Ever come across a herd of cats? Neither have I. Which is why I was so interested to learn that about 1,000 businessmen are considering becoming MPs – among them Dragons’s Den panellist Rachel Elnaugh. That is the number calculated to have responded to David Cameron’s call last month for a new breed of independently-minded candidate.
Let me be quite clear, I have nothing against businessmen being members of parliament; nor about them joining the Conservative Party, which is likely to be their natural ideological constituency. An entrepreneurial background has much to recommend it, in terms of a no-nonsense, pragmatic approach to decision-making. Both the Commons and the Lords have long benefited from a sprinkling of business sense.
But it is a sprinkling, among the lawyers and career politicians who make up most of the numbers these days. And for several good reasons. Business people, even highly intelligent ones, are not usually at their best with verbal nuance – the basic currency of democratic politics. Witness the recent gaffe of Brown aide Baroness Vadera with her premature “green shoots” (all right, she was talking about the bond market, but she wasn’t very media savvy was she?) Then there’s City minister Lord Myners: need I do more than invoke the sacred memory of Sir Fred’s pension?
Next, mentality. Business people may be thrusting, dynamic self-starters but that means they also like to get their own way and lack the patience to deal with other people’s points of view. This is particularly true of the entrepreneurial type who has gone into business, yes to make lots of money, but also to be his own, or her own, boss. How does that attitude resonate with a whip system which commands absolute obedience from MPs on pain of deselection? OK, Cameron has said change is on the way, but I doubt he means by that a free-voting system.
Finally, I know successful business people possess very high energy levels, but doing two jobs at once – is that feasible? Which is why I applaud the idealism of James Murray Wells, 26, in putting himself forward but would advise him to stick to being an online spectacles retailer. Glasses Direct can’t do without you, mate.
And so to that old GOAT Sir Alan, soon Lord, Sugar. Sugar has just taken the other side’s shilling (though I think we know he’s innately conservative). When quizzed over his political allegiance, he assumed the faux naiveté he does so well on these occasions – claiming he didn’t see his new business czar role as “a political thing” and then affecting ignorance about the whip system. It’s on a par with Sugar’s classic remark, when he floated Amstrad all those years ago, that he thought a PE ratio was how many press-ups you did in the gymn.
The truth is Sir Alan’s post-economic and now better known as an entertainer than a businessman. The House of Lords seems an obvious theatre for his talents.