David Cameron’s attack on the “enemies of enterprise”, his version of the “forces of
conservatism” shows that he and those around him are still following the Blairite script, at least in terms of rhetoric. But the coalition still needs to decide what it means to be a
“friend of enterprise”. There are many in the libertarian ranks of the Conservative Party who believe the state has no business interfering in such matters.
The architects of the Big Society remain confused about whether it is possible to encourage a bottom-up approach with a top-down message, or, to put it another way, decentralisation by government
diktat. The Big Society, something which I support in principle, is fast collapsing under the weight of its own contradictions. If the ridicule continues, there is a risk that those organisations
in the private and voluntary sector which are essential to making this work will no longer wish to associate themselves with the idea.
So how exactly will the coalition become a friend of enterprise? It is not enough simply to rely on the fact that the Conservatives remain the party of small business. If this rhetoric is to mean
anything, enterprise has to flourish where life in austerity Britain is at its most difficult. Start-ups will always emerge in the metropolitan centres and trust-fund kids will set up their stall
selling ethical fruit drinks even in the hard times. The real test will be to encourage recent graduates that enterprise is an option when work is hard to find. There are examples of this happening
already, as the Observer revealed at the weekend. The jury is still very much
out on the New Enterprise Allowance and whether it will give new businesses the kickstart they need. Cynical observers have already noticed that the best business opportunities under the new scheme
will be for companies with the capacity to provide the loans that come as part of the package.
The Coalition still has a lot of thinking to do to in this area. I remember a fringe meeting at last year’s Tory party conference when employment minister Chris Grayling was asked by a
delegate from a big welfare to work company what provision was in place for parts of the country (Stoke, Hull, Burnley were the examples given) where there are no large employers and very few jobs.
How was a company to make money from government contracts providing jobs when there were no jobs? “Well,” said Grayling, “people will just have to set up their own businesses,
won’t they?” Friends of enterprise? We shall see.