Business and politics

 

I awoke this morning to a garbled version of my views on the BBC  on why big business should stay out of referendum debates . They did not phone me to check my views, nor invite me on to explain them. Readers of this site will remember my advice to big business to keep out of the Scottish referendum campaign, where I was on the same side as most of the businesses. Let me have another go at explaining it.

I have been the chairman of a large quoted industrial company. When in that post I never once associated the business with my own political views. I knew that I had shareholders, customers and employees who did not agree with my political stance on various issues. My job as Chairman was  to represent the company and the best interests of its stakeholders, not to pursue my own or my party’s political agenda through the company.

One issue came up which was going to have a substantial impact on the business – joining the Exchange Rate Mechanism. Even though I was sure such a policy would slash jobs, profits and output for the economy as a whole, I still not feel it would be wise to associate the company’s name with my judgement on that issue. Some other companies and business organisations, including the CBI, campaigned for membership of the Exchange Rate Mechanism, only to discover how much damage it did when their wishes were granted. I set out my own views on the ERM and watched in disbelief as big business as a whole got it comprehensively wrong.

I am told that in Scotland it is difficult calming things down after the intense and heated debates of the Scottish referendum. Those companies that did take a very public stance now have to deal with shareholders, employees and customers who are unhappy that their company spoke against their political wishes. If the CEO has just a small proportion of the shares, how can he or she speak for all the shareholders when pushing a partisan view on a very emotive issue? What does he say to those in the company or who part own the company who disagree with him?

Most senior business people know that expressing a corporate political view can be damaging to the company’s interests. We do not usually see large multinationals telling shareholders and employees how to vote in General Elections. We do not have lists of big companies declaring for Labour or Conservative. They do not do so for the reasons I have set out above. We therefore need to ask them why they think a referendum about people’s very identity and about who should govern them is cause for breaking  this simple unwritten rule of chairing or leading a great company.

As some large businesses will doubtless still wish to tell the UK whether to stay in  the EU or nor, we do need to examine the bad record of these large companies who have spoken out in the past on these big issues. They spoke for the Exchange Rate Mechanism. That dreadful scheme led to a recession which destroyed people’s jobs and  company trading success in the UK. These same political companies then decided to recommend that we surrender the pound and join the Euro. They had clearly learned nothing from  the ERM experience.

I have not heard them apologising for the damage their advice on the Exchange Rate Mechanism did. I have not heard most of them confess they got the Euro wrong. We were told that the City of London would be badly damaged if we did not join. Instead it flourished. We were told some industrial companies would pull out and go to a Euro area country. I do not recall any major investor in the UK doing that.

So please, big business, recognise you have not been good at judging the best interests of the UK. More importantly it is your job to keep all your shareholders, employees and customers happy. Why not try doing that by keeping out of the next referendum?

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91 Comments

  1. Posted September 30, 2014 at 7:03 am | Permalink

    It is a grey area. Companies are required by law to list and comment on material risks to their business and their mitigation strategy, these laws were brought in in the interests of sharholders. The companies who stated they would leave Scotland in the event of a “Yes” vote were doing exactly that. There will be plenty of companies who will announce they will leave UK in the event of a vote to leave EU on the same basis. In a few cases I know you think some companies went too far, stating that Scottish consumers would pay higher prices for example, but you could argue that that falls under the disclosure rules too. In summary you have no hope at all of stopping companies making comments which will heavily favour the pro-EU line, you need to accept that now and work out a strategy to counter them rather than complain about it.

    • Posted September 30, 2014 at 7:16 am | Permalink

      Stopping no, but perhaps encouraging them to think a little more sensibly first.

    • Posted September 30, 2014 at 8:16 am | Permalink

      I agree with Roy. There’s no chance of stopping some large businesses saying that the UK leaving the EU presents a potential risk to their business model and that they need to take steps to mitigate that risk because it will be their legal duty to warn their shareholders so.

    • Posted September 30, 2014 at 9:17 am | Permalink

      I agree with JR`s comments about businesses staying out of politics. In my earlier life I was responsible for a group of businesses which traded internationally and operated several subsidiaries around the world. It was an absolute policy that we did not poke our nose into the politics of those countries. I held to this line even though pushed hard on more than one occasion to break it – once by no less a delegation than of Jack Jones, then Gen Sec of the T & G, and Len Murray, then Gen Sec of the TUC. They were not the only ones in the UK who thought it their business to tell the business for which I was responsible what it should and should not do overseas. There was also pressure within certain countries to make disguised political donations which I resisted. A business is not a political tool and CEOs and Boards who persuade themselves that it should be are getting themselves into dangerous territory.

      In the UK it was once commonplace for businesses to make political donations. The law was changed to make such donations subject to a shareholder vote; surely the right thing to do.

      On your point about the future outlook for a business, whether the UK remains in or leaves the UK, that is an unknown with risks either way. EU membership is an issue that should and must be decided by UK voters not by businesses whether UK or foreign owned. CEOs, Boards and shareholders are working to an entirely different agenda to the concerns of UK voters that have prompted the calls for fundamental renegotiation or Brexit.

      • Posted September 30, 2014 at 9:23 am | Permalink

        Just spotted a typo! Last para should read “whether or not the UK remains in or leaves the EU”.

      • Posted September 30, 2014 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

        Of course businessmen should be able to express their views on important issues of the day. Indeed, I regard it as their duty and am sometimes astonished by their cowardice in this regard. There certainly seems to be no reticence on this matter when we meet the leaders of the Trade Unions.

