Danny Rogers: Trust now provides the licence to operate

To mess with a phrase made famous by Bill Clinton's successful election campaign strategist James Carville in 1992, 'It's the trust, stupid'.

Danny Rogers: Trust now provides the licence to operate
Danny Rogers: Trust now provides the licence to operate

This is what successful business leaders increasingly recognise, but too many of Britain's politicians still do not.

The world's biggest retailer Walmart saw the light a few years ago and now puts CSR at the heart of its business strategy. In the UK, Sir Richard Branson has been doing this for decades and is refocusing on ethics once again as he bids to take over Northern Rock.

And more recently GlaxoSmithKline and Sainsbury's have acquired leaders who are converts to the recognition that trust provides the licence to do business.

They have been warned that in this age of scrutiny - aggressive journalism combusted with social media - you can so quickly be undone.

David Cameron, like so many previous prime ministers, has paid lip service to this need for public trust, which is why he appeared to back a register for lobbyists in his election campaign. And now, with the Liam Fox affair, there is renewed pressure for such a register.

Critics point out that a register of lobbyists, which would arguably make those who have access to government more identifiable, may not have affected figures such as Adam Werritty anyway. After all, Werritty was just 'a friend'.

But that argument aside, for the man on the street, the whole affair stinks. Regardless of whether Fox 'benefited personally' or 'transgressed the ministerial code', exactly what was he doing inviting 'a friend' on 18 international visits? And when the intricate web of business interests close to Fox and Werritty began to unravel, the crisis of public trust was compounded.

It has never been so important that politicians are seen to do 'the right thing'. Can they have forgotten the disgrace of former Conservative minister Jonathan Aitken, the falls from grace of Peter Mandelson, the outrage over MPs' expenses?

We do not expect our politicians to be saints, but we expect them to employ the same ethical judgements that high profile business leaders now make on a daily basis. This is their licence to govern.

So while the news agenda is dominated by the rights and wrongs of a lobby register, Cameron's political strategists should be more concerned about how many more ethical misjudgements lie below the surface of this Government.

When he considers his legacy, Cameron will want his administration to be branded Virgin rather than (Fred Goodwin era) RBS.

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