Last night I was speaking in Nottingham and was advised to
‘keep it short and funny’ by one of the organisers.
I did my best but it was a long way to go for a Monty Python
sketch so I did 20 minutes, fifteen of them moderately amusing anecdotes about
people as varied as TB, Clive Woodward and Denis Thatcher, then five minutes
serious off the cuff about the state of the world.
The dinner was for chambers of commerce from Notts and
Derbyshire and I was rather dreading it because it was black tie (I’m with
Gordon on that) and because there had been a screw up on delivery of my books
for the guests (oh yes, still going very well).
But in the end I enjoyed it, not least because it
was an opportunity to take the pulse of business out of London.
I probably spoke, properly as it were as opposed to small talk, to no more
than a dozen people. But there were some interesting observations, some of
which I picked up on for my five minutes serious.
Some are the blindingly obvious – recognition that the economic condition is
serious and uncertain. A fear of the unknown. A sense that the problem really
But there were other points worth taking on board.
A real anger
at the national media’s refusal to report anything but dire news, which they
felt was making a bad situation worse, because so much of the problem was a
problem of confidence.
One man said he had just doubled his workforce.
A feeling that though some bankers may have been exposed
as greedy and irresponsible, there was a danger all bankers were being tarred,
which was affecting their confidence and ability to do the job they’re good at.
(The local president’s defence of local banks felt like a banking equivalent of
my blog on social workers yesterday).
A deeper and more sympathetic feel for GB’s job than is ever conveyed in the
media. Some criticism on specific measures, but more understanding than I had
A desire to see the whole government, not just GB, Alistair
Darling and Peter Mandelson, (who is going down well since his return to the
frontline) engaged in putting over a clear and confident narrative about how we
go from recession to recovery, and starting to paint the picture of what
follows. David Frost, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, was
fascinating about that.
But what was equally fascinating for me was the lack of real understanding of
what the Tory position was, and the lack of any real enthusiasm for them.
Now if course there will have been committed Tories in there – I
think I spotted a former MP in the room – and it may be that at events like
this, the diehards leave me alone. But it is usually my experience that Tories
like to have a bit of a go. Last night I felt very little of that.
I felt real understanding of the problems facing the country and the
government, some fear, but also a lot of confidence about their own firms,
growing anger at the media, and a feeling that the Tories were trying to get in
If Cameron has not sealed the deal with business, he has
certainly not sealed the deal with the public as a whole.