        Let’s just think of some of the British businessmen from history who have been overtly political – on both the left and the right. Robert Owen, who set up the model New Lanark mill and was one of the founders of the cooperative movement. Sir Robert Peel Senior, father of the great conservative prime minister and influential in bringing in the Factory Acts. The Rowntree and Cadbury families have been hugely influential in political and social policy. If we come up to the present day, Jimmy Goldsmith immediately springs to mind and he is the man we principally have to thank that we are not now in the Euro. There must be hundreds of business people in Britain who have rightly seen it their duty to take an active part in the political life of this country.

        The fact that John feels that some businessmen get it wrong on the EU is no reason that business should take a Trappist vow generally. Certainly, on something as important as the Scottish Referendum, it is my view that business leaders should make their views known, whether pro or against independence. CEOs can make it clear that they do not necessarily speak for their shareholders if they wish. Trade Union leaders can also make it clear that they do not speak necessarily for their members.

        How far does John want to take this self-denying ordinance? When the Bolsheviks took over Russia in October 1917, should Russian businessmen have remained tight-lipped? When Castro took over Cuba in 1959, would it have been bad form for Cuban business to point out that the Cuban economy was heading for 50 years of zero growth?

        Reply If the businessman or family own the business then there is no problem with them expressing their political views as the views of the business if they wish. My main objections is to small shareholders who are executives presuming to express a view for the whole company when many other shareholders disagree.

      • Posted October 1, 2014 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

        But big businesses aggressively fund the political parties they feel support their best interests. How is this any different? Indeed isn’t it worse because while a declaration of support is at least in the open while a party donation requires a bit of digging – something the general public won’t be minded to do.

        Reply Large multi shareholder busineses do not usually give to political parties because their shareholders would not agree.

    • Posted September 30, 2014 at 10:22 am | Permalink

      Somehow, though, the warnings seem all to go in one direction. One cannot say that it is a matter of status quo since the ERM and Euro advice urged a departure into new territory.

      There is an agenda here which is either evidence of a positive move to support an establishment view or herd mentality these are two sides of the same coin and equally worrying

    • Posted September 30, 2014 at 11:36 am | Permalink

      Under the law pertaining to shares traded on English exchanges, companies are required to disclose to the market information which is share price sensitive, of a specific nature and not generally known, therefore it is very likely that companies would be acting lawfully by not airing their directors’ prejudices, publicly, about the consequences of the antics of politicians which are often generally unexpected other than by those of a profounder percipience. On the other hand, companies are often quite taciturn about there future strategies.

    • Posted September 30, 2014 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

      But surely these companies would only be responsible for declaring such material risks to their shareholders, there would be no justification to make public pronouncements to all and sundry ahead of a referendum. Otherwise, would they comment on any and every piece of news, where would they stop?

      • Posted September 30, 2014 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

        So do you envisage them sending confidential letters to their shareholders that self-destruct after reading to prevent the press seeing them?
        Bear in mind that many of us hold shares in nominee accounts and there are requirements to post updates on company websites.

        • Posted October 1, 2014 at 4:54 am | Permalink

          If it would be of such concern then I would expect them to make best efforts to advise shareholders of the issues, for example in the annual report. I’m well aware of nominee acounts but in those cases I have been alerted of company speciifc issues by my broker. In the case of shares hgeld in funds I would expect the fund manager to advise their investment opinion.

          There is a difference between alerting and campaigning, between following a commercial strategy and pressing a political issue.

          I agree with Roy Grainger it is a grey area,

    • Posted September 30, 2014 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

      I agree with Roy, it is the job of the Chairman and the non-execs to represent the status of the company, and its future prospects, to the owners of the business. The CEO and the execs should remain quite on such occasions. Unfortunately, the concept of “limited liability” ownership means that most shareholders don’t give a toss. Buying shares is like buying a Lottery ticket or a Bingo card, that always gives some cash-back. Funny that Mother Nature never envisaged the concept of “limited liability”. You ask a Wildebeest, doing forty miles an hour across an African Plain, with a Lions teeth buried in its arse.

      Don’t forget to read the latest Quarterly Accounts from ONS. Osbo’ has accidentally been spending more than he thought he was and; would you MMT believe it, the economy is responding positively. Plus, ONS has changed to the new EU accounting standard which makes everything much brighter.

      Have you seen the US neo-cons, have blown the dust off their map of the “new middle east”.

  2. Posted September 30, 2014 at 7:14 am | Permalink

    Indeed all true, but will be ever even get a fair referendum the chance of a Tory overall majority is only about 12%, even then half the Tory party is of the Ken Clark, Mathew Paris, Libdum persuasion and could vote against one, or merely defect. Also given Cameron past ratting how do we know he would keep his promises this time? He might just say he is unable to due to his heart and soul or his wet wing.

    Evan Davis on Newsnight was very unimpressive (in interviewing Cameron not one sensible question more like a game show). He seemed to think “The Extreme Right” (UKIP and the few sensible tories to the BBC) were anti business and anti immigration. What complete drivel their policies are very pro business and they are rather pro sensible selective immigration when it is beneficial. How does one get a first in PPE at Oxford with such a poor grasp of Economics and Business. How can one ask such daft questions of the PM and none of the ones that actually matter.

    Osborne very unimpressive yesterday are he and Cameron trying to lose lost about mugging the poor which is hardly a vote winner even if it is needed. Abolishing a silly 55% tax that he imposed was the only positive & still no mention of IHT!

    • Posted September 30, 2014 at 7:32 am | Permalink

      Perhaps the most depressing thing on Newsnight last night was that more than twice as many Tory delegates at the conference voted for a coalition with the Libdums in preference to one with UKIP.

