UK: The task ahead for Britain's political and corporate "greys".

UK: The task ahead for Britain's political and corporate "greys". - Management Today comments:

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Management Today comments:

Grey power rules the British boardroom as much as the Cabinet room today. For John Major read Michael Julien at Storehouse or Laurence Cooklin at Burton. This grey age may lack the glamour (Sir Ralph Halpern and "Gorgeous" George Davies) and the passion (Mrs Thatcher in full flights) of the 1980s, but it provides a period for Britain to work out a political and economic destiny.

The grey men in business and politics must now nurse their companies and country back to health after the late '80s excesses. These excesses - a spending spree and a cheerful living beyond one's means - were indulgences of both the corporate sector and country. The cure is also common to both - pruning, cutting overheads, retrenchment.

But cautious grey rule alone is no long-term solution to the country's or corporate ills. The corporate greys, having hacked at the debt of their predecessors, must evolve long-term business strategies that move away from simple cash conservation.

The political greys must similarly think beyond getting out of the recession and present the public with a realisable vision.

Europe will be the key. British companies must make greater progress in forging alliances with continental partners and with establishing plants in Europe. Privatised companies such as British Telecom and British Airways must set the pace in enforcing liberalising and competitive cultures on the mainland.

To do this will require the energetic support and co-operation of the political grey-in-chief, John Major himself. He must get off the fence on Europe, ignore the bluster and little-Englander mentality of Mrs Thatcher and the like, and adopt an enthusiastic stance to European integration.

This does not mean falling under the sway of the Delors dogma or the French-dominated Brussels bureaucracy. Rather, Britain must play a full part in Europe to root out the sort of bureaucratic, quango-creating, money-wasting attitudes prevalent there. The way to reform the Brussels bureaucracy is to go for full-blooded monetary union, tax and social security harmonisation, with ultimate control in the hands of a directly elected assembly. Full monetary union, with a tough central bank committed to a tight monetary policy and a common tax regime, would make regional subsidies and industrial bribes harder to hide.

Opponents of monetary union claim that Britain would not be able to survive such a competitive regime, which is strange coming from a group of usually right-wing Tories who have long been the standard bearers of the "Let the market forces decide" school.

But it is because British industry has for years had to fight heavily subsidised European competition that a dose of market discipline would hit the competition much harder. Only if there is a level playing field in Europe can the community of trade develop harmoniously. Such harmony would surely be a fitting way to end the most bloody century in European history.

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