View from City Road: The business of being different

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The Independent Online
Not for the first time, the two voices of British business, the Confederation of British Industry and the Institute of Directors, are at loggerheads. The CBI supports Michael Heseltine in the cabinet row about state support for business. The IoD is behind Michael Portillo.

Most of us might reasonably assume this had something to do with the issues; that it said something important about the state of industry and business in Britain. But we would be wrong. As always, the quarrel has more to do with the feuding nature of these organisations than anything else.

If the CBI called the kettle black, the IoD would feel obliged to do the opposite. Both organisations want to be the voice of business leaders in Britain, and, to differentiate themselves in a way that keeps the subscriptions rolling in, they come at it from widely different perspectives.

The CBI, while insisting that it does not support excessive spending, is clearly fearful that the meagre amount spent on British business will diminish further. The IoD, while claiming to be non-political, is sticking to its traditional right-wing stance. According to Tim Melville-Ross, the new director-general of the IoD, the Department of Trade and Industry should not intervene. What's more, it spends too much, he says.

These are strong views for a building society man who has been in the job only three days, but quite in keeping with an organisation that once had Sir John Hoskyns, one of the founding fathers of Thatcherism, as its director-general.

The CBI, by contrast, has always been a firm believer in interventionist policies. It has its roots in Harold Wilson's Labour government of the 1960s and tends to reflect the views of big business. Howard Davies, Mr Melville-Ross's counterpart at the CBI, has been quick to challenge the DTI on occasions, but has built a noticeably, if cautiously, positive relationship with the department. Intervening before breakfast is par for the course at the CBI. It represents corporatist Britain, against the IoD's entrepreneurial Britain.

As with the Cabinet, it is not yet clear whose star is in the ascendant.