      The Tory party is clearly largely Libdum. Essentially for big government, anti business, pro EU, for very high taxes, lots of expensive green crap, huge over regulation, for the absurd HS2 and anti new airports and air travel (except to green conferences in exotic locations).

      Wrong on every major issue.

      • Posted September 30, 2014 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

        There’s a big Union flag at the Tory conference. Where is the EU one ?

        If the fringe Eurosceptics in the party are ‘headbangers’ then we must assume that the remainder of the party are not.

    • Posted September 30, 2014 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

      It was the “hard right”. Apparently if you are committed to the sovereignty of your country and its people and its Parliament, and you want to see its national democracy restored, then according to Matthew Parris and also the girl from the Spectator that will make you “hard right”, however you may think of yourself. You may have voted Labour all your adult life, you may think of yourself as being pretty left-wing and indeed others may think the same of you, but if you believe in national sovereignty and democracy then that makes you “hard right”. However, again according to Matthew Parris, the “hard right” is only a small segment of the Tory party and the few MPs who fall in that category could and should be pushed out; in other words, good riddance to those who believe in national sovereignty and democracy, they should have no place in the Tory party. And that is where he is unfortunately correct, as has been demonstrated on at least two occasions when the mass of Tory MPs have trooped through the “no” lobby to vote against the sovereignty of the very Parliament to which they had been elected by their too easily gulled constituents.

      • Posted September 30, 2014 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

        You highlight the problem well Denis, and that’s why I could no longer support the Tories. As others have said recently, ‘I didn’t leave the Tories, the Tories left me.’

        I’ll never apologise for being patriotic and pro-British, and when the Europhiles give me a convincing argument that the EU is good for Britain, I’ll change my mind. As that is unlikely to happen, I feel it is reasonable to expect those people who hold the contrary and erroneous view to consider their own position and change it in favour of one that benefits the country to which they are supposed to bear true allegiance.

        Tad

      • Posted October 1, 2014 at 8:10 am | Permalink

        Indeed why did Mathew Paris join the Tory Party at all? He is simply not a real Tory in any way at all.

    • Posted September 30, 2014 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

      Not just the CBI failing to apologise. I have not heard John Major not most of the wet Tory party apologising for the ERM fiasco, nor Maastricht, the IHT/Cast Iron ratting, the great “subsidiarity” lie, Libya, the 299+ tax increases, throwing the last election, HS2 or even the expensive subsidised green nonsense either.

    • Posted October 1, 2014 at 6:40 am | Permalink

      Lifelogic, on the subject of PPE, take a look at the Spectator Coffee House. I fear it confirms your views!

  3. Posted September 30, 2014 at 7:33 am | Permalink

    The CBI have got every call wrong including there wish to maintain the gold standard before the war. As far as the ERM was concerned it also had the support of the Labour and Lib Dem parties and the TUC. With a consensus like that you know there is something wrong.

    • Posted September 30, 2014 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

      Indeed the CBI has a good record of being 180 degrees out on most big issues the idiotic ERM and Euro in particular. It is too close and cosy with government(s), the EU and vested interests and too distant from the coal face. They go along with the idiotic group think rather like the BBC.

      Digby Jones did at least say some sensible things that all Tories should also be saying. Profit is not a dirty word it is vital.

  4. Posted September 30, 2014 at 7:34 am | Permalink

    Sorry typo – of course it is “their” and not “there”.

    • Posted September 30, 2014 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

      These homophones are very irritation and totally pointless too/two/to efficient communication. They are not needed in speech after all, so why when we write/rite/right?

      • Posted September 30, 2014 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

        Do you like ‘brought’ in place of ‘bought’, lifelogic ? (I don’t)

        This is the sort of thing we are talking about.

        • Posted September 30, 2014 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

          “I want to.”

          Well, Lifelogic. Tell me what I mean then.

          Do I want too ? Do I want two ? Or do I want to ?

          • Posted October 1, 2014 at 6:23 am | Permalink

            Rather contrived and artificial examples, It will be obvious from the context just as it is in spoken language. The actual sentences would be more like:

            Do I want two sausages? Do I want to go too? Do I want to go for a walk?

        • Posted October 1, 2014 at 6:24 am | Permalink

          They sound different anyway (or should do).

  5. Posted September 30, 2014 at 7:40 am | Permalink

    I teach people.
    If I enter the realm of politics, then state my own views, I immediately lose all the people who are from another political party.
    If I speak about religion and admit that I am a Catholic, then everyone who is not a Catholic (lots of people there) are immediately set against me.

    I suppose business is a bit the same…

    • Posted September 30, 2014 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

      You cannot avoid giving you view away really. The questions BBC interviewers (on say Newsnight) ask clearly show they are all lefty, anti UKIP, followers of green crap religions, magic money tree economics believers, pro EU, big government, high tax, Guardian reading, arts grads with a bit of a chip on their shoulders.

      • Posted September 30, 2014 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

        Surely that should read:

        “You cannot avoid giving, you view away really” Lifelogic ?

        In which case I’d like to meet Mike. He sounds very generous.

  6. Posted September 30, 2014 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    Pro-EU views expressed by businesses would just be one part of the torrent of pro-EU propaganda from all sides uncritically reproduced and embellished by the pro-EU mass media. Some say that the electorate would react against that, while others claim that the advent of the internet has radically changed the situation, and of course notionally there are now legal limits on the campaign expenditure by both sides in a referendum; but my view is still that even an initial 2:1 opinion poll majority in favour of leaving the EU could be reversed. That is what happened in 1975, and it could easily happen again.

