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Hanson steers clear of one crucial issue

Lord Hanson plainly missed his vocation. Judging by his piece in the present issue of the Spectator, he should have been a journalist, for he writes well. But on second thoughts, perhaps not. For one thing, he would have been a lot poorer. And for a second, it is journalists, or rather their cynicism about politicians and businessmen, who are the butt of his criticism.

Lord Hanson thinks the fourth estate a pretty bad and destructive one. Its cynicism, far from being a reflection of worldly wisdom, is more a form of immaturity, derived from the fact that media reporters have never had to do anything in "the real world". The purpose of journalists is too often to degrade "those who actually get things done", to foster the belief that these people routinely evade the truth and break their promises.

As a result "there now exists a widespread feeling that we are living in a period of unprecedented decline", that our government and officials are full of corruption, our standard of life is irredeemably poor and that "businessmen are interested only in profit, at the expense of all else". Er...sorry, did we miss something? Since when has a businessman not been interested in profit?

Joking apart, Lord Hanson makes some good points and many will find something in what he says. But he is wrong about businessmen. Businessmen are not, on the whole, disbelieved, except, as in the case of Robert Maxwell, when there is good reason for it. Nor are they castigated for seeking profit though they do sometimes get lambasted for damaging the environment. Furthermore, there has been a surprising degree of support, or at least understanding, for "downsizing" companies even if the sometimes tragic effect of this process is also widely reported.

In his polemic, Lord Hanson notably steers clear of the issue of executive pay, and well he should. To the extent that the media is anti-business it reflects legitimate public concern about the growing gulf between the lowest and the highest-paid in society. It is not the cynicism of the media that led to the row over Cedric Brown's salary; it was the cynicism and shamelessness of a company that could award its chief executive a 75 per cent pay increase at a time when there was vicious downsizing, complaints were soaring and, yes, profits were plummeting too. The boardroom is often as guilty as the press when it comes to "the real world".