required by a PM-in-waiting. But more importantly, it should turn out to be good for business, and the nation, too.

Adonis’s career has been peppered with much that has been good and non-partisan about government policy. Under Tony Blair’s Labour, he championed bringing private school rigour to state schools, going on to pioneer the academy programme.

Under Gordon Brown and then the Coalition, he championed High Speed 2 and the electrification of the Great Western Main Line. 

This experience with much-delayed infrastructure projects will prove vital in his new role of assessing Britain’s dysfunctional way of planning our grands projets – from trains to drains. As he knows too well, the trouble is that those projects requiring a decade or more to plan and implement always get mired in the short-term cycle of Westminster and local government. Just look at Heathrow.

If anyone can find a solution to this intractable problem, it’s Adonis, a policy-maker who’s worked for every party going. Whatever happens, his lack of partisan loyalty means he’ll shout if the meddlers in No 10 get in his way.

Tell Sid to watch that share price ... 

Hiring Adonis is both clever politically and good for the UK. The Lloyds share sale plan, on the other hand, hits only one of those criteria. 

It’s clever politically because a retail sale gets publicity for the message that the Tories are making progress dealing with the banking mess left by Labour. 

But it’s dumb in reality because a discounted sale to the public merely means the huge majority of taxpayers who can’t afford the shares will be subsidising those who can. 

Ah well, at least an army of new Lloyds Sids – natural Tory voters – will make the Chancellor think twice before doing anything that might damage the bank’s share price.

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