Hare got it wrong

Observations on business

David Hare's stock-in-trade is attacking the powerful, which is a safe, lucrative endeavour in a liberal democracy like ours. He is a propagandist - one of the best I've seen - and in the Christmas edition of this magazine he added the outgoing CBI chief, Sir Digby Jones, to a list of targets that in the past has included Tony Blair, George W Bush and Rupert Murdoch.

Funnily enough, I find myself drawn to Hare's work. I have compilations of his essays on my bookshelves - though many annoy me intensely - and I sat through Stuff Happens on the opening night, though on occasion I thought it simplistic. I guess I was supposed to get angry: I edited for Murdoch; some of Hare's targets are personal friends. He wants people like me annoyed.

I hold no brief for Digby but I think Hare's attack on British business deserves rebuttal. This country has a talent for business as it has a talent for producing writers and artists, yet celebrating the success of our business class is so unfashionable that it is almost socially unacceptable.

I won't reprise the rant in full, but Hare called Jones "the most egregious example of what you might call the whingeing capitalist'', suggested that CBI members had made "ludicrously large personal fortunes'' under new Labour, and concluded: "It's ignoble to spend your life defending the strong against the weak, but it's more ignoble to make a living pretending the strong are hard done by.''

Is the CBI "fabulously rich"? No. It is an underfunded trade body. Does it whinge? No, and new Labour doesn't listen to it as closely as Hare imagines. Does it favour the "strong against the weak"? The suggestion exposes Hare's 1960s Marxist-Leninist DNA. In fact, business makes us all stronger and has no reason to exploit the weak. Quite the reverse. It is the connective tissue enabling our national life to function, and without it we would be moribund.

And who does Hare think controls national debate in this country? It certainly isn't business. Our daily agenda is controlled by a metropolitan media consensus that is largely ignorant of business. So, just as John Cleese condemned Gerry Robinson and Charles Allen as "upstart caterers" when they bought Granada, the "metromedia" class of which Hare is an elder statesman thinks it acceptable to attack Digby.

The truth is that business success underpins national success - including in the arts. Does Hare object, I wonder, when Vivien Duffield gives £5m to the South Bank Centre? Does he condemn Jacob Rothschild or Peter Moores for their generosity to the arts? BP and Travelex have funded the National Theatre; are they "exploiting the weak"?

I'm not saying Digby is perfect. Fewer pinstripe suits might have been advisable. But Hare's rant against him and against business in general should not go unchallenged. He is simply wrong.

David Yelland is senior vice-chairman of Weber Shandwick UK and Ireland. He edited the Sun from 1998 to 2003

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