Politics is everyone's business. Photo: Getty
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Politics is everyone's business: in defence of business leaders who reveal their party allegiance

Why it's wrong to admonish the potential future CBI chief for backing the Tories.

I own and run a business. I’m also a Lib Dem. And so, in two short sentences, I apparently have ruled myself out of ever being President of the CBI.

For if the reports are true, that’s what’s likely to happen to Paul Walsh. The former CEO of Diageo and non-exec Chairman of Compass Group had been heavily tipped to become the new President of the CBI and all appeared to be proceeding smoothly. Then news broke that Walsh was one of the signatories to the letter in The Daily Telegraph from one of the 100 business leaders suggesting an incoming Labour government would threaten the recovery. And now it seems the offer of the Presidency may be withdrawn.

It hardly comes as a huge revelation that numerous captains of industry are Conservative voters (even if Labour weighed in with an attack on Walsh for potentially impugning the neutrality of the CBI). And any decision to drop Walsh seems wrongheaded.

Just for starters, from now on, every incoming President of the CBI is going to be asked their political allegiance. Answer honestly and they immediately get ruled out of the running. Decline to answer and they look evasive – and start the hares running to find out if they happen to spend some of their downtime writing large cheques to their local Conservative Association.

Are we really saying that people running the CBI or the Institute of Directors or any one of the hundreds of trade associations in the UK can take no active interest in politics?  It’s been suggested that in Walsh’s case it was the high-profile nature of the declaration that was the issue. Really? So where is the line drawn? A letter to a newspaper? A poster in a window? Doing a round of leafleting?

Nor do I buy the argument that the issue is that he is using his business role to promote a political party. If those 100 business leaders had just signed their names without appending their company’s monikers, do folk honestly think we wouldn’t know who those FTSE 100 leaders work for?

Sticking your neck out and stating you political allegiance is a brave thing to do – trust me, you get a lot of flack for it. We should be admiring of people in every walk of life who are willing to publicly state that loyalty or belief – whether they’re the Chairman of a FTSE 100 company or a householder with a poster staked in the front garden.

Currently every party is stuffed full of folk who have never had a career outside politics. The cry to get more people with a wider experience of life into politics is one we hear over and over again. Yet when people do get involved – and let’s not forget both Labour and the Lib Dems have published their own letters from workers and business leaders backing each of them – they get attacked for putting their head above the parapet.

Criticise what people say by all means – that’s the essence of political debate. But punishing them for getting involved in the debate at all – that’s just plain illiberal. And making judgments like that is just what I thought the CBI was trying to avoid.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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Goodbye, Sam Allardyce: a grim portrait of national service

In being brought down by a newspaper sting, the former England manager joins a hall of infamy. 

It took the best part of 17 years for Glenn Hoddle’s reputation to recover from losing the England job.

Between leaving his job as manager in February 1999 and re-surfacing as a television pundit on ITV during the 2014 World Cup, Hoddle was English football’s great pariah. Thanks to his belief in faith healer Eileen Drewery and a string of unconventional and unacceptable views on reincarnation, he found himself in exile following in a newspaper interview during qualification for England’s Euro 2000 campaign.

But just as Hoddle is now cautiously being welcomed back to the bosom of English football, current incumbent Sam Allardyce has felt the axe fall. After less than two months in charge of the national side and with only a single game under his belt, the former Bolton Wanderers manager was caught up in a sting operation by the Daily Telegraph — allegedly offering guidance on how to circumvent his employer’s rules on third-party player ownership.

The rewards for guiding an English team to major international success promise to be spectacular. As a result, the price for any failure — either moral or performance-related — is extreme.

Hoddle’s successor – the endearing Kevin Keegan – resigned tearfully in a toilet at Wembley after a tumultuous 18-month spell in charge. His replacement, the laconic Sven-Göran Eriksson, provided moments of on-field excitement paired with incredible incidents of personal indiscretion. His tangle with "fake sheikh" Mazher Mahmood in the run up to the 2006 World Cup – an incident with haunting parallels to Allardyce’s current predicament – led to a mutual separation that summer.

Steve McClaren was hapless, if also incredibly unfortunate, and was dispatched from the top job in little over a year. Fabio Capello – who inspired so much optimism throughout his first two years in charge – proved himself incapable of lifting the hex on English major tournament fortunes.

The Italian’s star was falling from the moment he put his name to the oddly timed Capello Index in 2010, although his sustained backing of then captain John Terry over a string of personal misdemeanours would prove to be the misjudgement that ultimately forced his exit. As Allardyce has found out, the FA has become increasingly hard on lapses in moral judgement.

English football is suffused with a strange mix of entitlement and crushing self-doubt. After a decade that has given us a Wimbledon champion, several Ashes triumphs, two Tour de France winners and eye-watering Olympic success, a breakthrough in this area has never felt further away.

In replacing Capello, Roy Hodgson — the man mocked by Allardyce during his hours supping pints with Telegraph reporters — had hoped to put a rubber stamp on a highly respectable coaching career with a spell managing his own country. But this summer’s farcical defeat to Iceland at Euro 2016 put his previous career in a much harsher light.    

Allardyce was a mix of the best and worst of each of his predecessors. He was as gaffe-prone as Steve McClaren, yet as committed to football science and innovation as Hodgson or Capello. He also carried the affability of Keegan and the bulldog spirit of Terry Venables — the last man to make great strides for England at a major tournament.  

And as a result, his fall is the most heartbreaking of the lot. The unfairly decried charlatan of modern football is the same man who built a deeply underrated dynasty at Bolton before keeping Blackburn, West Ham and Sunderland afloat in the most competitive league in Europe.

And it was this hard apprenticeship that convinced the FA to defy the trendy naysayers and appoint him.

“I think we make mistakes when we are down here and our spirit has to come back and learn,” Hoddle mused at the beginning of his ill-fated 1999 interview. As the FA and Allardyce consider their exit strategy from this latest sorry mess, it’s difficult to be sure what either party will have learned.

The FA, desperately short of options could theoretically turn again to a reborn Hoddle. Allardyce, on the other hand, faces his own long exile. 

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