Not even Tony Blair was safe.

  • Source: Scotland on Sunday
  • Date: 21 February, 1999
  • Author: Antonia Swinson

"My Valentine last week consisted of a bottle of champagne from my husband and an unexpected package from Edinburgh University?s press office which was a copy of a promotional film about the University we had made as students in 1979 with Rector Magnus Magnusson. This was how we met , so it was romantic to see just how in love and young ( and thin) we were. This was until our son poked his head round the door and said , "Yuk, dad, you had zits!"

The seventies do look odd at this distance. Then , as we were cushioned on grants we could afford ideals and causes and although we were scruffy, we were also certain the world was lucky to have us. The Arts were then ?it?. The girl who landed The Scotsman traineeship was almost touched in the Union bar for her magical career-giving properties We were going to be the journalists, TV producers, actors, fashion designers and rock stars of the future. Those who did the ?milk round? for Marks and Spencer and ICI were pitied as ?grey students? who lived subterranean lives in the coffee bar under the George Square Library. Businessmen of course were the pits. The gin and jag values of Margo and Gerry in ?The Good Life? were a joke , and on a Saturday night we all waited in to find out Who Shot JR , though no one minded that the swine had been shot of course.

Yet within a decade we found ourselves way off the pace with the real action going on elsewhere. Business became sexy , greed was good. Margo metamorphosed into Alexis Carrington. Since the mid 90s this change has accelerated even faster so that Alexis is now a real-life Nicola Horlick , while the continuing rampant market makes multi-millionaires out of the grey students we once despised. One keen, greasy-haired creep I used to avoid has just sold his business for ?20million. Which brings me to last week and why for the very first time I feel sorry for Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and just for one nano-second even for Peter Mandelson too.

Henry Drucker talking on last Tuesday?s Newsnight about the GM Foods debacle commented that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown had never run anything in their lives before Labour came to power, and so they had fallen in love with businessmen who made decisions involving billions of pounds and thousands of employees. And yes, watching that promotional 70s video made me remember the young geeky Edinburgh University student rector Gordon Brown and that famous shot of Tony Blair in Ugly Rumours, all hair and teeth. How bitter and twisted they must now feel in their forties, realising they have actually been in the wrong game all along, in spite of Cherie?s earnings and the rise in the property market. Any gains they have accrued are peanuts in the global world they move in. As a London wife observed to me bitterly , she now realised she should have married a financier and not an architect charging the new middle class breadline ?35 an hour building the financier?s extension. How many members of the Cabinet , given their lives again, would have made straight for the City and to hell with power? Thatcher?s Methodist tendency to cap Cabinet pay did not help. So this bitterness now I suspect is skewing their judgement and fomenting their infatuation of big business, as if proximity will cause some ooffle dust of bull market magic to rub off them.

Yet we must settle for the people we are. Politicians are for the most part usually actors with ego. While successful businessmen are pragmatic exploiters of resources and assets. Neither are bad , but it is necessary to recognise the nature of the beast.I enjoy the company of businessmen and women, I admire their energy and their view of the world but I recognise too what a high price they pay , which politicians may perhaps feel they share without the profits. For example, loss of family life - Charles Handy famously wrote that his daughter once asked who that strange man was who joined them for Sunday lunch. Yet in business unlike politics where occasionally ideals seventies-style still lurk, friendships are overwhelmingly attached to your title , and to what you can you deliver. Real friendships are rare, as businessmen in particular only find out when they retire.(Women tend to have greater support mechanisms.) This is as true of the poor wee souls who have survived the kremlinology of Scottish life offices, as those retiring from the big corporations or the Square Mile. In hard times too, lack of success exposes these shallow friendships. During the last recession , three businessmen I knew committed suicide, for in the end, all the credit lines and networking in the world could not save them.

Perhaps a touch of seventies-style scepticism might be in order before the new millennium dawns. Community is still more important than money, and governments should be more powerful than global corporations. And while business is fascinating and hugely important to the prosperity of our country , it is not some god to be worshipped. How sad for us if we have ended up electing politicians who are constantly wishing they had been something in the City instead. Do we need them? No, like Michael Forsyth , let them give us a break , quit politics and show us how fast their hairy little legs go as they try and make up for lost time while the markets still soar.

Wednesday, 24 April, 2019
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