When my job was attempting to predict future economic developments for the Shell oil company I was frequently reminded of an Arabic saying: ‘Those who claim to foresee the future are lying even if by chance they are later proved right.’
Small- and medium-sized businesses need access to a diverse range of finance options including non-bank lending. These new forms of finance are still small in scale today but they should over time bring additional choice and greater competition to the lending market.
On banks I make no apology for attacking spivs and gamblers who did more harm to the British economy than Bob Crow could achieve in his wildest Trotskyite fantasies while paying themselves outrageous bonuses underwritten by the taxpayer. There is much public anger about banks and it is well deserved.
My time at Shell was a most valuable experience because it taught me to look at the world in a long-term way. Shell takes a 20-year view on events and plans for different scenarios. It makes you see the world as a kind of large matrix.
I think what is happening is I think first of all there is confidence in the U.K. economy. We’re in a German rather than a Greek position in international financial markets which is very positive and keeps our debt service costs down and we’re also beginning to see real evidence of rebalancing.
I fear that the rising personal bankruptcies and repossessions are the first signs of bigger problems to come and personal debt – Gordon Brown’s legacy to millions of Britain’s families – will hang like a millstone around the neck of the British people for years to come.
I am going to confront the old-fashioned negative thinking which says that all government needs to do to generate growth is cut worker and environmental protections cut taxes on the rich and stroke ‘fat cats’ until they purr with pleasure. I’m completely repudiating the idea that government has to get out of the way.
My late wife Olympia was Goan and I’ve been to India many times. I love the food there. We used to do our shopping in Southall where you can find cheap but wonderful fruit like mangoes vegetables and spices. I didn’t do much of the cooking as Olympia did a lot – I was the under-chef and did some of the chopping.
The food in the House of Commons is fairly good. The cafe in Portcullis House is really very high quality and you also have a choice of eating in the more traditional restaurants the Churchill Room or the Members’ Dining Room. I don’t often eat in them though as I’m usually on the run.
I clearly believe a lot more than some of my coalition colleagues – Tories – in redistribution and using the tax system for that purpose. I also believe in the government having an active role in the economy which is having an industrial strategy. I’m not a believer in laissez-faire.
You can’t win with some people. If you’re not in government you’re criticised for being not serious. If you are in government you’re criticised for wanting power. That’s the Labour party’s line of attack and it’s a bit ridiculous.
For wide swaths of training and education there are valuable spillovers which mean that the private sector needs support from the government. That is why I have been so determined to protect and grow apprenticeships and put higher education on a sustainable footing.
Now the main areas of higher education that still enjoy considerable financial support from government are subjects like engineering and science and the research ringfence which is the basic minimum to protect Britain’s scientific competitiveness.