Never had it so good: It should be a debate not a sentence

Dan Martin
Former editor
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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 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.

Related articles:
Lord Young quits as enterprise tsar
Video: Lord Young's speech at The Pitch 2010
Theo Paphitis backs Lord Young's recession comments


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By ladylaff
24th Nov 2010 12:32

 This is what happens when you give a PR man the top job- style over substance.  He'll need to watch his back.

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By Drayton Bird
24th Nov 2010 12:37

It seems a shame that he resigned, but one wonders whether he is too easily upset, unable to take criticism or forced out by Cameron.

Any of those seem pretty worrying for someone who was supposed to make things happen. On the other hand, he survived under Thatcher, who was a holy terror compared to Cameron. A mystery.

I can't help being reminded of Frank Field who was asked by the fraud Blair to think the unthinkable - then thrown out when he did

-- Drayton

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By betterlanguages
24th Nov 2010 12:58

I have to confess to being quite surprised by the poll result suggesting that a majority of entrepreneurs wanted Lord Young to stay. To me listening to his reported comments on the news reminded me of the famous Gerald Ratner "its ####"moment. Having someone with responsibility for advising Government on economic affairs make a "you never had it so good" comment, is at best extremely insensitive in the current economic climate. I think the problem was the lack of qualification, his comments would be extremely offensive to anyone suffering hardship during the recession, whilst if he had said that some people had benefited from low inflation, and interest rates etc. no-one could really argue that he was expressing a valid opinion.

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By [email protected]
24th Nov 2010 13:05

I challenge all the retired policeman, teachers, doctors, firemen, postmen ............ with inflation proofed pensions to tell us why they think they haven't ever had it so good.

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By michaelhayman
25th Nov 2010 12:54

Free speech should be celebrated not controlled

My view remains that we have a government that is essentially well disposed to entrepreneurs. When the Prime Minister champions the "doers and grafters" I believe that he means it.

But deeds are more important than words. He needs independent and not partisan advice if he really wants to unleash the potential of this crucial segment of society.

His next appointment is a crucial one. I would like to see a candidate with a less overtly political past (Lord Young is a former Conservative cabinet minister) and the commitment to the independence of that post is pivotal.

My suspicion is that Downing Street is more comfortable dealing with the reliability of big brands. The Business Advisory Group, which contains some of the country's biggest companies is notable for its lack of entrepreneur firepower.

I co-authored a report for Virgin Media Pioneers called Disruptive Influence ( It makes the point that entrepreneurs by their nature disrupt environments, challenge the staus quo, and by doing so create change. This is their brilliance and also their challenge to the smooth predictability of government.

It's a talent that resists being shackled. If Mr Cameron wants to truly harness its potential he needs to remember that freedom of speech is a right and a responsibility that he needs to celebrate and not control. 

Thanks to everyone for their comments, tweets and emails.

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By 123Contracting
29th Nov 2010 13:18

His comments might not have been completely on the mark BUT surely he should be allowed to express his opinion, then been shot down by everyone who didn't agree and listened as to why they didn't and then come to a conclusion about the current state of the economy and what should be done to move forwards - healthy debate (the oposite to political debate).


Accountants for Contractors

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