Ed Vaizey | UK former Minister for Technology, Culture and the Digital Economy 2010-2016Apple Podcast Spotify
Ed Vaizey was the UK’s longest-serving Minister for Technology, working for UK Prime Minister David Cameron from 2010-16.
During his time as Minister, Vaizey oversaw a major expansion in fixed and mobile broadband coverage; helped the UK become a world leader in tech investment, working with companies such as Google and Facebook, as well as supporting the start-up ecosystem.
Ed was educated at Merton College, Oxford. After university, he worked as a political researcher, before training and practising as a barrister.
A letter to the Treasury: https://blog.fundingoptions.com/covid-19/letter-to-the-treasury
Lloyd Wahed: Welcome to Searching for Mana. The podcast focused on tech innovation in finance fintech. I’m Lloyd Wahed and I’m a headhunter. I’m privileged to spend my days meeting with some of the influencers, leaders and founders in technology and finance from unicorn companies to financial disruptors. This podcast we’re going gonna be hearing from these individuals and really trying to understand how they got into fintech, what they’re doing, what their company is all about, and perhaps some of the trends that they’re looking at in the market.
Lloyd Wahed: And welcome on to the show, Searching for Mana.
Ed Vaizey: Hello.
Lloyd Wahed: Fuller introduction. Ed Vaizey, former UK tech and culture minister. It’s a pleasure to have you on the show. Just before we kind of do a bio and a career walkthrough, we’ve got we’ve got another guest on the show here. Can see you or your dog running around it?
Ed Vaizey: Well, let’s see if a dog wants to join us. Too distracted at the moment. She might come back in.We’ll get her to do a guest appearance at some stage. A very cute dog.
Lloyd Wahed: Well, she could.
Ed Vaizey: She’s called Pepper.
Lloyd Wahed: And I can see you, obviously, as along with everybody else right now in the U.K, you are in your residence. How’s that going. How is being isolated. Did you found it ok?
Ed Vaizey: Yeah. We’re very lucky because we’re in Oxfordshire so we’re in a small village outside Wantage. I used to represent in this constituency. I left parliament in December last year. And so we’ve got, we’re surrounded by green fields that we go for walks. I started running and working out when I can. So weirdly, although it’s a very tough time obviously for everyone, there are some small silver linings in the sense that you are, you know, free from the distractions of your daily existence and you can focus on staying healthy.
Lloyd Wahed: Yeah, that’s right. That’s definitely a lot of people that I’m talking to, candidates, clients, peers who have a positive attitude about it. Obviously, it’s a terrible crisis in many ways. Seems that they are getting a lot of things they didn’t have in check into check. I’m one of those is exercise. I’m yet to join that club. I manage to go for a run or do stuff inside. But that’s my next challenge. I’ve just been trying to move my business.
Lloyd Wahed: That’s as a headhunting firm, it is all about meeting people and going and networking to efficiently working remotely. So that’s failure. That’s been a real upheaval for us. I feel like after a few weeks we’re there and everyone’s now enjoying their remote work to such a degree. I might struggle to get back to a four or five-day-a-week role in the office.
Ed Vaizey: Maybe I don’t agree with that. I think people think that I mean, who knows when this crisis will end, but I don’t think that we will ideally, you will fundamentally change things. I think that we will rush back to social contact when this is over. And very quickly slip into our old ways whether they were bad or good old ways, I don’t know. There’s a romantic part of me like you that thinks I could do a day at home on Zoom meetings, but actually face-to-face contact. There’s the old me saying I could possibly do on Zoom these days. Sometimes I find myself travelling into town for one or two meetings. I might be more robust and say I am no good to those on the phone or on Zoom, but generally speaking, I think we’ll go back to the old ways. Here is the dog. That door opening is the dog returning it.
Lloyd Wahed: So, I think I think in some part you’re right. I think the industry has changed a lot of the people receiving a large amount of investment or running business now from a technical background. Yeah. And so I think that they’re certainly over the last several years has been a disparate change in how people perceive the culture as productive and say, I think a lot of technology businesses right now all over the press as well. We had everything set up like this.
Lloyd Wahed: You know, we’re using Slack to communicate as teams and collaborate across different territories. We’re using Zoom to have our meetings. You know, we never all in-person having meetings. And there’s a limited appetite to always make things more efficient, which is the whole artificial intelligence movement. But I’m certainly from what I see, I can never surprises me how much progress is made with those type of innovative efficiencies. But then how much actually, when you look at the business, there’s just as many people in those companies and how much relationships are still so important to be forged in person and building rapport. So I think you’re right. I think we’ll carry on having a combination. But I suspect that remote work and Zoom…
Ed Vaizey: Just make sure the dog is in socket. So the dog is going to sleep there. And it reminds me weirdly a perfect example of what I’ve been w.f.h is a yoga course where the yoga teacher it’s a recorded thing, but she has a enormous dog in the background, which is a I find quite therapeutic. So maybe the dog will stay for our whole podcast. But I think what you’re saying is very interesting.
