Thursday, 22 March 2012

Why are Labour peer “Lord” Sugar suggesting children be sent to work at 13?

You is fired!
The Apprentice returned to BBC One tonight. I’m not quite sure why I watch the programme – partly, I suppose, the fascination of the abomination, but also because two things intrigue me about the noble Lord. First, why has he never leaned to talk proper? And why does he support Labour?

I’m not going to make fun of Sugar for misusing words - tonight, he asked the eventual firee if she hadn’t noticed the “despondency” of her team-mates towards her – because, as he never tires of telling us, his origins are deeply humble, and because, as someone who has been busy all his life flogging stuff, running football clubs and appearing on top-rated TV shows, one presumes he hasn’t had much time to listen to Radio 4 or read books. And I couldn’t care less about his accent – there’s something positively endearing about hearing an old-fashioned cockney accent.

But – given that he has evidently spent years consorting with people like Nick Hewer and Margaret Mountford, who both speak English very well – why can’t he tell when he’s committing enormous clunking great grammatical howlers? How many times, I wonder, has he asked one of the contestants “What was you thinking?” I know that “you were” is an exception to the “was singular/were plural” rule, presumably because “you” can be both singular and plural. But it’s a fantastically obvious exception and really can’t be that hard to pick up, especially for a man intelligent enough to build up businesses worth hundreds of millions of pounds. He’s a London Jew, for God’s sake, and therefore a member of one of the most intelligent groups of human beings on the planet: it cannot be beyond him to unlearn this basic mistake!

Or is he doing it deliberately? Is it meant to signal pride in his roots? Or a verbal middle finger aimed at all the sneery, snotty, educated buggers like me he’s had to deal with on his way up the ladder? As far as I remember, even John Prescott – whose origins must surely have been as humble as Sugar’s – doesn’t habitually commit this error,and he’s someone with less than half a brain and a total inability to form a meaningful sentence.

The other mystery is why a man who seems to revel in the world of bare-knuckle, red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalism is - one presumes - a committed Labour supporter (he is, after all, a Labour peer). Worse than that, he's a fan of Gordon Brown! But he wasn't always keen on Brown or his policies – or, indeed, enthusiastic about Labour. In 2009, The Spectator unearthed a letter to the FT written by Sugar back in 1992, in response to Gordon Brown's accusation that City bosses were "feeding off the recession". In that letter (the whole of which can be read here) Sugar says “The thing that frightens me the most about a Labour government is that it suppresses enterprise.” Spot on, sunshine! He goes on to talk about the “sort of entrepreneurial spirit the Conservatives believe in and Labour doesn't understand.”

In case there’s any doubt about his political allegiances, he continues: "The reason Labour flourished many years ago was the 'them and us' situation that prevailed in England. There were the rich and there were the poor. At that stage maybe I would have sympathised with the need for a Labour government… But that's all been changed now. Look around. Yes, there are the very poor and more should be done for them. But almost everybody's got a microwave oven, a car and a colour television - maybe more than one colour television in their homes. Let's be honest with each other. 'Them and us' doesn't exist any more, as I have demonstrated… Labour offers no sort of route out of recession. It's out of date…

Clear enough, you’d have thought.

In case anyone imagined his views have changed dramatically over the years, he was quoted in this article in the Mail last week suggesting youngsters should be sent out to work at 13. And then he gave the benefits culture a right kicking: “The benefits system has got right out of hand. It is a total joke in this country. Why work when you can fill out a few forms and get paid for doing nothing?

But back in June 2009, Sugar was described as a “long-standing friend” of Gordon Brown, and gave the beleaguered PM his full backing: "What needs to be sorted out is the economic climate ... We need to get the economy moving again and we could not have a better person in place [than Mr Brown] because of his [former] position as Chancellor.” And this about the man who did more than any other politician in the last half century to encourage people not to work by turning the benefits system into a cash-guzzling runaway gravy train.

If Lord Sugar is a socialist, then he’s a bloody weird one! And even a dreadful cynic like me can’t believe he’d have been so craven as to support a government whose policies he despised just because it gave him a silly title – “Enterprise Czar” - and bunged him a peerage.

I are well confused.


  1. My two "Sugarisms" are "those bleedin' argonauts on the motorways" and "I was asked to read the epilogue at the funeral". I think malapropisms are wonderful - do you remember Hylda Baker?

  2. I've never taken the bearded bozo seriously as a businessman since my foolish purchase of an Amstrad video player, simply because it was cheap, led to my friends complaining about how the vids they had loaned me were unplayable after my Sugarstrad 2000 had chewed them up. Cheap, ugly and doesn't work. You can see why Gordon Brown gave him a peerage, aren't it.

  3. Years ago, before I ordered a Sky subscription, I spoke to some technical experts in the BBC's R&D department and asked them if I should ask for a specific box (Sky licensed multiple manufacturers at the time). "Tell them you want the Silver Panasonic. Tell them that under no account will you accept an Amstrad box - they're a pile of cheap crap!" I took their advice. Interestingly, I now have a Sky box or recent manufacture made by Amstrad, and it's very good. I'm sure this has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that Sugar sold the company to Sky in 2007 and "stepped down" as Chairman in 2008.

  4. The quote that's always puzzled me, SDG, is the one he made about his days as a football club chairman. He was, I think, moaning about the fact that other clubs seemed to think Sopurs had been something wrong by making a profit instead of getting heavily into debt - "We should have been doing our bollocks like everyone else" was his comment. I can't find any other use of this phrase on the web. I've often wondered just how one is supposed to do one's bollocks.