Even against the billing it got this morning on the Today programme (where it was anticipated that it would contain ‘little substance’) Cameron’s speech on responsible capitalism appears to have fallen flat.
On the basis of today’s performance it appears that the Prime Minister believes the excesses of corporate Britain can be solved by less regulation, and a Cooperatives bill. Apart from that we had some dubious sounding statistics, lots of bland assertions and an attempt to argue simultaneously for unconstrained free markets and measures to keep the unacceptable extravagances of turbo-charged capitalism in check.
But this is an impossible position, leading to clear contradictions in Cameron’s analysis.
He wants to be for job creation and growth, while cutting spending on the very programmes that help those facing unemployment and presiding over an economic policy which implicitly accepts that unemployment is a price worth paying. He argues for ‘corporate social responsibility and environmental responsibility’ while his Government’s policies have led to job losses in green industries and a growing green lobby backlash. And he criticises the previous Government’s ‘turbo-capitalism [which turned] a blind eye to corporate excess’ while refusing to support effective policies on limiting executive pay, and failing to advocate for industrial policies which have any chance of rebalancing the economy.
The Prime Minister sidestepped defining what an era of truly ‘responsible capitalism’ would look like. But the reality is that with his policy prescriptions it’s likely to be a more unequal and less successful version of what we have at the moment. A world of ‘less but better regulation’ facilitating markets which are ‘fair as well as free’ where ‘the real solution is more enterprise, competition and innovation’ will simply not solve the problems that most people refer to when they discuss growing discontent with British capitalism.
Simultaneously being for both the free market approach of the last 30 years and a ‘responsible capitalism’ does not add up. Small shifts of rhetoric and policy won’t solve the problems of falling wages, excessive rewards at the top, poor quality jobs, growing labour force insecurity and employment polarisation that the public care about.