Ed Vaizey: I don’t want to distract from the main event, which is that to a certain extent, it depends on what kind of business you are. So when I was an MP, for example, I had a team of two or three people, but I never saw them physically. We would meet up maybe once a week to chat just almost for formal sake. But you know, the lady who handled my constituency casework, it all came in by email. She did it at home. And in one stage, the guy who handled my campaigns was in London, in Westminster. But he didn’t physically need to see me. We could chat about stuff on the phone.
Ed Vaizey: So certainly, you know, what I think is interesting about this terrible crisis, we’re going through some, again we’re always like potentially silver linings is how quickly innovation happens when it has to happen. So, for example, there’s a lot of bureaucratic inertia about things like telemedicine. You know, GP is consulting with their patients over video link. Well, when you have to do that, because you don’t want to have face-to-face contact, suddenly you see in a very intense period the opportunity that exists to really make that interaction ten times more efficient than it is for, say, a relatively vulnerable patient to schlep over to a doctor’s surgery and wait for an hour for an appointment. So some of that change, I think, will filter through and be permanent. And I think one of the things I’ve been thinking about writing about is abou the coronavirus won’t lead to a return of big government people saying, well, you know, the government is nationalizing everything, controlling anything, but it will, it could herald a return or not a return, but a more effective government, a government that looks at problems rather like a sort of Hackathon, if you like, and says, you know, okay, we could say reduce the number of cancer deaths by 50 percent in the next five years. But we have to relentlessly focus, obviously not at the scale we focused on Coronavirus, but we can really step it up. And yeah, I was thinking about the early days when people compare the coronavirus to flu. It’s clearly obviously a million times worse than flu, but. One thing that makes flu bad and people die from it is we don’t have a national vaccination program or a public health awareness program, so maybe that will change. Maybe there’ll be a much more effective measures to reduce deaths from regular flu. So all of that could change. That could be a lot of changes on the way.
Lloyd Wahed: Yeah. And I was reading a professor Richard Susskind, you does a lot of work on predicting trends in the future of commerce. And he’s been campaigning about court attendance being virtually now. And I think he’s been doing that for a while and predicting it.But, that is possibly an idea that we’ll see now because of this crisis.
Ed Vaizey: Classic, classic example where you can see the officials in the Department of Justice saying, no, you know, it’s part of our tradition of justice, the defendant should be present in the courtroom to see justice being done. Well, you know, it costs a lot of money to move a defendant from prison to court. It creates vulnerabilities. If the defendant is particularly risky or at risk. All of that could change. You could have a much more holistic approach to criminal justice.If you embraced technology, so that’s a very good example of how things could change because things have had to change.
Lloyd Wahed: So what I want to get into understanding some of the responsibilities, you know, the things that would have just been wonderful to be able to make strategy on some of the stresses. When you’re in the seat that you’re in, in parliament, say, what are the things that, you know, I see a great impact in the tech sector. But obviously, I work within is the Innovation UK scheme, where companies can get large government grants if they’re truly seen as colliding creativity and commerce where it provides an additive result to the UK. So you are involved in the tech UK right from the beginning, I believe. Is that correct?
Ed Vaizey: Yeah, I mean, it depends what your, which one you’re talking about. So there’s Innovate UK, which, Gives government grants to mainly focused on kind of science companies. So as an example, I’ll give you an example in my own constituency, which I used to represent, where I’m speaking from now Wantage. It has a scientific campus called the Science Campus called Harwell, has a lot of space companies. It may surprise some people to learn there’s a thriving space startup sector in the U.K. There’s a company called Open Kosmos, building small satellites full of being thrilled at how Innovate UK has helped them get started with grants to get them off the ground.
Ed Vaizey: So anecdotally, I spent a great deal of time both as an MP and a minister hearing really fantastic feedback from Innovate UK, the kind of people that keep talking about Britain having his own DARPA, the defence research arm in the US. It’s sort of a a civilian and much smaller version of our DARPA. It just gives very, very targeted grant assistance to scientific startups that need kind of significant capital of 0.5 million to a million to really get going. And it seems and this is not based on any objective research, but anecdotally, it seems to have had a tremendous success because I met kept meeting companies time after time. They said they owed their start in life to Innovate UK. Then you’ve got Tech Nation, which was the trade body that the governments set up as tech city to represent the tech sector. Interestingly, I just applied to be the chairman of Tech Nation and they sent me an email saying that I shouldn’t, they didn’t think I was worthy of an interview, so I had a bit of a blow having helped create Tech Nation or Tech City as it was in 2010.
Lloyd Wahed: Did they give you any feedback as to why they were rejecting your application?
Ed Vaizey: No, I asked for feedback, but they spelled my name wrong as well. So I’m obviously well past myself by that. But they were set up to, I think, have done so very successfully to promote the startup, the UK startup economy. And to be a sort of front door for anyone who was interested in that. So you’re if you’re a foreign investor or whatever and you wanted to learn about the UK startup economy, you would go to Tech Nation. They’ve done a very good job in highlighting where the clusters are and so on, and also lobbying government to changes that would help the startup community, particularly on things like immigration and specialist visas to get in founders and so on. So I think they’ve been a great success story as well. I would’ve made them even more successful if I’d become their chairman.
