Can businessmen ever become successful politicians?
There’s a lot of traction at the moment behind Alan Sugar, the star of the Apprentice and the man who made his fortune with Amstrad, to become Labour’s 2012 candidate for the London Mayoralty.
He’s been a strong party supporter for most of his life and has been used a lot by Labour in its promotions. He’s also a solidly based Londoner with East End origins and is listed as the 92nd richest person in the country.
But has Sugar got what it takes to run a prolonged and possibly bruising campaign in three years time and would he have the appeal to get the votes out?
One of the problems with businessmen is that what they’ve done in their career can become an issue in a hard fought political campaign. Just look at what happened to Steve Norris in 2004 when his links with Jarvis cost him dear. In that election the Tories got many more votes than Labour in the GLA elections on the same day – but there was a huge amount of switching to Ken for the top job.
Another problem that Sugar, who would be 65 at the time of the election, has got is his record of outspokenness on a range of potentially controversial issues. His listing in Wikipedia has the following:-
“Nuclear Weapons. At the height of his prominence from his Amstrad company Alan Sugar made a speech in 1986 in which he said: “If there was a market in mass-produced portable nuclear weapons, we’d market them, too.”
Sexist discrimination: Sugar has been criticised for having an “outdated” attitude towards women. Regarding the law passed in the 1970s in the UK which states that it is illegal for women to be asked at interview whether they plan to have children (on the grounds that it is discriminatory), Sugar is quoted as saying, “You’re not allowed to ask, so it’s easy, just don’t employ them”.
Bullying: Critics have described Sugar as “out-of-touch” and his work ethic as “a model of bad management in the UK. Negative, bullying and narrow-minded… (Sugar) rules by fear”. Concerns have been raised by anti-bullying charity Kidscape that “publicly humiliating” contestants on The Apprentice may give bullying credibility”
There’s plenty there for Team Boris to get their teeth into.
Against all of this Sugar is a big personality, is very well known and could easily compete at the name recognition level with Johnson. My guess is that he stands a good chance of getting the nomination. Whether he could win or not is a different matter.
For the electoral reality of this unique election is that even in bad times the Tories have the potential to get more votes across London if only because of the differing turnout rates between the inner city areas and outer suburbs. Ken Livingstone was able, twice, to offer a special appeal. Would Sugar be able to replicate that? My guess is no.
Even if things are going badly for the Tories this is still a massive challenge for Labour.
In the 2012 London Mayoral betting Sugar is the 16/1 third favourite.