One of the strangest appointments to Gordon Brown’s new government is undoubtedly that of Digby Jones, the former boss of the CBI, as the new trade promotion minister.
When he was first appointed to the helm of the CBI, he was relatively pro-Brown; but as time went on and as his members increasingly complained of the huge increase in tax, spending and red tape under the then Chancellor, Jones gradually began to see sense and became far more critical of the Labour government. By the end of his tenure, he was an out-and-out critic of Brown; calling him for a quote on the latest misguided government initiative became an increasingly rewarding journalistic enterprise.
So it is now intriguing that he has agreed to work for Brown – and a clear stroke of genius by the new prime minister to have succeeded in co-opting one of his critics.
But there is also another, much more fundamental, reason why the appointment makes no sense: no government should be in the business of trade promotion. Free trade means just that; it implies that the state neither helps nor hinders individuals and companies seeking to trade goods or services across borders. That nobody understands this any longer in Brown’s Britain suggests that we may be gradually slipping back into our old corporatist ways.