  7. Posted September 30, 2014 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    John, agreed.

    An old episode of ‘Steptoe and Son’ once said in precis “If you take a political stance then you halve our customers”.

    Such sentiments I recognise. A muti-national saying in esssence ‘stay an EU slave to suit us’ does not engender customer loyalty.

    • Posted September 30, 2014 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

      Absolutely!

      Tad

    • Posted September 30, 2014 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

      Atlas – The Conservatives haven’t taken a political stance and they’ve lost over half their customers.

      The one place a political stance is definitely needed is politics.

      • Posted October 1, 2014 at 6:29 am | Permalink

        Indeed where is the political vision for lower taxes, more real jobs, freedom, far fewer parasites & more efficient government?

  8. Posted September 30, 2014 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    The leadership of companies – large and small , do have a responsibility to their shareholders , employees and other investors in their activities to speak up if they believe there are influences that are likely to be detrimental to them . The Chairman of a Board does not act alone , he exists in the company of other Directors , he listens to their opinions , he consults with others if he considers it wise and then decides what to say and do having told his Board ; he certainly does not and should not act in isolation . If his actions do not accord with the view of shareholders , they can vote him out – they are the only ones who have this right and power . The leadership of the CBI , EEF and other similar bodies is a different matter ; they are entitled to urge on their membership what they may see as threats and weaknesses and to lobby on their behalf having gained previous consent ; if they go “public” without prior consent , then they are in breach of the rules of their organisations and would be disciplined for doing so . I , as one of the electorate ,want to see us out of the EU or , at least , have our relationship with it substantially altered ; I want to hear from as many bodies , organisations and influential individuals , to temper and assure my views and I will use this entire background in my mind when I vote ; the last thing I want when I vote is to act in a state of ignorance and isolation .

  9. Posted September 30, 2014 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    If you could publish the text of your speech to the fringe meeting that would be helpful.

  10. Posted September 30, 2014 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    We still haven’t had an apology from Major, Heseltine Clarke etc etc about the ERM and subsequent joining of the Euro which I’m sure they all support.
    I see Ford are on the list of flag wavers for the EU after using our money to build Transits in Turkey which isn’t a member.
    These multi nationals like being in the Eu because they can make money in Britain and pay tax in Luxembourg. If we left the EU they would have to pay us the tax.
    I was gobsmacked at your boss telling us at conference that if we wanted the deficit removing and immigration controlling the only game in town was Tory.
    I see the deficit is rising and immigration stands at 520,000 per annum. If this is controlling God help us.
    I read on an obscure blog that as UK government borrowing spirals out of control, the only way to pay it down will be a levy on all our bank accounts similar to Cyprus. This has a very true ring about it and could lead to a revolution on the streets.
    I see Gideon never mentioned in work benefits of £6 billion to foreigners or child benefit being paid offshore. Taboo subjects eh. John?

    • Posted September 30, 2014 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

      Avoiding tax by offshore means is condemned, but paying benefits offshore is fine with the Tories! No wonder people come here have their babies and return, what a money Spinner. You have to smile at the stupidity of the modernisation party in Government. Almost like the severe spending cuts to our armed forces which protect us while increasing overseas aid to countries that do not need it and hate us! Or is it all part of the stealth to create the EU defence force as we will all need to fight together nonsense.

  11. Posted September 30, 2014 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    The BBC seems to get it wrong on an hourly basis.

    The BBC made a political statement yesterday:

    “Cutting welfare goes down well with voters. But it is notoriously difficult to achieve meaningful savings without hurting the very people you are looking to support and encourage.”

    – from Mark Easton, Home Editor

    The BBC’s opinion misunderstands what happens when the state uses too many resources on welfare. I have seen this personally many times, where family and friends no longer need to care because the state is doing it for them.

    The more the state does, the less caring we become as a society. Once again the BBC confuses reality with its own propaganda.

  12. Posted September 30, 2014 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    A Board may genuinely believe there to be risks to their business of the UK staying in or leaving the EU (just as they saw risks or benefits of Scottish independence), so are they to make no comment to investors? Had Scotland voted YES and a public company’s profits nose-dived wouldn’t shareholders have just cause to complain if they’d not been warned of a risk to profits?
    You’re right to point to the ERM and Euro debacles as evidence of companies being on the wrong side (with hindsight) of the argument, and this context hasn’t been reported in recent coverage of your speech, but surely the role of the Board is to balance the differing views and risk assessment of its Directors when a public statement about any risks needs to be made, certainly if there is a clear and present danger of a profit impact.
    In your own case, your political views would have been well known to your fellow board members but that doesn’t mean that a major political risk shouldn’t be discussed by the Board and an agreed position supported by all Board members needed to be published?

    If the Conservatives are elected next year, I can’t imagine for one minute that the campaigning for the Referendum will be able to avoid the obvious questions of job security, economic growth, currency value, interest rates, even the impact of tit-for-tat trade wars between EU countries, like we saw when the French held up and burned our trucks of exported sheep.
    So who is to inform these discussions – only politicians? Will we hear anything from the EU itself and other EU countries, and would their views be objective? So isn’t it only fair that we hear something from multi-national businesses, the CBI, OECD, IoD, IMF and other groups? To leave the EU would be one of the biggest decisions in the country’s history – not that the present EU institutions are doing much to warm us more to the cause – yet we lack a fully developed list of pros and cons even to help us in time for the General Election, let alone a referendum that might follow it.

    Reply I want free speech and lively debate – why would I run this site if I didn’t? My point is business people in large companies should make their points as citizens or as members of referendum campaigns, not in the name of their business!

