“Intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich”

John Rentoul

mand 199x300 Intensely relaxed about people getting filthy richFollowing my post on Tuesday about the etymology of  some of the Sayings of Mandelson, a correction. The earliest instance of Peter Mandelson saying that the New Labour government was “intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich” was in a report for the Financial Times by David Wighton on 23 October 1998, three days before the Victor Keegan column in The Guardian.

The FT is not on my digital database, but Michael Skapinker, an FT journalist, has kindly drawn it to my attention. The report is headed, “Mandelson plans a microchip off the old block” (a Banned List headline, surely). Again, the important point is that Mandelson qualified his statement:

The trade and industry secretary is enthused by suggestions the UK could build its very own silicon valley, writes David Wighton.

Perhaps it was the Californian sun, but Peter Mandelson seemed almost intoxicated with the heady entrepreneurial atmosphere of silicon valley last week.

“We are intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich,” the trade and industry secretary assured an approving group of senior executives at Hewlett-Packard during his fact-finding visit. “As long as they pay their taxes,” he added hurriedly.

Following talks with top silicon valley entrepreneurs and academics, Mr Mandelson has returned enthused by the “vibrancy” of its high-tech business culture and eager to feed his experiences into the government’s strategy to boost competitiveness and enterprise.

Later in the report, the context of Mandelson’s comment become clear:

One of the repeated messages to Mr Mandelson was that the government could help foster a climate that encouraged entrepreneurs.

John Hennessy, dean of engineering at Stanford University and a successful computer entrepreneur, told Mr Mandelson that one of America’s great advantages was that it was “just plain OK to get filthy rich” in the US.

“And the best way to get filthy rich in the US is to take a good idea, form a company and take it public.”

Most of the silicon valley executives agreed the climate in Britain had become much more favourable towards entrepreneurs under the Conservatives, something Mr Mandelson readily acknowledges.

But Mr Mandelson claims that enterprise became too closely linked in the public mind with the Conservatives’ political philosophy, undermining some of their good work. He believes enterprise, risk-taking and entrepreneurialism must become part of the Labour government’s “rhetoric” alongside stability and prudence.

So now you really know.

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