Lloyd Wahed: Of course. Of course. I mean, you see, your tenure in that position was when we really saw, you know, London’s Tech scene become fantastic and it’s obviously one of the crown jewels still along with finance. Right? It’s technology and finance in the city. Yeah. So I don’t understand why, you know, you wish you weren’t taken seriously. But there we are. You applied to do that, Is there something that you really excited about doing right now that you’re looking at on that type of scale in that area.
Ed Vaizey: Well, I mean, I left parliament weirdly in order to do more politics. It’s a famous phrase that Tony Benn used, but I really enjoyed being a minister. I think, you know, even the most junior minister, you know, people can deride ministerial life. And it’s true that to a certain extent, the big decisions are effectively made by the prime minister and the chancellor and other ministers are to a certain extent along for the ride. But you can make a big, big difference as a minister.
Ed Vaizey: And I loved being a minister after the arts culture. I lobbied for the kind of tax breaks that have seen the film and video games industries thrive in the UK. And I really got excited by the UK’s tech sector because I found it very creative and very innovative and exciting. And it’s not just in London as well. It was all over the country. So that was fantastic. And I left parliament because I wanted to, I thought, I’m not going to become a minister again. I’ve been a minister for six years. I’ve been fired. It’s highly unlikely I’ll be brought back into minister of life. And I’d like to, but I’d still like to do stuff in the sort of public policy arena. And that can mean working with private companies. You know, you mentioned, for example, Salary Finance, a company, I’m on the advisory board. You know, they have an ethical loans company. You can get much cheaper loans through Salary Finance because you pay it back through your salary. And there’s obviously a massively important public policy angle there, which makes it an attractive company for me to work with. But I’d love to run something. I would have loved to have been to taken the role of chairman of Tech Nation, for example, and help shape its future going forward. But I’m sure there’ll be other public organisation where I’ve got a chance to work with going forward in the future.
Lloyd Wahed: Yes, so I just want to take a chance, sir. Let me explain your position on the show from our perspective, because we’ve reached.
Ed Vaizey: What am I doing? And why is this guy on your podcast, what he got to say to specialist fintech people who normally listen to this podcast, think about it, tips and insight into how to run their tech company.
Lloyd Wahed: Yeah. And never get any from me.
Ed Vaizey: But why is the top of his head cut off?
Lloyd Wahed: Yeah, exactly. So, this is really, I think the view that you have to go to to understand how fintech is working. So there’s many other podcast shows where, you know, it’s all about the products. That’s great. And there’s one that’s all about what’s happening in the news in fintech. But sadly, for us to ever do a great job as a search firm in the sector, then we spend a lot of our time going to the tech companies such as Amazon. We have to talk to people who unlegislated. We have to go to traditional finance. So I’m really trying to show for this, Searching for Mana podcast doesn’t mean that every single person that we talk to is the CEO, founder of a fintech business. We’re sometimes talking to the data scientists on the ground because it gives us a really full view. So you’re in a role for a long period of time where you shape in the middle of things that affect the tech sector, assessing that to be quite important. So to the audience David, it’s also very interesting to hear what you are doing now because, you know, we see people like Clegg( David Clegg- former deputy prime minister) is in a prominent position at Facebook. What’s he doing there? Right. And so if you start understanding technology on a large scale now, it impacts everybody.
Lloyd Wahed: Then, of course, the politicians are starting to have roles that, and for you to explain to us what you’re doing at Salary Finance, which is a business we placed onto the C-suite as a search firm. We don’t know each other personally, But, you know, if you’re coming at it from a recruitment perspective, you don’t need to know what’s going on the board. But if you’re coming at it from a search perspective, you’re trying to understand what Salary Finance to do they would have to tie that back to if we look at your political career. So I know that you legislated around how loans are allowed to be provided to people. Right. And this is something that we’re talking to a number of people in the credit world within fintech where they’re all quite passionate about that. We want banking to be trusted. We want banking to provide a service. Of course, at some point, banks need to make a profit. But we’ve been in a really interesting five year period where they’re just trying to do the right thing. And I certainly know that Salary Finance, certainly in my view and I’m sure therefore in yours, is getting lending done in a responsible manner and so it is quite interest for viewers, tell us about what you are doing with Salary Finance in that proposition.
Ed Vaizey: Yes, so Salary Finance is run by a group of people who are very passionate about where they fit into this whole, well so the kind of legislation you’re talking about, which I wasn’t personally responsible for but went through when I was an MP, is about payday loans. And, you know, the loan industry has a terrible reputation. First of all, because of payday loans, which obviously charge extortionate rates of interest, but also normal loans tended to be very high, they have relatively high interest rates compared to what people we used to say, paying for on their mortgage. And that was because loans are not secured and therefore they are technically higher risk. But a lot of people have accumulated quite high debt repayments because they take out loans to buy the kind of everyday products from a car to, you know, audio visual equipment that most of us would take for granted. And so Salary Finance is part of a wave of companies that worked out the make loans more secure. If you pay them back through your wages, and if therefore the employer is able to tap the cost of the loan each month from your wage package. And you, it’s really some of the stories that have come out of it. It is immensely heartwarming because you take people who might have five or six different loans to where those loans are charging pretty high rates of interest and the debt burden of having to repay those loans every month. The interest on those loans every month is becoming pretty crushing and suddenly I went exaggerated, but suddenly with one loan, they’re relatively free because they can consolidate into one loan. The interest rate is much lower. And the lender is secure because they know they’re going to get a repayment out of straight out of the wage packet every month.
