The Sketch: An ambitious effort, but Tory leader could do with a kitten

If the main shareholder can't make a kitten out of a fatcat, how will the little-interested ones?
Click to follow
The Independent Online

A new capitalism. A responsible capitalism. Capitalism with a free kitten. To be fair, I thought Cameron would have more free kittens in his speech on building a new economy. That's what popular political discourse requires even when discussing something as vast, as unknowable as the market.

His most recent prouncement on the economy had been at PMQs – "The Government takes absolute responsibility for everything that happens in our economy," (not even Stalin was that ambitious) so who could predict what we were going to get?

While it was a distinctly Conservative speech (Ed Miliband wouldn't have made it) there was nothing in it Miliband would violently disagree with either. Hard to know who's following whom.

One trick of opposition is to discern what the Government is going to do and then demand they do it. George Osborne used to do this to Gordon Brown. The trick of government is to watch the opposition behind and (to use a yacht racing metaphor) tack as and when they tack. It might not increase your speed but you don't get overtaken.

So Cameron, as a prudent leader, said the least he needed to keep ahead. The sacred words of capitalism – "private property" and "profit" and "short sellers" – weren't uttered because there wasn't the need to.

Top people's pay is the old "agency problem" Keynes was talking about nearly a century ago. The managers loot the company because the owners are absent. It's an extraordinarily stubborn problem because even when the owner of the Royal Bank of Scotland is – so to speak – the Prime Minister, he still can't seem to stop the chief manager getting a million-quid bonus.

If the main shareholder – who has a proper public incentive – can't make a kitten out of a fat cat, how will the dispersed, and often little interested, shareholders? Still, he might yet strip Fred Goodwin of his knighthood. But that's not fair or responsible. No, strip him of his fabulous pension, his houses, his cars, his trout streams and put him in a council house on the ringroad. That's what "responsibility" means.