  13. Posted September 30, 2014 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    Whenever I am unsure about something I wait to hear the CBI’s view. That usually tips it for me – in the opposite direction.

    • Posted September 30, 2014 at 10:17 am | Permalink

      Yep .

      What can you expect from an organisation with “Industry” in it’s name which has a director general who has never worked in industry ?

      The CBI were anti-shale and pumping green ideology almost as hard as the Beeb .

      Leading the charge to get wrid of vocational pensions so money saved could flood into inflating land values and putting housing out of reach of the majority and sentencing them to poverty in old age .

      What an unpatriotic organisation it is .

    • Posted September 30, 2014 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

      Successor to the Federation of British Industries, some of whose members had to be ordered to stop trading with the enemy.

  14. Posted September 30, 2014 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    Hyperbolic interventions of this nature do little to advance your own cause; you’d do better to take the advice of Roy Grainger (above) and work out how to counter the arguments when big business does declare the risks of Brexit. You must surely recognise that for many companies there are risks – as well as opportunities – for big business in the event of Brexit. Good corporate governance demands, as the Scottish referendum showed, that companies points out risks to its business to its shareholders which may be a change from your time as a chairman of a plc given recent changes in disclosure regulation.

    My main gripe though, however, is that, while I recognise your consistency in this matter as laid out above, your words smack of an intolerance and a desire to stifle argument that was present throughout the Scottish referendum. Conservatives spend their entire political lives having to deal with the pious morality of the left who insist all too often that the sheer immorality of the politics of the right denies them to right to speak. They are, despite their own devotion to tolerance, surprisingly intolerant of the views of others. In this instance, I fear you give the impression of going down the Sillars track so my advice, for the very little that it’s worth, is that you take on your opponents on the matter at hand and leave the hyperbole at the door.

    • Posted September 30, 2014 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

      When are the Tories going to start begging us to stick with them like they did the Scots ?

      Boris makes crude jokes about vacuum cleaners and some non-entity jokes about fingers up bottoms (can’t be bothered to look up her name.)

      Would they have dared spoken of Scottish politicians and political leaders in this way ? Where is the respect ?

      Last week a minister flashing online. What are we supposed to make of this vulgar lot ?

  15. Posted September 30, 2014 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    The FT this morning quoted you thus: ‘Mr Redwood, a senior figure on the eurosceptic wing of the Conservative party, warned companies to “keep out” of the debate, saying they should beware not to “meddle in politics”.’
    I notice that you do not use the “meddle in politics phrase” in your diary post today. Out of curiosity, did you use it elsewhere?

    Reply I have not used it in a written piece or considered speech. I do not recall some of the words ascribed to me in an unscripted reply to a question. I do not wish to make a fuss about that, as I do wish to get across my main point which is a good Chairman does not seek to sue a large company to project his own political views on sensitive subjects.

    • Posted September 30, 2014 at 10:21 am | Permalink

      Thanks, and fair enough; I just wondered if you had been misquoted and wanted to flag it.

  16. Posted September 30, 2014 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    I am not on this wavelength at all. Never mind the legalities, no company is likely to do or say much, especially not on a nationwide very public referendum, without its Board having agreed; and this after the Board, having considered points along lines raised in today’s article, and decided what they believe is in the interests of the company. The company is certainly not doing anything illegal, rather the opposite, so as I say I do not follow.

  17. Posted September 30, 2014 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    I don’t think that Corporate Business and big money are necessarily wholly guilty of the impetus that brings them to the political arena.

    The ‘in’ side co-opted – on the grandest scale – a coalition with business (not to mention media near-monopoly) for their own in 1975. It was an intentional applied tactic.

    I’ve mentioned to you in relatively recent articles that Labour have no intentions whatsoever in providing a public presence in Political debate with regard to their pro-EU programme. Again, it’s their core instinct and tactic which really represents their strategy from the point of the death of John Smith. Actual intent is hidden behind assurances of referendums (naturally – never held) whilst the presence of politicians in the debate is replaced by the presence of industrial or economic interests – skewing the debate away from that of political and inappropriately inferring that consequences of EU membership are industrial and economic. Those figures happily foregoing the need to introduce or permit proper coverage of the political aspect of the debates.

    But just to labour that point, their presence is a direct result of the requirements of one side of the politics. The ‘pro’ side will not debate in terms of political nitty-gritty. Have not debated for decades. As you will recognise John – the ‘political’ arguments ‘for’ membership of the Single Currency twenty years ago consisted of accusing their opponents of xenophobia. Even now there has never been a proper, coherent debate with regard to single currency membership in the UK. It’s hardly changed in the meantime – witness Clegg’s twinned, pitiful performances in his TV debates against Farage this year. In political terms from the pro-EU side in those debates, I learned literally nothing new; and that which was presented was wholly discredited drivel.

    Our industrial and economic interest figures provide a fig-leaf for that. Elsewhere I’ve made this suggestion – not least to you yourself in recent weeks John.

    Pro-EU figures on interview broadly have a tendency towards arrogance, aloof moral superiority and verbose aggression. You yourself, maybe Mr. Rees-Mogg have in recent years handicapped yourselves in public interview by assuming you had been invited to make political comment, rather than loudly add to preposterous mythology by talking over somebody denuded of any real concept of the nature of the EU. You attempt to talk about the actual issues and generally, the interview itself was specifically structured to preclude that discourse.

