"This is the worst kind of government imaginable!" Tory MP Brian Binley
The maverick businessman and Tory MP tells Asa Bennett why the coalition isn’t doing enough for business
Northampton South MP Brian Binley is not one to mince words.
He’s accused the prime minister of acting like the LibDems’ chambermaid, “treating his backbenchers and his party as an unnecessary inconvenience”.
What about for his own party? Cameron has, according to Binley, been a “rather disappointing custodian” and more of a “caretaker” of his team.
Binley is more than qualified to comment on Cameron’s man management, having been in business for decades. He started a direct marketing firm in 1989 and he’s still executive chairman of the firm, which now employs 140 people. In 1993, he started another business which currently employs 120 people.
As he tells me with pride on catching up with him, he’s still involved and the firms are “extremely successful and very profitable”. It seems little surprise to add that he’s part of Parliament’s business committee as well.
It’d be an understatement to say Binley has come far. He’s a self-described “working class lad”, whose family lived in a council house. Binley was the eldest of five children and his father worked in a shoe factory.
Given the experience of the veteran 70-year-old Binley, it seemed best to see what he had to say on how the government could do more for business, and how Cameron’s team was doing in government.
Quick disclaimer: he is a brilliantly frank figure so there may be a strong word or two.
Brian, is the government doing enough for business?
No, definitely no.
Micro SMEs are struggling for money. The banks are not lending micro-SMEs money. We must recognise that the major growth industries all start as micro businesses or most of them start as micro businesses at some stage.
The banks have no understanding of who they are and what they do. The banks have no representation at a local level as they used to when I started my business in 1989 and actually came out with £60,000 from a sub-branch manager. That would be impossible now.
More established SMEs have never been so cash rich. They’re cash rich because they lack confidence and that’s why I argue that the government needs to create more demand in various ways.
The first thing is to increase confidence; they can do a number of things.
Our capital allowance scenario in this country is one of the meanest in the world. If you want businesses to invest, you need to help encourage them to do and capital allowances are one of the best ways of doing that.
That of course helps other people because they not only buy capital equipment but they normally put it in a refurbished office. They employ more people as a result of the purchase of their capital equipment and it changes their attitude because they feel that they’ve got to go out there and make this thing work. That lifts the burden of gloom when you’re out there saying we’ve got to sell. Link that to banks being more amenable to business lending and you begin to get a feeling in the business sector of there’s something worth going for.
What else can they do?
They can help the construction industry in two ways.
On the big projects, they’ve cut back capital spending enormously whilst allowing revenue spending to grow quite sizably.
“All the stuff about cuts in the area is absolute nonsense”
The fact that they’ve cut capital spending whilst allowing revenue spending to grow is crazy, I think there ought to have been a much more balanced approach to that. That capital spending would have helped on the larger projects which filters down through supply chains and to smaller companies.
Secondly they needed to put a bottom in the housing market because most people in this country judge their well-being on the basis of housing and the price of their housing. If they feel that prices have stabilised, and they haven’t, then people begin to feel that they can invest more in their houses and if deposits for first time buyers were lower… we’ve had some work in that direction but nowhere near enough… that creates not only a greater sense of wellbeing in the minds of the people but it also creates a spending scenario.
It’s that increased spending that will return confidence to the SME sector that has the cash reserves and would have the backup that they haven’t had for a long time.
Why isn’t the government doing this?
Because it’s not listening!
Look at the green policy, absolute bloody nonsense!
Look at the green policy, absolute bloody nonsense! Look at how much we’re spending on windmills.
Did you know we don’t pay for a turbine in the length of its life for about 10 years? We stack up more .and more debt in that respect. I’d cut that whole windmill business out. That puts money straight back into people’s pockets.
This isn’t just about economic facts and figures, it’s about the way humans react as well. I don’t believe that George has taken those factors into account in any sense at all. It may be that the recovery is much more reliant on creating a sense of wellbeing than it is on a sizably quick deficit reduction.