Ed Vaizey: And that’s a great thing to be involved in. And it costs the employer nothing. They just have to integrate it into their into their payslips. But clearly, Salary Finance is, it’s a profit making company wants to make a profit. But it’s also motivated by what it sees as injustices, perhaps too strong a word, but something wrong in the world of finance and therefore gets involved in the whole public policy debate. And I think, for example, that ministers and government often miss a trick. You know, they talk about, you know, every time, every time the budget comes around, there’s a big debate. You know, it’s gonna take a penny of income tax and save people X hundred pounds a year. Well, actually, if the government grants what you can do with some of these financial technology innovations, not just low loans, but, you know, regular mortgage transfers. And it has obviously made massive progress in terms of your ability to move your current account, change your mortgage, change your phone provider. Think about the big kind of costs in a household. The average household budget. But there’s much, much more that can be done. You know, the kind of charges, for example, that are levied on pensions still haven’t been tackled.
Ed Vaizey: Government could without spending a penny of its own money, as it were. But by simply focusing relentlessly on this and looking at the regulations and championing the good guys in the industry could save your average citizen hundreds of pounds a year without touching income tax. You know, Salary Finance, their first week with one particular employer, their employees. Not all of them, you know, take out their loans is obviously not compulsory. But within a week, they had saved two million pounds in annual costs for the group of employees that took up their loan in the first week. So you can make a real difference if you had a government that was relentlessly focused on this kind of innovation in the financial marketplace, consumer financial marketplace.
Lloyd Wahed: Yeah, it’s something I absolutely agree with. The thing that’s come out of the 20 podcasts that I’ve worked through is that if you took that principle and applied it to things such as professionals trying to get a mortgage that would get them into an appropriate type of property. It’s just really how you look at it and therefore the restrictions in the regulation.
Lloyd Wahed: So this is a really good example of where if politics can work with the technology industry without having to tax more then innovation can happen, that the public really benefit from it. Because if you go to the professional who’s working full time, you know, doing their best, providing a service, then that’s one of the big problems, even through what’s been a eleven year bull market is that it doesn’t true up with materialistic what they expect they should have from past generations. You know, I have a number of examples of people who gone to the best universities or good ones. They’ve worked super hard working in companies that would recognize the names of and their pay doesn’t relate to that situation fairly. You know, they might still be renting, that rent might be 50 percent of what their salary is. You know, they haven’t decided to get married because the cost of that would be too much. And so that’s what I think fintech has the opportunity to do, is to provide the solutions for that individual, to have the experience that would be appropriate to the value that they’re providing to to to the society. And it just takes somebody like you. I feel to have that dialogue across industry. And policymakers say we should totally correct it if we go back to your formative years when you were growing up. I know that you ended up at Oxford University studying history, but if we could actually go back before then and try and understand maybe some of the values that you had in stored in you, some of the influences be that from parents or from schools or whatever it might be, what do you think growing up was standout about your experience as you remember it?
Ed Vaizey: So in many respects, on a completely conventional upbringing, I was a middle-class kid growing up in London, but never financially under pressure in any way, not particularly rich, but certainly never under any concerns about where the next meal was coming from. And so I went to a private school. It was a very good school, and therefore going to Oxford was no great achievement considering my background. I guess my formative influences were my parents, overwhelmingly my parents. So my father was an economist, an academic who taught at university and wrote a lot of books about economics. But the key thing to understand there is that he was adviser to many Labor governments. And in fact, he was put into the House of Lords by Harold Wilson, the Labour prime minister in the mid 1970. But he then changed sides and went over to the conservatives where Margaret Thatcher became prime minister at the end of the 1970s. So he, I also grew up in a house where politics was immensely important. And there were political figures coming to the house all the time. Plus, my dad made this massive change from leaving the party he had supported all his life – the Labor Party to joining the Conservative Party. And you can imagine when he joined the Conservative Party, I was 11. You know, I had a major influence on my political outlook. And I became a very strong supporter of Margaret Thatcher as a teenager. Sounds and probably was extremely nauseating, think of some teenage Thatcherite, but there you go. But I think really what I did, my dad was.Politics was just in their living room and the dining room every day.
Ed Vaizey: My mom influenced me in a different way, so she was an art critic. She wrote about the arts. So I grew up going to exhibitions, going to the theater, going to the opera. So I’m pretty young age and I, therefore, had a kind of affinity and love of culture that I took into politics. So I was one of the few people to actually ask a leader of a party if I could actually be the culture spokesman. Weirdly, how I came to the technology brief, it’s quite complicated, but I started having the culture briefly go to museums and galleries. But the other thing about my mom is she’s American. And she’s Jewish. I was brought up with Christian, but she is Jewish. And so her father, grew up in poverty and Neil wasn’t allowed was the first in his family to go to university. Having grown up in New York, speaking Yiddish in a room with eight brothers and sisters. Couldn’t join any legitimate law firm in New York because he was Jewish in the 1920s, so set up on his own. And I don’t want to kind of overdo it, but I think there’s an element that I’ve taken from my mum being American and Jewish, of being a slight outsider.