    I noted during the Scotland debate that your interventions were more direct and more assertive than they might have been in recent years John. That needs to carry over into the EU battle. In short, no more Mr. Nice Guy. When placed in front of Sir Martin Sorrell, or Richard Branson, or Eddie Izzard, to be blunt, instead of measured discourse, it’s time for you to be bloody rude. I know that’s against your nature, but the nature of the debate now demands it. When faced with Sorrell for example, you need to go over his head to the interviewer and demand why he’s even in the interview – ask what specific evidence there exists that he has a genuine insight into the political debate, and how he can be held accountable to any UK electorate if his own views are proven to be wrong? Aggressively block interruptions, misleading routes, fig-leaves, evasion of debate, avoidance of debate. Purposeless cul-de-sacs in verbal jousting. It’s too rare the genuine opportunities present themselves these days and wasting time on figures presented specifically as wrecking crews needs to end. Literally, treat such figures with the disdain they deserve.

    I know you can’t control the attendance of such a debate John, but you can make the relevant protest at the makeup of that attendance. And on each and every occasion. Eventually, that message will filter through to the public. But playing the hands you’re dealt is no longer appropriate. Time to change the nature of the game itself.

  18. Posted September 30, 2014 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    If a company’s main trading area is, say, Europe and the government is proposing to withdraw from the EU, surely any company who considers its trading might be adversely affected surely has a duty to tell its shareholders. The problem is those companies who would not be affected have no similar duty to advise their shareholders accordingly. Nor do they have a duty to tell their shareholders if their profits might increase because of any reduction in regulation although many would as it would boost their shares.
    It’s a tricky area, but companies should stick to hard facts, advising their shareholders as required by law and not mounting campaigns on political issues.

  19. Posted September 30, 2014 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    Dear Mr Redwood,
    The press is indeed merciless.
    However, do corporations not have distinct political interests seperate from the personal convictions of their sherholders and other stakeholders? If so, these must be expressed, surely, and that responsibility falls to the Chairman of the Board, irrespective of whether his own personal views coincide.
    Kind regards,
    Christian

    • Posted September 30, 2014 at 10:27 am | Permalink

      “The press is indeed merciless.”

      When they want to be and when they are allowed to be .

      The press and media have not fulfilled their function in a democracy .

      They have failed to warn us of threats to our freedom like the European Arrest Warrant , trials held in secret , removal of the right to trial by a jury of our peers , removal of habeas corpus , inferiority of the European legal system which is being foisted on us , profoundly anti-democratic nature of the EU and NWO .

      On top of all this our press has been put under Govt supervision because the progressive consensus thought they were a danger to their agenda and put pressure of Leveson to bring them to heal .

  20. Posted September 30, 2014 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    What I dislike about businesses and business groups contributing to the debate, (apart from the fact that they have been totally wrong on issues such as the ERM and the Euro) is that they remove attention from the fact that these are largely political questions and make them entirely about economics, and fairly short term economics at that

  21. Posted September 30, 2014 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    Glad to hear that your actual comments were a little more nuanced than they’ve been reported (and not just by the BBC, as I’m sure you’re aware).

    It still sounds an awful lot like you’re telling companies what is best for them, though, rather than listening to them.

    How will you respond if a company announces it thinks that a common market of 500m customers is better than one of 70m, where those other 430m are reached only after tariffs are added, and regulations over which we have no input are adhered to?

    I believe that kind of a statement is the kind of thing a company makes if it believes it is in its best interests. Harking back to what you perceive to be mistakes in the past on forecasting (seemingly absolving your own government at the time of any responsibility for what went spectacularly wrong) is utterly irrelevant, here.

    Why should companies who feel that being part of a large common market is better for them not voice this rather obvious statement?

    • Posted September 30, 2014 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

      It is not a common market, it is far, far more sinister and anti-democratic than that.

    • Posted September 30, 2014 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

      If only it were a common market, because that is what I originally voted for.

      It stopped being that decades ago when it started changing its name several times on route to being a centralised legislation and regualtion generating old fashioned superstate.

      The strucure is failing and has resulted in huge levels of unemployment, especially youth unemployment, its growth rates are very poor and its share of world trade is falling.

      • Posted September 30, 2014 at 9:49 pm | Permalink

        But this is where the subterfuge came into play Edward. Once the people had voted for one thing, and the ‘pro-EU’ people had got a foothold, they began the process of changing the thing into something else.

        People who use underhanded methods to get what they want are not to be trusted, and that has proven to be the case throughout history. They keep usurping democracy, then one day, the people suddenly wake up and find there isn’t a democratic process left to save.

        Tad

    • Posted September 30, 2014 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

      James Reade- I seem to recall you telling us that education was our biggest ‘export’.

      How many millions of people is in that market then ? Will the EU reject it if we leave ?

      As regards loss of trade: there are, of course, the BRICs, the Commonwealth and, indeed, the EU to trade with. There always will be. They won’t stop selling us BMWs.

      • Posted September 30, 2014 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

        More business is likely to be lost because of high energy costs imposed on us by membership of the EU.

  22. Posted September 30, 2014 at 11:30 am | Permalink

    Roy Grainger says above: “Companies are required by law to list and comment on material risks to their business and their mitigation strategy, these laws were brought in in the interests of shareholders.”

    However, I think there’s a massive difference between:

    • telling only your shareholders that you believe the EU/ Scottish independence/ or whatever, will be bad for the company then telling them what you are doing within the company to risk manage/ mitigate the impact of it happening; and

    • publicly campaigning/ writing open letters to newspapers/ lobbying MPs/ going on business news programmes to proselytise your personal views as chairman, using the company’s size or reputation to enhance that view.

    The first option conforms with the law but I think the second option is well beyond a chairman’s remit.

    • Posted September 30, 2014 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

      Indeed. This should be pointed out to Today presenters.

