“F**k business.” As our Prime Minister languishes in his pimped-up prison in Downing Street, I think it’s worth revisiting his infamously foul-mouthed flourish.
“F**k business.” It’s still shocking to hear, especially from the leader of the erstwhile party of enterprise, a party which used to resist any unwarranted assault on the private sector.
“F**k business” is much more than just a colorful phrase, though. Mr Johnson used it to dismiss opposition to his Brexit plans from the country’s wealth creators – those Cassandras whose prophecies have all come true, but which fell on deaf ears.
It betrays an attitude to leadership that has characterized every inch in the PM’s ignoble ascent up the greasy pole of power. But as he slides indecorously back down in predictable disgrace, I suspect few people will remember this utterance. And most would likely agree with the sentiment anyway.
Business is an easy target because it feels like it has nothing to do with you and me. Corporate leeches suck the moral and financial capital out of us, their helpless victims. The private sector cannot be trusted. Business must be tamed, and it can be bled for tax without consequence.
The Left vigorously promotes this shameful mischaracterisation, though the current Labor leadership is much more squeamish about the strident anti-capitalism of its hard-Socialist fringe than during Jeremy Corbyn’s reign. And everyone wants lots of public spending – as long as someone else pays for it.
The point is that we all depend on business. There are 5.9 million companies in the UK. Most are small, run by entrepreneurs rather than being huge, faceless corporations – in fact, 98 per cent employ fewer than 50 people (and most just one or two). Some 26.8 million of us work in the private sector, so our jobs and in turn our families rely on businesses succeeding.
Private sector income tax, National Insurance and corporation tax contribute almost half of all the cash the Government collects each year and therefore directly support 5.7 million public sector workers, 12.4 million people on state pensions, and millions more in need of benefits.
Meanwhile, 22.1 million of us have some form of private pension, making our comfort in retirement contingent on the returns delivered by investing in businesses. Legions more have occupational pension schemes funded by their employers.
Even business taxes are paid by us. Shareholders are in the front line, but nearly all UK citizens are shareholders one way or another – if not directly then via our pensions. So lower returns mean a less comfortable retirement.
Then there are the employees. If higher taxes squeeze margins, there is less room for wages to grow. Plus, high taxes deter investment, especially the foreign kind which can go elsewhere, meaning fewer jobs to go around. And there are the customers – us consumers. Companies must try to raise prices when their taxes go up, taking a bite out of our living standards.
Quite apart from us all depending on it, a thriving business sector has created wealth and driven innovation, and it has enriched our lives and lifestyles with goods and services that were unimaginable even a few decades ago. It must be nurtured and celebrated, not denigrated.
As with all unprincipled populists, Mr Johnson pulled off his electoral sleight of hand by pandering to prejudice and lacing every phrase with misdirection. On his watch from him the politics of deceit have usurped the politics of prosperity. No lie has been too big, or too small, to cover his blushes from him.
No wealth-creating, employment-generating initiative has been worth preserving if it crimps his will to power. Apart from the usual Brexit hardliners and a few tribal evangelists in the Conservative Party, everyone can see that the emperor has no clothes.
What is bad for business is bad for everyone. So, from the tens of millions of us working in, running or owning businesses and the millions more that depend on their success, “Right back at you, Boris!”