CUTTING ROOM: A challenge for Leadbeater on internet issues, an appeal for business punditry, and an appreciation of Sweden's approachable Persson ... Evan Davis at large

CUTTING ROOM: A challenge for Leadbeater on internet issues, an appeal for business punditry, and an appreciation of Sweden's approachable Persson ... Evan Davis at large - I seem to have found myself in some kind of intellectual dispute with Charles Lead

by EVAN DAVIS, the economics editor of BBC2's Newsnight
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

I seem to have found myself in some kind of intellectual dispute with Charles Leadbeater, the journalist, author and sometime government adviser. He wrote the new-economy bible, Living on Thin Air. (He tells me it's been dubbed 'Living on Thin Hair' by some of his friends, who've noticed his receding fringe.)

The book is excellently written but a tad over-enthusiastic about the new economy for my taste. Now Charles has written a follow-up booklet for the environmentalist Green Alliance, arguing that the internet (and other new technology) should increasingly enable more environment-friendly economic growth. At his crudest, he appears to argue that we'll sit at home e-mailing each other rather than drive around burning up fuel.

For some reason, I've been asked to pen a response. Although I'd like to agree with Charles, I suspect that, far from reducing travel, e-mail is more likely to enable us to make new friends in Australia and encourage us to fly out and meet them.

Anyway, as soon as the engineers invent new energy-efficient devices, we invent more demanding forms of consumption. For example, although cars are in principle more economical than they used to be, people want to drive sports utility vehicles rather than Morris Minors. The result is that cars are no more efficient than they used to be - they just perform better. And nowhere is the SUV more popular than the epicentre of the new economy, California. So how green is my Silicon Valley? Not very.

Is profit a dirty word? From some media coverage you would think so. From Fat Cats and rip-off Britain to petrol prices, it's easy to make copy out of the 'pounds per second' that some huge corporation makes. Even companies that are losing money are deemed to be ripping us off and overcharging. It's ridiculous that, in the age of private pensions and the like, the public are led to think that shareholder returns are necessarily a bad thing.

So now the BBC's director-general Greg Dyke is determined that the corporation will not be unreasonably antipathetic to profits and business. Indeed, improving business coverage seems to be one of his five priorities at the BBC. Everybody here is on notice that better coverage is now required.

Watch out for more programmes like Trouble at the Top and Blood on the Carpet, which have been such a big hit at popularising business policy-making, and watch for more business on the news programmes.

The DG's mission is welcome, but there is just one snag. Getting business people to talk on air. It's no great challenge to find politicians willing to offer themselves up for an interview (cabinet ministers apart); but when you cover business, it's not so easy. During the Rover crisis, for example, Newsnight begged Jon Moulton to come onto the programme. I even persuaded his barber to put a word in for us, to no avail. So, volunteers welcome.

It's December, last month of the French presidency of the EU. Next it's Sweden's turn. That's good for us at Newsnight, as it tends to be easier to get interviews with prime ministers of smaller countries than with those of larger ones. I was dispatched to Stockholm to interview the Swedish PM, Goran Persson, earlier this year. We interviewed him in his office, then needed the usual extra shots of 'reverse questions'. As we didn't need Mr Persson for those, he politely excused himself, picked up his briefcase and left us filming. It was rather impressive that he seemed to treat being Swedish PM with less pomposity than many executives in medium-sized countries. It's a pity that politics in the big countries is much less mellow.

With Christmas approaching, we will all be reminded of the last postage dates. December 18 for second-class mail; December 21 for first-class.

The Post Office must be one of the few companies to so undersell its service, because even if you post a letter the day before Christmas Eve it seems to arrive for Christmas Day.

With Britain's increasingly complaining culture, such modesty wins few friends. There was a letter in the Times once from a reader who'd tried to save money by sending all his foreign greetings cards by surface mail three months before Christmas. Despite the cheaper stamps he'd bought, the good old Royal Mail just piled his cards into the air-mail sacks. To the writer's chagrin, his Christmas cards arrived abroad in October. It seems a bit uncharitable to gripe at such a super-fast performance by the postal service.

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