Ed Vaizey: I mean, I’m obviously you only have to look at me and listen to me speak to know that I’m the consummate insider and I’ve got a very easy path in life in terms of my education, in terms of becoming an MP and so on. But I do like to think. But I have a sort of element of being on the outside, looking in to a certain set, I’m not quite as 100 percent British establishment as I appear. So they’ve been obviously the major influences on my life. My father also died when I was 16, so that was obviously very traumatic for me and. I do wonder. Given how influential both he and my mother have been on me, whether I would have been a different person if he had, if I’d grown into adulthood. I wonder sometimes if I went into politics partly to. Sort of recreate old sounds very odd and probably unhelpful and not the inspiring message people want to hear from politicians. But I wonder to a certain extent, you know, I went into politics to sort of reconnect with my father. There’s an element of that. So I think all those factors are influential on my upbringing.
Lloyd Wahed: Yeah, look. That’s why it’s interesting to hear people’s background because it certainly influences where their career went to different timeframes. And, you know, I think if you grew up with politics, you know, and you thought your father was a real, as I’m sure he was rolemodel, then you gravitated towards there after his past makes some sense. But what I take from the background pre-Oxford is that possibly what you had was you had exposure to many different things I’d say that might have allowed you to have more empathy than a lot of people assume politicians have. You’ve been down the exact conveyor belt of although you did go to a great school. St Paul was brilliant, obviously. Then you went to Oxford. You had impressive parents because you saw art and culture, because your mom’s background had some struggle in it. Perhaps you have more of a ability to look at a situation with an empathy to it. And if we look at your legacy and in politics, it seems like you didn’t try and grandstand too much for what I can see yet. And there wasn’t too much like “Absolute I must get into that top role”, from what I can read and research, that’s. But, you know, I don’t know. But it feels like maybe that carried through your whole career. And I think that that’s really, that’s really nice to see, because I’m always personally as a headhunter striving for balance, because my role, as you know, we are by the nature of what we do.
Lloyd Wahed: Trying to just understand situations and trying to understand people and put them together. So culture blends creatively and it feels like you’ve got a really. A real way of seeing things as well like that, which is great. But if we go, then through Oxford. What would be interesting to me. And then we can finish on this kind of first segment is of course, it is education you have there in history. But it seems like that generation and many certainly formed relationships that then their careers changed, get on like cross-pollinating. You had a real period there, Oxford, where loads of prominent people have come to power. Right. As ever. And you’re involved in it. What if you go back to that period? Like, what was that? Was that obvious? Could you see that you have a bunch of people who were going to be the leaders of the country moving forward or actually, you know, just complete coincidence.
Ed Vaizey: This is really interesting. I suppose, by all means. Yeah, I think it’s a very perceptive question you’re asking because I think certainly with hindsight, I can absolutely it’s completely crystal clear and in some way, a slightly revolting. I guess in some ways Oxford being the home of, the breeding ground of the establishment is revolting in some ways, and it’s attractive in other ways. Because Oxford is also where there is sort of the great leveler. Let’s say someone like me went to Oxford, but it was kind of, it will be more of a surprise if I hadn’t gone to Oxbridge, given my education. But then you had people like Michael Gove who come from comparatively modest background. Again, I don’t think Michael would back on and say he had some kind of really tough upbringing and I think he went to independent school. But, you know, his parents had to work to do to afford it. But you have people from lots of different backgrounds who Oxford had kind of leveled out and people found their needs. So obviously the Oxford Union bred a lot of people whom I now know in the world of politics, like Michael Gove himself, but Jeremy Quin, weirdly, Simon Stevens running the NHS at the moment. The world of student journalism bred people who are now very prominent in the media. And I think the surprising bit, the people I didn’t expect to be in my sort of in this kind of village, if you like, of government there, at least to my partner, isn’t how the second most important civil servant in the country is just to be made permanent sector of the Cabinet Office and another friend of mine is a permanent secretary, contemporary mine from college is permanent secretary of The Home Office. Another contemporary of mine is Ambassador of the Netherlands. So that whole official world, if you like, the career civil servant and career diplomat turned out there are a lot of people I was at Oxford with who were there.
Ed Vaizey: So did I know at the time? No, I don’t think you do realize at the time. I think I have to say I think you realise quite quickly afterwards, you know, I went to work at the Tory Party straight off the university. Michael Gove went to work for, I can’t remember, I think eventually BBC. So really, in your early 20s, you’re beginning to see, you know, maybe it might be inappropriate to say it, to make jokes about, you know, who might end up prime minister, who might end up as editor of The Times. But you also see, again, mocking with hindsight how insular to a certain extent those worlds are. There’s a world of politics and media interacts. There’s a world, as I say, it’s kind of diplomacy and officialdom interacts. There’s a world of the city which I never interacted with at all.
