2 May, 2013 - 09:10 By News Desk

Politicians’ punt on Cambridge is a dead cert

Will Mooney of Carter Jonas

Will Mooney, Carter Jonas partner and head of its commercial agency and professional services in the eastern region, sees why politicians are happy to bathe in Cambridge’s reflected glory.

The king to Oxford sent a troop of horse,For tories own no argument but force;With equal care to Cambridge books he sent,For whigs allow no force but argument.These lines were penned in the 18th Century by Sir William Browne who was a President of the College of Physicians and a Peterhouse College alumnus. It was a witty riposte to a barbed verse by Joseph Trapp – a Wadham College man and Oxford Professor of Poetry – on the occasion of King George I donating the Bishop of Ely’s library to the University of Cambridge and not Oxford.

The inference in Trapp’s original epigram was that Cambridge was in the want of learning, hence the assignment of the library.

But whether Whig or Tory administrations or their modern mainstream political equivalents, senior politicians continue to count on Cambridge. In the most modern political times, national politicians at the highest level have looked to the university and the city to deliver when it comes to being an economic powerhouse for the UK. And yet, there’s been no Cambridge-educated prime minister in Downing Street since Stanley Baldwin left office in 1937.

In the current Coalition Government, there are Cambridge alumni in high cabinet office. Deputy Prime Minister Clegg is a graduate of Robinson College and the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, Vince Cable has his first degree from Fitzwilliam College.

The Business Secretary is a frequent, high profile visitor to the city of his alma mater – although his Economics PhD was obtained from Glasgow. In one whirlwind day recently, Vince Cable launched Cambridge Business Week at Granta Park, officially opened Botanic House – which is fast-becoming a landmark among the city’s buildings - visited the University’s Computer Laboratory which celebrates its 75th anniversary this year and visited ARM and RealVNC too among his round of engagements.

Incidentally, on the same day, the Prime Minister (Brasenose College, Oxford) was visiting Rolls-Royce’s aeronautical operation down in Bristol. Not long after Vince Cable’s visit, the MP for Mid Norfolk and Girton graduate, George Freeman - who has 15 years under his belt on the biomedical venture capital side in Cambridge before he entered Parliament in 2010 and is a government adviser on life science matters – hit the headlines by calling for £1 billion of government money to be spent on helping Cambridge to grow more.

To some in Liverpool, Newcastle or Birmingham perhaps, it might seem strange that £1 billion investment should be spent on what is already one of the UK’s most successful and fastest growing cities.

Many of us in business might contest that Cambridge’s success is because it is not based on over-reliance on the flattery and funding from central government. As if to reinforce this view and by way of illustration, only a few weeks after the latest flurry of politicians’ pronouncements on Cambridge, it was revealed that applications for funding from a regional growth pot of £350 million were few and far between in the east of England.And, what’s more, Cambridge’s angel funders announced they are to join forces with their London Tech City equivalents in creating a new funding cluster – what else but a cluster, if it involves Cambridge – in an initiative called ‘Cambridge South’.

Interestingly, during Vince Cable’s recent visit, he was teased about his department’s reception area having a banner promoting London’s Tech City but not its Cambridge equivalent.

While the Whitehall mandarins are understood to be looking into this in order to redress the balance, I’d like to think that the jibe was more of a ribbing in the witty style of Sir William Browne. After all, Cambridge is no afterthought when it comes to business, innovation or skills and doesn’t play the bridesmaid to any other UK city when it comes to the kind of business success so admired by politicians of whichever hue.

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