Earlier this week Lord Heseltine aligned himself with Vince Cable by signalling his opposition to the Beecroft reforms, which would make it easier to fire workers.
Last night made a speech at the Whitehall and Industry Group where he compared Britain with Germany in terms of their economic strengths, pointedly warning that the Germans have long had an impressive “industrial strategy”: “In terms of industrial policy (in the UK) there are serious deficiencies,” warned the former deputy prime minister.
The Tory peer went on to make a wider argument about how the Germans have not succeeded through deregulation. This is a pointed criticism of many in the coalition who believe that cutting through red tape will provide the solution for economic ills.
“Germany has not succeeded through deregulation. Regulations provide benefits and opportunities for business as well as adding to costs and workload,” he said. Heseltine quoted a McKinsey survey which showed that almost as many companies regarded new laws as positive as those who saw it as negative.
“There have been many deregulation initiatives but I can’t think of one – including mine – that has achieved significant success. There aremany reasons. Modern governments represent sophisticated, self-interested and relatively prosperous electorates who value many of the services guaranteed by regulation,” he said.
“Try tinkering with maternity arrangements when mumsnet gets going in an election campaign.”
Heseltine then claimed that regulations had actually created industries, for example the production of crash helmets.
“Of course I believe that we should get rid of outdated red tape. I welcome the government’s one-in, one-out initiative, but I also think we should be looking at every new piece of regulation and asking if it can be turned into the UK’s industrial advantage.”
To some in the Tory fold this kind of talk is tantamount to heresy; which makes it all the more interesting to hear.