Ed Vaizey: And it’s all people I know from university who are now at the top of big banks. You know, I have no idea what they did for the last 30 years. There’s a world of law which to a certain extent we interacted with, I was briefly a barrister, but say everyone will pretty much into their silo pretty quickly and it’s interesting and a bit amusing to look back and think, you know, I’ve known a lot of these people for 30 years.
Lloyd Wahed: And Ed, when you were coming out of university having to think through. Yeah. Okay. Me and my mates have just kind of had a bit of fun with who’s going to be the PM, you know, the top editor of the publication.There’s different parts to be, I can go straight into party politics or I can go into, I’m a barrister, I could go into an investment bank and I could become a lawyer, etc., etc. and accountants. Then you ended up gaining and joining the party, but also becoming a barrister. What was the thinking there? Was it strategic? Did you know at that point, as you say, partly because you wanted to have a reconnection potentially with your father? Okay, this path is the best path. And then it’s to section the question: In hindsight, does that feel like that was the thing that allowed you to be so successful?
Ed Vaizey: So that’s a very perceptive question as well, so because I’ve reflected on it a lot. I went to the Tory. I went to work for the Tory party by accident, and I had actually weirdly, I’m sorry to the image I must be projecting, but I’d weirdly work for them in my gap year before going to university. But somebody said, you know, they were looking. It’s this thing called the Conservative Research Department, which is the title of political research for government ministers. So civil servants are allowed to, you know, obviously do all the work on your policy, but if you wanted to attack the opposition, you had to use people in your political party. And somebody said I was all set to go to law school. And somebody said, actually, there’s a job going at Conservative Central Office, as it was called then. And I, yeah, go for it. Be a bit like doing a kind of being two years, you know, in politics, be fun. So I really enjoyed it. And I don’t know whether it’s the same now, but I can’t, you know, it was like, you know, to me, politicians are rock-and-roll stars. I loved, still do love politics. So at the age of 21, when you’re writing speeches for Ken Clarke, you know, it’s pretty intoxicating. It’s very, very exciting. I absolutely loved it. And then I made a terrible mistake, which is interesting for your head-hunting approach. I decided. And you’re quite right. As a strategy, that I would go back to my original plan to become a barista. Obviously, I enjoyed public speaking. All of that. And so having been in the absolute center of things as a 21-year-old and loving every minute. I went back to college, two years studying, another year of training as an apprentice – a pupil. So three years of my life, while all my mates were still enjoying themselves in politics and the Tories had unexpectedly won the election. And I was utterly, utterly miserable. And I think it affected my ability to be successful as a barrister because I was constantly looking over my shoulder at politics. And I had gone to be a barrister as a strategy. I’d gone to be a barrister because I ultimately wanted to be an MP. I made a terrible mistake to go see my career as a barrister when my first love was politics and I missed out on five or six years when the Tories were in power. Anyway, back to politics, just as the Tories were about to lose to a landslide election, I finally left the bar and went to join a public affairs company a year before the Tories went down to the biggest election loss, you know, a hundred and fifty.
Ed Vaizey: And it was a great lesson in life to me, which is you have to fundamentally have to follow your passion and you shouldn’t do things for what you perceived to be the right reasons. You should do them for whatever rocks your boat. So yeah, I made a huge mistake going to the bar and I should have started politics, although I would maybe sitting in our thinking, if only I had a proper career, maybe I had to get the bar out of my system. But certainly, you know, once I went to become an MP, I found my groove and thoroughly enjoyed my 14 years as an MP.
Lloyd Wahed: I know it would have changed over the timeframe, the different roles that you had before. If we go into a kind of place in time when you are an MP enjoying the chocolate, you are truly passionate about. What were some of the things that you loved about it? If we think about you on a given day.
Ed Vaizey: Well, first of all, the bit I enjoyed a lot, which I wasn’t expecting to, obviously I am a career politician, was looking after my constituency. So you find out very quickly, the difference you can make as an MP to individual people who you know, the people who contact you when you’re an MP tend to be people who’ve reached the end of the line. They have nowhere else to go. I mean, I think the other person asking me to appeal their parking ticket. And I never lost a parking ticket appeal while I was an MP, but generally speaking, you get people who are having their hospital operation cancelled, can’t get proper housing, who found it difficult to access welfare benefits. And you can make a real difference on their lives, provided you are prepared to react quickly and effectively follow up. So I find that enormously satisfying. And then I think the other thing I always say about being an MP is, you know, it’s like having an access-all-areas-backstage pass because whatever issue you are interested in, you have a platform in the House of Commons, if you want to raise an issue and say, I think the world should be like this and I’m going to campaign for it. People listen to you because you’ve got MP out your name, because if you say, I want to talk to Joe Bloggs or Helen Smith about this issue. This famous person doing this or this famous person doing that, they will tend to agree to meet you because they know that through you as an MP, even if you’re a backbencher, you can potentially bring about change. So know it’s a very, very satisfying job to do.
Lloyd Wahed: Thinking it, thinking it through and having thought it through, this is often the case when you think through someone who’s at the top of a given profession. You always wonder how do they stay on top of all the different tasks they need to do to be successful at the job a group. And it strikes me when you talk through, you know, the reality of some of the responsibilities that you have as an MP for your constituents, also looking at the strategy that you want to be pushing generally for the party, for the country. I just wonder what does that day look like. So you must have to be consuming and reading an awful lot of content. You must have to be having meetings throughout the day. So you’re on top of strategy. You must then, on the most basic level, would have to be corresponding with one of your constituents about that parking ticket or or some medical or whatever it might be. It must be. Can you talk us through what a day looks like?
