Soon, I hope, the RSA will be guaranteed at least one mention in the national press every week. Currently, Luke Johnson’s entertaining and informative FT column lists him as Chairman of Channel Four. By the end of next year it should say Chairman of the RSA.
Mind you we will need to improve our coordination. Writing today about ambition Luke mentions the downfall of Jonathan Aitken. Sadly, he doesn’t take the opportunity to advertise Mr Aitken speaking at the RSA tomorrow. The former Tory cabinet minister will be responding to a talk by Susan Wise Bauer author of a new book ‘the Art of the Public Grovel’ which traces the history and theology of public confessions in modern America from Ted Kennedy to Bill Clinton.
The lesson Luke draws from the downfall of political and business figures, and there are plenty of the latter crashing back to earth, is that ‘we must each know our limit, and resist the urge to overreach’. Those involved in the tangled Corfu holiday saga, featured on most front pages, may wish they had such wisdom.
The whole sorry episode is best captured by the standfirst of Julian Glover’s column in today’s Guardian.
‘What part of: ‘Oligarch. Big boat. Peter Mandelson. Spells trouble’ did George Osborne fail to understand’.
An aspect of the hubristic culture of the last fifteen years has been fawning over the super rich. To become rich in business (as distinct from simply by inheritance) you must have worked hard, taken risks and if you are over forty you’ve probably had some bad times to go with the good. But none of this means you necessarily have great insight into world affairs or policy making.
But the super rich have come to believe that having the ear of politicians is an expectation that goes with the yacht and the private jet. And for a variety of reasons (few of which are good) most senior politicians are only too happy to look as though they are fascinated by the lives and opinions of multi-millionaires. Just as the super rich often expect to get away with sexual philandering, so they enjoy showing that not only can they carouse with politicians of all stripes but that they can get them to forget their boring Party allegiances in favour of their much more important shared membership of the global party of the rich and powerful.
Who knows who said what to whom on the Greek island? What is in no doubt from the cast list of this drama was that it was an accident waiting to happen. The overlapping of the worlds of celebrity, high finance and politics is another example of the detachment of status and rewards from merit which has been such a characteristic of our hubristic elite culture. Well, we face a different world now. With business leaders and politicians facing major challenges – not least of which is to retain any respect and authority amongst an increasingly disenchanted and volatile public - it’s time to stay off the yachts and stick to the knitting.
Fabian Wallace-Stephens (Foresight Lead)
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