The government would say they’re fully pro-business, are they not matching what they say in actions?
Weasel words come easily to politicians and they don’t believe the electorate have a long memory.
I can tell George and I can tell David and the coterie that surrounds them that the public are not as silly as some of their actions may suggest they think.
Some colleagues have said to me they’re too influenced by the LibDems?
Let me make a point about coalition government, this is the worst kind of government imaginable!
You look at when Maggie was in power, she was able to take the quick actions necessary to get us out of a very serious situation in that time and turn it around by 1997 to a situation where we had no budget deficit and I don’t think we had much public sector debt of any consequence.
We left a golden legacy to the incoming Labour government of the time. We did that because we had people who were committed to political change and particularly change in economic management.
They weren’t hindered by the need to pander to a coalition partner who didn’t share in any sense their philosophy.
Thatcher was able to manage a coalition of Thatcherites and wets, surely it’s a question of leadership for Cameron?
Oh yes. It’s also a question of narrative.
I think many people are concerned that we tip out press releases at the turn of a hat. Every day we’re looking for a press story, we comment on every issue under the sun. what we really need is a long-term narrative. Maggie Thatcher had that long term narrative. It was based on genuinely Tory principles.
“We are pandering to the Liberals and that means we’re playing politics”
We are pandering to the Liberals and that means we’re playing politics in order to keep a coalition together which might not even produce the result that George so often boasts about. And that’s our triple AAA rating. If our budget deficit goes up, do you believe we’ll keep that triple AAA rating? I think it’s in some doubt.
You’ve got to ask yourself, what have been the real benefits of being soft with Liberals? Of giving in? Of compromising - instead of having a long term narrative that you pursue with conviction!?
Is Osborne an authentic Conservative?
(laughs) He says he’s an authentic Conservative, as does the Prime Minister and every member of the Cabinet. Do they act like authentic Conservatives?
I think the truth of the matter is that many of the members of my association would answer in the negative.
Would you share that analysis?
I think it’s about that. I believe if they have the opportunity they’d delight in putting what they consider to be their Conservative principles into effect.
I think they’re much too concerned about keeping the coalition together and they’ve got real problems because they went ahead and set a 5 year parliament. We sealed it in with a 5 year parliament. I don’t think we’ll see the benefits of a 5 year parliament until we’ve got 30 or 40 years under our belt. We won’t know if it was the right thing to do.
There’s an argument that the economic agenda has been distracted by matters like AV and House of Lords reform…
Ah what’s a mansion tax going to do for housing in London?
I was told by one expert it would cause a property market meltdown…
They’re the strivers aren’t they?
Actually yes, let me pay tribute to David Cameron. I thought his speech at conference about strivers suggested a new change of direction. It suggested we had at last began to recognise where the real problems were and through the ages we had called them different people.
What was it – Mondeo Man? Then it was Worcester Man and all we’re talking about are the same people, the strivers! Those who aspire! Those who want a better life for themselves and their children and their grandchildren. That’s the very essence of aspiration.
There’s a disconnect in what Cameron says and does…
That’s exactly right.
Does Cameron understand strivers?
I don’t want to go too much there on posh boy stuff, I don’t think it matters that much providing to my mind you have a real understanding of the real world.
To gain that you need to turn a penny in the real world for five, seven years. That is the place to learn what the real world is all about. All too often, too many people come out of university, come here as a researcher, become a special adviser, become a young MP in their 30s and think they have an answer to every question and yet have no experience of having to support themselves in the real world and make judgements that they are accountable for in the real world.
What about Nadine Dorries saying the government was run by “two posh boys”?
I’m not using that language as I don’t think it’s helpful. I think it’s helpful to Nadine in that it gets her coverage, that’s what she wants and that’s fine. What I want are my grandchildren and children to have a better life.
