It always baffles me that politicians never attempt to score cheap populist points by attacking business corruption, or the manifestly non-meritocratic end of gross inequality (you can obviously argue about whether there is ever such a thing as a meritocratic model of gross inequality, but a large section of the public and its political leaders will point to football and Richard Branson and claim that there is). Why couldn't David Blunkett have opened a bottle of champagne when Nicholas Van Hoogstraaten went down, as he claimed to have done when Harold Shipman topped himself? Why is insider-trading discussed as some structural problem for the DTI to re-regulate, when these people could equally serve Alan Johnson as his own personal hoodie, to be lambasted every time he needs to win over a tricky audience? Come on guys, there are some arseholes out there, go get 'em!
Paul Skidmore at Demos poses this in slightly more sober terms, in suggesting that the Tory party could demonstrate both their new ethical credentials, and their life-long commitment to a strong business culture. It's an interesting proposition, that I haven't come across before. I certainly agree that claiming the ground of business ethics is the way to demonstrate a more genuine commitment to capitalism. The classic instance of this is anti-trust law, which pleases both the public and the neoclassical dogmatists simultaneously, the former because it benefits consumers, the latter because it smashes monopolies. In the United States, for instance, the Democrat Party managed to be the party of economic growth and the 'nice' party without contradiction for most of the twentieth century, while the Republicans have now demonstrated once and for all that they are the party of economic suicide and the 'nasty' party (New Labour, meanwhile, has managed to carve a strategic path between the two, demonstrating economic competence while making it eminently clear that this in no way equates to being nice).
What would the Tories lose were they to do so? A few donors, yes, but they're all nearly dead anyway. I can only imagine that this side-lining of business ethics from mainstream politics occurs to avoid becoming tagged or perceived as anti-business. Worse, it could become perceived as anti-finance/City of London, which can have drastic consequences. So the strategic, Orwellian/Blairite trick for David Cameron is to start re-constructing the ways in which business is talked about publicly, to distinguish between finance (untouchable Gods with whom politicians don't want any bother mister), productive honest business (desirable), unproductive, lazy capitalists (tolerable) and unproductive, dishonest business (the new hoodies). Whoever came up with the phrase 'hard-working families' has a new assignment.