Ed Vaizey: Yes, I think you got to, obviously, not all empires are perfect, and I’m not claiming for a minute that I was, but I think about how to do the job. First of all, you need a good team. And you need a good team around you with clear responsibilities for what you want to achieve as an MP and broadly speaking, you have three jobs which you can compartmentalize, which involve effectively three peats, three job descriptions. It might be more than three people, but one is plain and simple casework. And that is if your constituent writes and says, I’m having trouble with X can you help me? You get on it and you solve it. And often you’re just a postbag. So you might say this person needs better housing. I’ll contact the local council. But I think the lesson you learn there is speed.
Ed Vaizey: People really when you consider our day-to-day interaction with bureaucracy of any kind, both private and public people really appreciate a personal response and a quick response. So I used to reply to every single constituent personally. But I would write one sentence saying, I will sort this out. I didn’t write five paragraphs. I will sort this out. And then I would pass it onto my caseworker and we would sort it out. And then the second job is you need someone on to help you with the issues that cross the whole of the constituency. So it might be housing development in my case or a road infrastructure or whatever. And that’s that covers the whole constituency. So they have somebody who you work with on that and you think through strategies about how to raise an issue and who to contact with ministers to contact to make a difference. And then the third issue is, you know, what are the national issues that interest you, in my case, culture and technology that you want to use parliament as a platform to campaign on. So those are the ways you keep at breath.
Lloyd Wahed: Yeah, when you talked earlier about, actually, you wanted to leave politics to be involved in politics more. Funnily enough, then what you’re talking about is you wanted to focus more time on that third category that you’re talking about, you want it to be evolved.
Ed Vaizey: Yes.
Lloyd Wahed: Right. Okay. That’s that’s that’s that’s useful for me to understand. So you’d come to a 15-year-or-so tenure where you’d been looking after your constituency, really enjoying it. Doing great work. But because that keeps you so busy, it’s how you just explained it, 70 percent of the work that you’re doing on a day or weekly basis. You wanted to hand it over to somebody and then focus on this third element, which is a broader strategy. And specifically now that brings us to where you are now, which is looking at, involve in the the cultural media technology in our country and trying to have some influence,right?.
Ed Vaizey: Yeah. Yeah.
Lloyd Wahed: And in terms of what you’re involved in beyond the company that you’re working with. You’re on the board of some of the institutes focused on culture.
Ed Vaizey: And I have a range of what is euphemistically called a portfolio career. And so I wanted to basically when I stopped being a minister, which is really when I feel that my kind of political career ended, although we had the hangover of Brexit and the whole battle over Brexit. But I wanted to recreate my ministerial career in the private sector if that doesn’t sound too weird. So I thought, one of the things I’m most interested in there are cultural and cultural policy, technology and technology policy. And so I worked for a bank, an M&A advisory firm. There’s a lot of deals in technology and media called Lion Tree that’s enabled me to build relationships with particularly with UK tech companies that are emerging through the bank might be able to advise as they grow, both in terms of fundraising or acquisition. And I don’t have to go to those companies and say I used to be the minister. I can now say now I represent Lion Tree. That’s fantastic. I still have some input into telecoms and technology policy through my work with FTI, which is a corporate communications consultancy. And I worked with a not-for-profit called Common Sense, which campaigns for kids safety on the Internet. So, again, quite policy-focused. And then I worked with a range of different startups. Again, Digital Theater, combines culture and technology putting theature material online. Salary Finance we talked about. News Guard, which helps spot fake news websites. So again, policy and commercial combined. So a range of different companies that kind of touch those sweet spots. And I’m on the board of cultural organizations like the National Youth Theatre. So it’s a pretty full and busy life, although what’s missing in the middle of it is a sort of, anchor tenant if you like that.
Lloyd Wahed: So if you are now thought about what’s next for you over the next few, five or 10 years. The portfolio you just described. Do you feel that has been the right move? You don’t have an itching to go back into frontline politics?
Ed Vaizey: You do have an itching to go back in frontline politics. I would love to. You know, I don’t think I could sustain, I don’t know if I would sustain a portfolio career for the next 15 years. It’s been a wonderful way for me to transition out of politics, as it were, in terms of being in parliament. But I would love to run a public-policy-facing organization in the techno culture space. People might interpret that as running a museum. I’m not sure I could run a museum. Certainly I would look at any kind of interesting government quangos that could within that DCMS family, as either a chairman or chief executive or one of those, would be something I’d probably enjoy a great deal.
