At the height of the last recession, Sir Alan Sugar had very clear views on the man who yesterday gave him a job and a peerage. The entrepreneur wrote: "I do not know who Mr Gordon Brown is. Excuse my ignorance, but I don't. The man doesn't know what he's talking about." Warming to his theme in a letter written to the Financial Times in 1992 after Mr Brown suggested he had profited from the downturn, Sir Alan concluded: "Labour offers no sort of route out of recession. It's out of date and it hasn't done its homework."
Some 17 years later, the famously pugnacious star of The Apprentice seemed to have modified his opinion of the Prime Minister sufficiently to accept a role as the Government's "enterprise tsar" – and a rare bringer of positive media coverage at the end of Mr Brown's rockiest of rocky weeks.
Never one to underplay his opinions or talents, Lord Sugar said he had taken the post for "the need of the country".
The elevation of the son of a Hackney tailor to the House of Lords was in reality the culmination of a slowly built entente cordiale between Lord Sugar, once feted as the poster boy of Margaret Thatcher's enterprise culture, and Mr Brown. Initially through his friendship with Lord Levy and more recently through his informal role as one of Mr Brown's advisers from the world of business, the 62-year-old has steadily become a Downing Street regular. He has made two donations to Labour, including a contribution of £200,000 in 2001.
Lord Sugar's appointment on the day in which Mr Brown sought to snatch a glimmer of reality television glory from political disaster raises the delicious prospect of the businessman sitting down with civil servants in the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) to slash through the red tape. The new enterprise tsar suggested the inhabitants of London's Victoria Street, where BERR is located, had hitherto been out of touch. He said: "With all due respect to the people in Victoria Street, they are what they are, they are civil servants and they have never actually been in business. You have got to have someone there to guide them in the right direction."
Both Downing Street and Lord Sugar's representatives were unable to confirm the number of hours he will be expected to work in his unpaid role. But there is little quibbling with the depth of his experience. From his early days selling car aerials out of a van to the height of his success as the head of Amstrad, he has racked up numerous successes and consigned his failures to history.
Just occasionally, however, his entrepreneurial antennae have been off-beam. In February 2005, he said: "Next Christmas, the iPod will be dead, finished, gone, kaput." Some 173 million iPods later, Mr Brown will be hoping his new recruit's political instincts will not help get him fired by the electorate.Reuse content