Indian futures part 1: Britain and India

It could be the start of a beautiful friendship …

A few days ago, despite the best efforts of the London Underground system, I had a very interesting meeting with one of the most successful British-Indian businessmen of our time, whose identity I shall withhold. He arrived in the UK several decades ago without any capital, and indeed without even much of the English language. He has succeeded in becoming one of the country’s foremost entrepreneurs, with a personal worth in the hundreds of millions of pounds – although he wears it lightly and is open and friendly in person, without any airs or grandiosity. It’s a fact that he is legendary in his sector for being a considerate and kindly employer, and his staff turnover rate is legendarily low. He told me he loves the UK because it’s a place where anybody can come and have a go at making themselves a success, knowing the odds are not stacked against them if they work hard enough.

It was frankly refreshing to talk to a businessman about business and not to have to think about politics, which right now seems endlessly narrow, petty and rebarbative.

A little while back I mentioned there was a political party in the UK which was committing suicide. I meant of course the Conservative Party – ha ha. The recent election, almost another “upset” and surely a warning to the complacent political establishment, demonstrated the sullen resentment of voters in the face of the disgraceful protection of bankers and their friends since the financial crash. As “friends” I don’t include entrepreneurs, hedgies and others with skin in the game, by the way; only those who suffer nothing and only gain from bail-ins and easy credit: politicians, bureaucrats, establishment nabobs: they know who they are.

The anger at the destruction of savings and pensions of ordinary people since 2008 via QE, zero interest rates and banker bail-outs, while wealthy asset-holders have grown effortlessly richer, has provoked something akin to a revolutionary feeling among the masses. People feel as though they are being treated like peasants, and as a result a peasant rebellion is brewing. If you take away their hope then people act as if they have nothing to lose.

I don’t think the UK is ready quite yet for Jeremy Corbyn’s – or rather John McDonnell’s – brand of hard, violent Marxism (or if they are they’ll live to regret it); but I understand their sympathy for the hang-the-rich Stalinism on offer from Labour now. I don’t like it but I understand it. As somebody who believes in liberal capitalism (not neo-liberalism) and a qualified globalism of measured international trade (not hyperactive capital flows hollowing out countries in a race to the bottom of wage levels to enrich a planetary elite), I am nearly in despair.

It is unclear to me which in the UK is out to destroy capitalism the fastest: Conservatives or Labour. Everything the Tories plan to do is against natural supporters such as me; and so is everything Labour plans, although if we suffer as a result of a future Labour victory a balance of payments crisis, a run on the pound, a bond revolt and 20% interest rates, I think I would die laughing. Hollowly.

But back to my meeting with the British-Indian businessman. He of course voted for Tony Blair back in 1997, as did any other businessman with half a brain. The Conservatives were a washed-up brand, knackered and worn out; and there was Labour, inevitable victors, promising to protect and love Capital. Blair lisped that it would all be fine so long as he and his friends could also get rich … I don’t think the businessman would vote for Labour again, but things are so febrile at the moment, who knows? There were aristocrats who supported the French revolution in the hope its radicalism could be contained …

Now why on earth would the British-Indian businessman wish to sit down with me? The answer is that he was looking for somebody to write his biography. I don’t think it will happen – not with me at any rate. His is a fantastic story, but I think he wants a ghost-writer. Typically, these are journalists from tabloid newspapers, highly talented and good at what they do, who will go through the clippings file, conduct a few searching interviews and stitch together a racy narrative. Bundle it up with a wad of photos of the subject with celebrity friends and with luck it’ll be on the shelves of WH Smith for Christmas (and then on the shelves of Oxfam by Easter when auntie decides she needs the shelf-space).

So why on earth am I writing about this? Well, because the book I suggested would be better was different. The thing is, with Brexit underway and the world changing regardless, the UK is about to turn to Asia, where its future lies, and in doing so has several fabulous advantages over its rivals for trade. One of these advantages is personified in my prospective British-Indian biographical subject. He came here because his family fled trouble in the homeland, and he found another home here. Our countries have centuries of history, and on the whole amity, shared between them. Our destinies are intertwined. I explained to him that over the next decade or two an enormous amount of cultural, entrepreneurial, spiritual, and political real estate, so to speak, was up for claim and development as all sorts of ties and relationships between the UK and the subcontinent deepen and tangle in a skein of trade and alliances.

As a hugely successful businessman looking to pursue a further avenue as a landmark birthday approaches, the opportunity to become involved in politics, or to craft some kind of ambassadorial role, is open to him if he wants to build a suitable profile, one which demonstrates an interest in the history and cultural exchange between the countries he knows, as well as demonstrating commercial and financial acumen.

But in a sense that is the same for anybody who wants to have a go – just as the businessman said at the outset of our meeting: anyone can have a go. And my point is that the future is India – and if it’s not stupid, the UK in a meaningful relationship with India.

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