Lloyd Wahed: Yeah. And then just lastly, I think it’s prudent for us to discuss the coronavirus. And I’d really be interested in your view on what the chancellor has put in place, which is huge amounts of money to protect SMEs in the country. But there is certainly, from my view, four weeks into everybody meeting remotely, everybody’s revenues falling off the cliff, challenges to access that. So I know that there’s a movement with a number of fintech businesses have joined together and have a view of this because their customer base are SMEs. If they lend to them where they can see that there’s real problems in those businesses, the lifeblood of our tech sector. So we’re trying to put that message out. I don’t know if your you’re aware of this particular fintech campaign, but I’ll certainly share a link underneath this podcast episode. Say you can or other people can see it. But on that exact point, you know, again, as somebody who has has empathy, it seems like Rishi has done a good job. He’s got a large package to support SMEs. There’s initiatives like furloughing staff that are brilliant, but a complex to work for. So we live in an incredibly challenging time, and I think the sentiment of the public and a business owner is seems like all the right intentions are there, but there’s still lots of people going out of business. There’s going to be a recession or depression that we’re going to have to live through in the short term. I just wanted to finish with giving you a chance to have your view on that subject right now.
Ed Vaizey: So I think obviously I’m full of praise for what Rashi Sunak has done in terms of turning on the firehose, if you like. And it is again a testament to how quickly this terrible crisis has developed that we went from a budget on March 11th we were 8 billion quid to support the economy through coronavirus to 330 billion stimulus package announced, I think two weeks later. So people obviously are extraordinarily grateful for what they see as quick and comprehensive action from a chancellor who gives the impression and I’m sure he is truly in control. So the policy is fine. What you have and what you’re describing are the classic symptom of Whitehall, which is it’s all very well for a minister to announce a policy. It’s how it actually is implemented on the ground.
Ed Vaizey: And I have some experience of that with being responsible for the rollout of broadband that I found at the end of the day to have you know, we weren’t in a crisis situation, but I have weekly meetings with their broadband providers and the civil servants to keep making progress. And you have to keep firefighting in the most irritating kind of bureaucratic obstacles around the country. And I think receivers, from what I understand, you know, reading the press is reacting to the problems that have arisen in the implementation of policy. Apparently, some people blame the commercial lending banks for demanding too high a price for the loans. Some people blame the British business bank for being too bureaucratic. Now, my experience of working, as you can imagine in my position, lots of companies come to me asking for advice, saying we’ve got this brilliant service. We’d love to provide to the government. It’s obviously extraordinarily difficult to penetrate to through decision makers in the Treasury because at the end of the day, ultimately the decision maker is Rishi and maybe one or two others. And they are completely inundated with individuals saying, either ringing up on behalf of a mate because they happen to know the job. So they just tell the mate. I will ring the chancellor and get this sorted through two other big problems being brought to them, you know, either by the CBI or the student directors. So trying to kind of prioritize that and and get through is very difficult. And trying to make this a project of this size announced so quickly, work on the ground is immensely complicated, but certainly, I would like to think if I was a treasury minister, I would find the time to engage with the fintech community because by definition we talked about this in the opening of the podcast, a lot of change has happened very, very quickly. The kind of technology change in public services that might have taken 10 years, that’s taken 10 days. And it would seem to me fairly obvious that certainly the experienced and larger scale fintech companies with the resources and the network, if you like, scale to distribute financial support could be paid in aid. But you’ve always got to be aware. Ministers are pretty overwhelmed. And they have to make very quick decisions and they will tend to fall back on the tried-and-trusted providers.
Ed Vaizey: It’s one thing to implement technology change very quickly in 10 days.It’s quite another to onboard companies with whom you have no prior history to deliver a valuable government service. And they’ve always got to be mindful, obviously, you know, insure privately that these funds are not being misused in any way. So it’s an extremely complex situation. It’s very, very hard to make your voice heard. Everyone thinks they’ve got an answer, but if only the government would give them five minutes and solve their problems, it’s a really complex navigation. And going back to kind of how I pick my job as an MP, at the end of the day, I suspect Rishi Sunak can only keep himself sane by focusing on three or four things that he’s gonna make sure happen, then happen properly.
Lloyd Wahed: Yeah, that’s right. And I understand the challenges and I think the fintech community feels like it has a solution because the technologies that distribute these loans to businesses and that like they had very good fundamentals and we want to protect through the next two, three, four or five months. So I will share that link because I think that this is exactly like, as we told you, the beginning of the podcast where you go to look at the silver linings, whilst of course, overall it is a tragic time that if we could, you know, use this as an opportunity to change the way that the correct SMEs are funded in preference to having to go to the incumbent bouts, where then the SME business, the individual has to secure that debt on their own property.
Ed Vaizey: Exactly.
Lloyd Wahed: Which is some people will administer the loans, pay off in the business to be successful. And then there are other hurdles we need to try to amplify that message.
Ed Vaizey: So those changes be made by Rishi already. So as you know, there was a huge outcry about some of the terms that commercial banks were imposing. And they quickly cut these rates. That’s a very good example.
Lloyd Wahed: Yes. And thank you so much for your time. Absolutely fascinating.I really enjoy your career.
Ed Vaizey: I really enjoyed it.
Lloyd Wahed: We’ll get back to you on whether we cut out some of the backgrounds, cut out some folks. I mean, you could get us a much bigger audience. So we talked about this after the shot.
Ed Vaizey: Yes.
Lloyd Wahed: Cheers,Ed. Thank You.
Also published on Medium.