Our politicians talk all the time about gaining our trust. Ed Miliband, in his speech to Labour Conference today, said the following:
The Labour Party lost trust on the economy.
And under my leadership, we will regain that trust.
I am determined to prove to you that the next Labour Government will only spend what it can afford.
That we will live within our means.
That we will manage your money properly.
As someone who believes that government can make a difference, I have a special responsibility to show you that every pound that is spent, is spent wisely.
Now maybe politicians like Mr Miliband say these things because they are perceptive and accurate in their understanding of the reality out there. On the other hand, the more cynical amongst you will argue that they say precisely what we need to hear – precisely what politicians generally don’t allow us to do. That is to say, they claim to aim to gain our trust and confidence because they know – exactly – they are not worthy of either.
Another part of Miliband’s speech today, though, is pertinent to the case in question – that of trust:
Take Fred Goodwin, who ran the Royal Bank of Scotland.
He was at the heart of the banking crisis.
Compare him to Sir John Rose, former Chief Executive of Rolls Royce, a great British business leader.
Creating wealth and keeping jobs in this country.
He is the true face of British business.
The vast majority of our businesses that have the right values and do the right thing.
Rooted in their communities.
Committed to their workforce.
And creating real, lasting value.
But at the time of the financial crisis, Fred Goodwin was paid over three times more than Sir John Rose.
I tell you something, Fred Goodwin shouldn’t have got that salary.
And I tell you something else:
We shouldn’t have given Sir Fred Goodwin that knighthood either.
Which is why this question occurs to me: if business wants government to deregulate its activities, and politicians understand – even if emptily – that they are obliged to gain our trust, why don’t businesspeople also feel just as obliged to convince us of their goodwill?
Why don’t businesspeople also feel just as obliged to “do the right thing” - to do “something for something”?
Why do businesspeople – as voters – expect their governors to do what they promise but reserve a completely different set of standards for their own pecuniary behaviours?
Why, indeed, in this Big Society environment, can’t we extend the concept of the public interest and apply it to those who work in the private sector?