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Ministerial ‘buddies’ for business: cutting to the chase

I suppose it is theoretically possible that, at some point in the last few decades, an important chief executive has rung up a government minister, asked to arrange a meeting, and been turned down flat. But my guess would be that this hasn’t happened too often.

All mainstream parties are keen to stress their pro-business credentials, and if the boss of Britain’s biggest widget manufacturing outfit wants personally to plead the case for a reduction in widget tax, all he has to do is pick up the phone.

Now there is talk of putting this set up onto a regularised footing. Under proposals being developed by trade and investment minister Lord Green, the top 50 UK firms will each be allocated ‘a single point of contact in the government’.

Just to stress the open neck shirt informality of the proceedings, the ministers concerned are even being described as ‘buddies’, a colloquialism with connotations of personal friendship. It’s not that this development marks a major change of tack, I guess. But it does, in one small way, confirm a basic Marxist postulate.

Lord Green presumably hasn’t read the Communist Manifesto. But one striking phrase from this seminal 1848 pamphlet has always struck me as an accurate and concise description of a central reality of British political life.

‘The executive of the modern state,’ Marx and Engels write, ‘is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.’ Or, to put it in more modern language, governments rule in the interests of the capitalist class, where necessary arbitrating between its competing factions.

Such a claim frequently attracts liberal derision. After all, all British adults are entitled to one vote each, of broadly equivalent value.  The party or parties that command majority or plurality support among the representatives sent to Westminster on that basis form an administration that therefore represents all sections of the community, and governs with that fact very much in mind.

It is true that, for a span of some decades in the postwar period, trade unions carried sufficient political weight to ensure that their perspectives were taken into account. But even then, where their wishes came into conflict with the wishes of the employers, it was the latter voices that usually prevailed.

Yet the very pretence of rough equality has already been abandoned for more than 30 years. Under Thatcher, Major, Blair and Brown, the business lobby has precluded all others.

New Labour, for instance, did not nominate ‘buddies’ for major unions, working class organisations or radical NGOs, and nor will the Coalition, either. Only businesses deserve that privilege.

Lord Green’s latest scheme – if it is ultimately introduced – will be largely symbolic. It’s just that the symbolism tells you all you need to know.

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