  23. Posted September 30, 2014 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    Some big companies benefit from EU regulations which impose costs that small businesses can not afford, even when they are not relevant to the markets of the small businesses. It is not surprising that they want to continue doing this, and openly support the EU.

    On the subject of BBC bias, or a default position, the BBC reporter commenting on the recent Arnhem remembrance parachute drop by the Parachute Regiment described it as “by today’s European armies”.

    • Posted September 30, 2014 at 8:04 pm | Permalink

      The parachute drop included soldiers from France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, and Poland.
      http://www.itv.com/news/anglia/2014-09-21/reenacting-ww2-air-operation/

      • Posted October 1, 2014 at 10:41 am | Permalink

        Sorry. I only saw red berets. Should have watched ITN.

    • Posted September 30, 2014 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

      More so, large Companies benefit from being able to set up large call centres/manufacturing bases in low cost areas which are only competitive with small niche companies when they can also distribute through their own outlets Europe-wide, rather than having to cater for local tastes etc. from local production. This substantially disadvantages small companies, which get no voice on Radio 4, in comparison with large companies, which do.

  24. Posted September 30, 2014 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    Many companies (and charities) get large grants from the EU, so will not want to risk losing them. This information should be made public.

    • Posted September 30, 2014 at 8:18 pm | Permalink

      The CE marking regime is great for large companies, but more difficult and costly for smaller ones. Let’s have a UK or the old BSI kitemark to distinguish quality British products, so buyers from the NHS to Mrs Smith know the product is quality-made and made in the UK!

  25. Posted September 30, 2014 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    I agree with your points. Any large corporation that wants to force its views on the public is a business not worth having in the country.

    Scotland is now bitterly divided however the corporations have shot themselves in the foot. Scotland will eventually leave the UK, the SNP have almost doubled their membership, don’t be surprised if there is another referendum in say five or ten years time, but next time they will probably win.

    The bankers have no right to dictate how the UK is governed and anyway they have nearly bankrupted up and demanded bails outs.

    We now now need a debt free and usury free banking system because it has asset stripped us.

  26. Posted September 30, 2014 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    You make some good points John. So did Max Keiser this lunchtime on RT’s ‘The Keiser Report – episode 660’. Perhaps people would care to see it as he gives an indication of where we’re headed thanks to out-of-touch politicians and business chiefs.

    In a recent survey of MPs, (quoted in an earlier episode) it was found amongst those who responded, that 72% couldn’t say how the banking and financial services industry actually worked. That is ridiculous, but not at all surprising. It’s how we managed to accumulate a mountain of debt, and why we dance to someone else’s tune.

    Whereas politicians do have some legitimacy when it comes to commenting on particular situations both at home and abroad, company CEOs can often exacerbate a problem. (example deleted ed)
    I wonder if they’re just about to make the same mistake with China and Hong Kong, in the pursuit of ‘globalisation’?

    Tad Davison

    Cambridge

  27. Posted September 30, 2014 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

    I agree with your piece but on the other side of the coin why doesn’t government stay out of business?

    Since when has it been the responsibility of government to tell companies what they can pay their employees? Surely the consequence of a vastly inflated minimum wage will be that many small start-ups and those employing 1 or 2 will be unable to continue?

    I did not know I was living in the USSR where the State controls everything and there is no such thing as “markets”.

  28. Posted September 30, 2014 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

    It rather appears that the BBC are taking something out on you..misquoting you to Stanley Johnson on Daily Politics. Not A Neil but the uber establishment Coburn. Johnson Sr batted it away. As journalists go she is predictable and lightweight. I wonder what the BBC tally is for today; I’ll be watching news night with interest.

    Might be something to do with your pro-English stance..

    Reply, Yes the BBC and the pro Euro groups have clearly decided to have a go based on what they hoped I said rather than on my clear statements on Scotland the EU referendums on this site.

    • Posted September 30, 2014 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

      I might add that when all the ex Guardianistas and obscenely paid champagne socialists on the BBC attack you, then you must doing something right!

    • Posted September 30, 2014 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

      Reply to reply,
      Your old leadership partner and EU fanatic Ken Clarke has also waded in against you. I would take that as a good sign.

  29. Posted September 30, 2014 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

    Well, on one hand you are correct to chastise those CEO’s who advise their shareholders/ electorate how to vote but on the other hand should they not point out to their shareholders, any potential problems arising from such a vote, especially if they become damaging to company strategy and/or its future prosperity?

    reply Yes, as I have explained here before! Why don’t people read what I write instead of take the words of Labour inspired papers like the Guardian and Mirror? I write what I mean.

    • Posted October 2, 2014 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

      John, first of all, neither of those two comics are on my reading list. Second, I do read what you write but not all of it every day. I do not actually recall any previous reference to this particular subject but please don’t beat a poor pensioner just because he may have suffered a lapse of memory, if that were the case. Such behaviour is not Conservative behaviour.

      Reply I wrote about it during the Scottish referendum. I have a main article in the Business pages of the Times today setting out my position on this again to put the warped record straight.

  30. Posted September 30, 2014 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

    The piece really did miss you explaining this, and was very weak in its reasoning on your behalf. Then we had the Chairman of that well-known company in a competitive market giving excellent service, (yes I am being sarcastic), BT, trying to tell us that all large companies had as much right to “give their views” on referendum issues as ordinary people.

    NO, NO, NO. Just stick to trying to keep a decent Broadband line in place please, and when you get that right we’ll talk about extending your horizon elsewhere.

    We have enough large companies bossing us around, then crawling off to pay their tax or set up call centres elsewhere. You are absolutely right. The last thing we need is them meddling in the personal and political choices of voters.

