Simon English: Cameron needs his old man's spirit
Friday 24 February 2012
Outlook David Cameron is in a quandary. Are bankers (that word seems to be shorthand for anyone working in the City) a force for good or ill? On the one hand he has declared £1m bonuses unacceptable. On the other, he rails against "anti-business snobbery", a straw man argument that seeks to confuse wealth-creating entrepreneurs with money-shufflers scheming to shift wealth someone else created in their own direction.
No one is against good businessmen doing the right thing. Spivs making one-way bets – heads they win, tails we bail them out – are what irks. I can't believe that Mr Cameron doesn't know the difference.
It's fine that he speaks up for the City – he's from broking stock himself. And he is probably the only Prime Minister in history who understands what a derivative is – that's got to be a good thing. But the trick played by City lobbyists, the type that regularly manage to get in front of the PM, is to act as if all of the Square Mile is of one mind on everything. It is not.
Plenty of people in the City think that, for example, Stephen Hester at RBS is overpaid. They are as likely to think he shouldn't have been anywhere near getting the bonus he so grandly declined (under much pressure) this year as, say, a teacher in Wigan.
Let's take two City stereotypes. There's the old-school banker/broker, the my-word-is-my-bond, all-I-have-is-my-integrity, operator. Then there's the champagne-swilling, Porsche-driving, make-a-million-quid-before-lunchtime lunatic. It shouldn't be too difficult for Mr Cameron to draw a distinction between the two. One's good for us. The other is neutral at best and disastrous at worst.
It's a great pity he can't ask his father, the sadly departed Ian Cameron, for advice on this, but they must surely have discussed such things. Cameron senior was a partner at Panmure Gordon, an old-school broking house still doing its thing after all these decades. It aims to advise clients, to raise them money, to say "no" at least as often as "yes", to get rich slowly.
I had lunch a few weeks back with a Panmure partner who remembers Ian Cameron, and thinks he'd find the present breed of investment bankers distasteful.
If Mr Cameron could call on the spirit of his old man and blast people who truly need both barrels, he'd find large chunks of the City (never mind the rest of the country) on his side. Instead he yesterday went for this: "In recent months we've heard some dangerous rhetoric creep into our nationaldebate thatwealth creation is somehow antisocial." It's a straw man. His dad would probably agree.
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