Outlook: An explosive mix with politics

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The Independent Online
An explosive mix with politics

Launch aid is one thing, but in most cases business and Government just don't mix, as Labour, brimming full of naive enthusiasm for a genuine partnership with business when it first came into office, is discovering to its cost.

Most businessmen or companies when they donate money to political parties expect no more than to influence policy in a way which is generally favourable to the business environment. As much as anything, the purpose is that of getting their voice heard. On rare occasions, the motive is one of genuine altruism. But a sizeable minority expect rather more than that and this is where the difficulties begin. In many instances the purpose is to influence policy in favour of a particular commercial interest or against another.

That is certainly what the brewing lobby attempted to do with the last government, with some success. And it may have been Bernie Ecclestone's intention with his pre-election gift to the Labour Party and his more recent offer of financial assistance, though he denies this. In extreme cases, and we do not suggest Mr Ecclestone is one of these, the purpose is the overtly corrupt one of winning favours and contracts.

Perhaps the most surpising thing about the Ecclestone case is that Labour should have fallen into such a well sign-posted trap. For the roots of Labour's naivity on all this look back to the Labour Party conference of two years ago. This was the occasion of the famous deal launched with much fanfare between British Telecom and Tony Blair, under which BT would be released early from the ban on carrying broadcast entertainment across its network in return for wiring schools and other public institutions to the super highway.

In practice this turned out to be a relatively harmless sweetheart deal of limited significance. But it none the less established the principle that New Labour is prepared to grant commercial favours in return for something back.

This is "you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours" politics and Mr Blair should not be surprised if some people think it corrupt. The purpose of Government is to establish a level playing field of public policy for business to operate in, not to favour one set of commercial interests over another or to be in any way beholden to these interests. For every businessmen that Government favours, there will be another that the favour damages. Labour seems to be learning about this rather obvious truism the hard way.

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