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12 October 2015
The first is an observation on the politics of capitalism at the Party conference season. I spoke to the Solace annual conference on Friday, and asked attendees if, like me, they had been called a “Tory scumbag” by the anti-capitalist protestors in Manchester. Very wonderfully, Jane Dudman, editor of the excellent public service leaders pages at the Guardian, put her hand up and said that she had too.
This does suggest to me that the anti-capitalist side could be more discriminating in their targets (#shouldhavegonetospecsavers perhaps).
The bigger point is that the basic debate on capitalism was back at centre stage at the Conservative conference in particular. Provoked by the protesters, and no doubt by the election of Jeremy Corbyn, many Conservatives felt that the free market approach was now in question. Speaking at the Reform open fringe held in partnership with the London Stock Exchange and the BVCA, Greg Hands MP said that arguably the anti-capitalist side had won the last General Election, by around 39 per cent of the vote to 37 per cent.
On reflection, the protesters might feel that they had misjudged the conference as much as they misjudged Jane Dudman. I did not pick up any hint of a desire for unfettered, unregulated capitalism red in tooth and claw. On the contrary, the debate on the fringe was entirely about building a capitalism that welcomes profit-making, ethical behaviour, social responsibility and economic stability at the same time. The anti-capitalist movement might not agree but the free market debate has changed since the financial crisis, in a way that they would support.
The second subject is the public sector salary cap at the level of the Prime Minister’s salary of around £140,000. Reform has argued before that the cap is a bad idea because it measures the input (salary) rather than the outcome (value for money achieved by a government employee). It’s fine to pay people more than David Cameron if they are generating value at that level. Anyone who can turn around an NHS region, for example, is going to save billions of pounds over the years. It would be in all of our interest to pay that person multiples of the Number 10 salary if that is justified. The Government has recognised this in some areas, for example allowing the Ministry of Defence to recruit people of commercial experience on close-to-market salaries for its new procurement arm.
If we are to have a cap, perhaps it could at least reflect the true level of the salary. The annual salary may be £142,500 but the true figure is much higher than that because of the sums that Prime Ministers can earn later in their career, which must be at the level of millions per year for some years at least.
Could we compromise that the public sector salary cap should be (say) £500,000 per year? And that decisions on salary should be taken on value for money.
Andrew Haldenby, Director, Reform