  31. Posted September 30, 2014 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

    Well, here we go…. Theresa May plans to ban ‘extremists’…… Interested in your views on this matter John…… The Prime Minister has said he intends that the new powers to tackle extremism to go beyond existing laws on incitement to hatred and incitement to violence.

    But how to define…. I am afraid that as David Davis said, this is the thin end of the wedge. Bringing something as woolly as this into being is a recipe for disaster. It will give the power to decide who is an ‘extremist’ to a politician….. No way, no way

    Where will the line be drawn?…. Are ‘conspiracy theorists’ (i.e. someone who disagrees with the official government version) to be designated as ‘extremists’?

    zorro

  32. Posted September 30, 2014 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

    Dr Redwood I see you are understandably maintaining radio silence on the Reckless matter. There are other more important matters.
    I know your views on joining UKIP but you must find some of the conduct of colleagues distasteful ?..particularly the colourful language reported from the PM downwards and Grant Shapps overblown conference speech.
    What kind of example does this set when senior politicians cannot just accept they have a difference of opinion instead of making personal attacks.

    I don’t think it’s been a good week for the standing of Conservative politicians they have come across to me as self serving and cliquey – it’s been like observing a playground.

    • Posted October 1, 2014 at 6:12 am | Permalink

      It is curious that Conservatives making offensive personal attacks on UKIP defectors and UKIP voters as Matthew Parris, Boris Johnson, Ken Clarke and David Cameron have all done think it will help them win over UKIP voters at the next election.

  33. Posted September 30, 2014 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

    Tell me about it. They will misinterpret, escalate their misinterpretation and before you know it their interpretation has the ears of every chief executive. Morons!

  34. Posted September 30, 2014 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

    P.S. Do you think it has something to do with IQ?

  35. Posted October 1, 2014 at 1:08 am | Permalink

    Back to Afghanistan, the case for perpetual war is won in the usa and will be won hear to with conservative party and the labour party. All they want now is war in the ME to go on and last as long as possible, if that does not do the trick, they will start in russia again. EU with spain rajoy and 12 judges say no democracy for catalonia in spain. Hear i see that wet &mad will give you a bonus if you join one of his ponze but if your working hard or out of work throw bad luck you will get a cut.

  36. Posted October 1, 2014 at 1:18 am | Permalink

    Not short of money for wars the elite, bankers, migrants and food banks, but short of money for hard working english people and the poor english people

  37. Posted October 1, 2014 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

    Mr Redwood, this is not a polite debate about the advisability or otherwise of company representatives making comments on political decisions which may affect their business. It is about you as a senior member of a political party currently in government making crude utterly reprehensible threats against companies whose representatives differ from you on this or any other matter. Who the hell do you think you are and what sort of country do you think you live in? Your remarks are an utter disgrace.

    Reply My remarks are on this site and they are no disgrace. I am not responsible for twisted versions of what I said in the media- I write what I mean and stand by what I wrote. What exactly do you disagree with?

  38. Posted October 2, 2014 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    This is what I disagree with. The press have directly quoted your words and I would ask you to confirm or deny the accuracy of these quotes. After criticising business leaders for giving their views on the dangers of BREXIT (which you are entitled to do) you are quoted as saying “If they don’t understand that now they will find those of us organising the ‘get out’ campaign will then make life difficult for them by making sure that their customers, their employees and their shareholders who disagree with them, and there will be a lot, will be expressing their views very forcefully and will be de-stablising their corporate governance.”

    “This is absolutely crucial that these people get this,” the former Welsh secretary said.

    “That it will be deeply disruptive to their businesses, and maybe even to their own tenure of their jobs, if a chief executive with a handful of shares thinks he can put the voice of a multi-national corporation behind a highly intense political argument in one country in which they operate. “It would be extremely foolish and WE MUST MAKE SURE THAT THEY HAVE TO PAY A VERY DEAR ECONOMIC AND FINANCIAL PRICE WERE THEY TO TRY THAT ILL-JUDGED THING [my capitals].”

    As I have stated above these threats are utterly reprehensible and an utter disgrace.

    Reply I did not threaten anyone and have set out my comments very clearly on this site. I am not responsible for comments about me in newspapers. I go to great lengths to set out my views on this website so anyone interested in my views can see what I actually think and write! You will observe that I seek to avoid harsh words.

  39. Posted October 2, 2014 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    With respect you seem to be implying if not actually saying that the quotation (from Huffington as it happens) is inaccurate. If so please say in what way it is inaccurate. Will you be officially challenging the various media who have used what they purport to be direct quotes on these lines and setting out exactly where they have erred? I think your reputation is at stake here.

    Reply I have set out my views on this website and in the Times today. The reports are wrong or misleading. I do not feel my reputation is at stake at all. I have written what I believe and stand by what I wrote. I have often been traduced by others, so what’s new?

  40. Posted October 6, 2014 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    Dear Mr Redwood,

    Following on from your comments about whether businesses should comment on any future EU in/out referendum, if one day there is such a referendum the one issue I would most like to hear about is whether my employer thinks being in the EU will be likely to be good or bad for the business that employs me. This would be more valuable to me than conjecture from anybody else, because it will give me a view on whether my job security and prospects are likely to be enhanced or prejudiced by EU membership.

    Do your comments mean you believe employers and business owners should refrain from telling their employees their views on the likely impact on their businesses? If so I think this is undemocratic and will merely contribute to an emotional, irrational and uninformed referendum debate.

    NDM

    Reply No I do not think that. Please read what I wrote rather than what my critics wish I had said!

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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