“I have to argue with these people who have no real understanding of what it’s like out in business and the real world”
We’ve got to try and re-instil the ability for people to start businesses off and they’re doing it at the moment out of redundancy money. I’d rather they be doing it with some proper financing.
What do you think of Osborne’s reluctance for slashing the 50p tax rate to 40p?
It’s playing politics as opposed to doing what Maggie did, which is backing her own instincts.
We don’t see a lot of backing one’s political instincts, we see a lot of juggling of political balls.
Sometimes they end up dropping them…
Yeah they do and they get so fixated on a particular line that they don’t believe that you can fine-tune it, you can make it more effective and it’s one of the things you learn in management.
Creating a project is one thing, you’re often restrained by given parameters and making that decision is not the most difficult part of making a successful outcome. The difficult part is managing that outcome.
Has Cameron been a good manager of his party?
I’ve accused him of not being a good manager and I tell him there are people in his party that could help put it right.
Let me pursue the question of managing through, you’ve got to manage it, you’ve got to monitor it and fine-tune it. You’ve got to change things. You’ve got to police things. All of those words about managing a project and the great art of being a business manager very often isn’t the decision you make but the way you implement that decision and manage it through.
I raised it with a junior minister of this government on an issue to do with the Treasury and managing through in terms of the given projects we have supposedly to help small businesses get money from banks – none of which work.
I said “The trouble with you is you don’t manage a project through, you don’t check at the coalface. All you need to do is 3 or 4 telephone calls a week and in two or three months you’ll get a real idea of how it’s working.”
Are Cameron and his circle too laid-back?
I don’t think they know the art of management!
The minister said to me “That’s not my job, it’s the civil servant’s job”.
I said – “Excuse me, aren’t you an executive member of the government? Isn’t it your job to know what is going on?”
What about Cameron’s decision to blame his officials?
He doesn’t know about management! It’s easy to understand this! His junior ministers don’t know about it, they don’t think it’s their job to get to the coalface!
Every time I walk around my business I ask questions, I’d see a paper lying around and look at it. Just use your antennae!
The buck stops with him, that is the point!
If you’re going to rely on your civil servants and you know nothing about how it’s going down below and you’re just willing to accept their figures, how can you properly as an executive question them and fine-tune projects that aren’t working?
When you look at the Treasury, most of their bloody projects aren’t working! That’s through their total incomprehension of what it takes to be an executive in a big business unit.
There aren’t enough ministers with business experience…!
Absoutely right. We’re back to that phenomenon of university, researcher, special adviser, young MP and on the front bench by the time you’re 34.
They see it as a career. I see politics as being the whole learning ethos that I gained from a number of careers.
“There is the difference. If you see politics as a career, by the very nature of that exercise, you must become divorced from the real world”
Does Cameron takes the eye off the ball in driving his policy through?
Exactly right. That’s the essence of management.
He’s looking for a press release every day and “what’s tomorrow’s story?” and “we’ve got to consider how to keep the Liberals happy”, and “I’ve got to deal with Nick on this and Nick on that” – to the point where a Liberal can argue at their conference that they’ve got 75% of their manifesto requirements in this government and we’ve got less than 60%.
So would you stand by your description of Cameron as the LibDems’ chambermaid?
Yeah. It’s worth saying what I meant by that.
I mean that keeping Nick Clegg sweet is too high a price to pay when the people of this country think he should be driving in an aspirational sense the well-being and growth in the economy to create a better life for those that follow.
That is what Conservatism should be about.
I want you to have a better life – not I want Nick Clegg my colleague to have a better life!
Back to what my Dad said – I want you to have a better life – not I want Nick Clegg my colleague to have a better life! I want the people out there who I serve, I don’t serve Nick Clegg, I serve the electorate, I want their grandchildren and children to have a better life.
That should be our focused ambition, not looking for a press release on every bloody subject under the sun!
You’d say he’s obsessed with the media then?