Quality must trump quantity

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IF Prime Ministers chose not to provide a running commentary on so many issues, and spoke only when the occasion warranted their intervention, David Cameron would not find himself accused of sending out mixed messages on banks, bonuses and the role of private business.

For, after pronouncements on discrimination in football, cycling and then Somalia’s security, the Tory leader decided it was an opportune moment to take on “snobbish attitudes” towards “wealth-creators”, labelling anti-business sentiment as “dangerous rhetoric”.

Mr Cameron is right to a point. It is the private sector that will ultimately lead Britain’s economic revival and it is his job to provide the framework for this to occur. His problem is that his government has been advocating smaller bank bonuses – and that his speech was overshadowed by the state-owned RBS paying out nearly £1bn in staff bonuses on the back of a £2bn loss.

Some perspective is required after the bank’s Yorkshire-born chief executive, Stephen Hester, waived his bonus earlier this month. The loss is accentuated by the eurozone tumult and payouts for mis-sold payment protection insurance, and the steps that continuing to be taken to rid the RBS of toxic debts. Yet, because of the rhetoric from the country’s political elite, this wider context is given scant regard by taxpayers – the headline figure does not reveal the fall in bonus payments and how it is in the public’s interest for the RBS to return to profitability at the earliest opportunity.

The consequence is Mr Cameron now finds himself in the position of having to defend the values that underpin commercial enterprise – something that would have been quite unthinkable in Margaret Thatcher’s era.

This is the consequence of a strategy where political leaders target their message at different audiences – Mr Cameron will probably say next week that more needs to be done on executive pay – rather than providing coherence and consistency.

What is needed, in fact, is a blueprint that helps to stimulate growth, one which rewards those companies that go out of their way to assist the disadvantaged. In short, it is the quality of Mr Cameron’s speeches that needs to count more than the quantity.