Never had it so good: It should be a debate not a sentence
Michael Hayman argues that Lord Young shouldn't have resigned as David Cameron's enterprise adviser.
"I have considered my position overnight and in view of the reaction to the reporting of the interview I gave earlier this week feel that it would be right to resign forthwith from my position as your adviser.”
With these words the UK loses its enterprise tsar and is, in my view, all the worse for it.
It is not least because the letter itself casts a dark cloud over the role of independent advisers in government.
When Lord Young states that his principal reason for resigning is "the reaction to the reporting of the interview" we should be concerned. By doing so he does not admit he is wrong in what he said at all, his regret is the circumstance rather than the content.
The prime minister was swift to accept the resignation but I am not sure that he has left Downing Street a better place for having done so.
Who speaks truth unto power if independent advisers no longer have the responsibility to comment independently?
While being an adviser to the government is an honour it also needs to celebrate independence, not curtail it.
By not backing his man, the prime minister is in danger of sending out a message that style is more important than substance.
I certainly accept that Lord Young’s comments do not fit into the prevailing narrative of recessionary Britain but we should stand up for his rights to make them. He may have lacked sensitivity but it was no act of irresponsibility.
His downfall is an unfortunate victory for sentimentalism as it is certainly not a defeat of economic analysis. It makes us as a society all the poorer for it.
You might not agree with his comments, or even the way he said them, but you cannot deny that they represent a valid and important part of the reality of the UK today.
For many, the advantages of low interest and inflation rates do make the cost of living cheaper. In the field of enterprise, Lord Young’s patch, it is fair to say that there are some outstanding successes happening that are part of the economic fight back. For the 220,000 businesses that go bust each year there are a further 270,000 that establish to take their place.
A new BusinessZone.co.uk poll shows that entrepreneurs are worried and see his resignation as highly regrettable. They have lost a champion for the cause of the enterprise-led recovery.
I also believe that the affair casts a light in the way matters are reported in the media.
On the same day as Lord Young’s resignation made the front pages so did a seemingly unequivocal statement from Prince Charles indicating that there would be a Queen Camilla.
There is a great line, why let the truth stand in the way of a good story, and it is apt here. Both men have expressed views casually and have had them reported in ways that go far beyond the intent of their words.
Listen to the interviews of both Lord Young and the Prince and you hear hesitancy. Listen and read the reporting and you see the thundering voices of certainty.
Last week, I chaired a debate on the role of the media and entrepreneurs. The comment was made that the media are not out to get people who make reasonable comment. Indeed, the PR people just get in the way of fair debate. I don’t think so.
These last few days should be a salutary reminder of the importance of what you say and how and to whom you say it. It provides a lesson in the risks of the unguarded moment and the importance of self-discipline in comment.
I have heard Lord Young speak before and what he said in the interview is not new. The idea that here speaks the unvarnished truth of a man with ulterior motives is just immature tit for tat. To misrepresent him, as some have done, belittles everyone involved.
But a man of his experience should have been more careful and realistic. He should probably have had his PR adviser help him varnish his sentiment to more smoothly match the message of the day.
For this reason, perhaps more than those he stated, he is wrong. We have had it better and we have had times when independent advisers were saluted for independence and not casually cast aside for conformity.
Michael Hayman is co-founder of the public relations business Seven Hills.