PROPERTY tycoon Gerald Ronson launched a scathing attack on the political establishment yesterday, hitting out at the “hypocrisy and envy” that is driving public opinion.
In one of the most outspoken public critiques yet from a senior British business figure, Ronson said that our society is being “fuelled by the continual negativity of envy” and lashed out at the “lynch mob attack” that deprived RBS chief Stephen Hester of his bonus.
“We need top people to sort out the mess. If we are not careful, they won’t be around to do it,” warned Ronson, whose Heron buildings include the tallest tower in the Square Mile.
The City is a “massive political football that has been kicked very hard over the last few years and yet it is one of our greatest assets”, added Ronson, speaking at his company’s annual lunch at the Dorchester.
The event was attended by hundreds of business chiefs, as well as politicians, journalists and charity leaders.
“We can continue down a self-destructive road of blame and retributive justice in which City players are mauled by their own regulators and government,” said Ronson, who also owns UK petrol station empire Snax24.
“Or we can all try and work maturely and purposefully to sustain an extraordinary City that has been built over hundreds of years.”
The government’s attempts to restrict the immigration of students and workers also came under attack. “There is a flood of growth in the number of people in the [Asian] subcontinent who want to learn,” he said.
“They are the ones with 15 per cent growth and we have none – and yet we are now damaging our chance of attracting them by introducing new legislation to make it hard to do so.”
The recent hike in stamp duty on home purchases worth more than £2m, from five to seven per cent, was cited as an example of the politics of envy. “If we create a tax regime that punishes success,” he warned, “this will kill aspirations to succeed”.
The 72 year old has enjoyed a rollercoaster career, quitting school before he was 15 to work in his father’s factory business before founding Heron Group in 1956. He was jailed for six months in the early 1990s for his role in the Guinness financial scandal, though the European Court of Human Rights later ruled the trial to have been unfair. Having donated over £30m to charities and set up his own Foundation, at the end of 2011 he was given a CBE for charitable services.
Referring to his industry, Ronson warned that supply of prime London property “is at record low levels”.
Ronson also accused some newspaper editors of stoking envy while presiding over declining publications and pocketing vast salaries. “The hypocrisy that exists is quite disgusting,” he said.