The British government is currently embroiled in a cash-for-access scandal after it emerged that rich business tycoons were promised access to Prime Minister David Cameron in exchange for large donations.
But there’s at least one company that doesn’t need to worry about stumping up cash to cosy up to the nation’s leaders.
Over the last few years, Google (s:GOOG) has a built up a multitude of ties and links to the British government and senior political leaders, and as a result it seems to hold significant sway over the Cameron cabinet.
And on Thursday that twist on the famous “special relationship” was underscored again when Britain’s treasury chief was wheeled out for the official opening of Campus London, the Silicon Valley company’s new startup workspace in London.
Campus is an interesting — and unusual — move for Google: a co-working hub aimed at supporting small, local web businesses and entrepreneurs.
But the fact that Chancellor George Osborne, the man in charge of Britain’s purse strings, was happy to turn up and cut the ribbon shows a lot about the connections between the two groups. In fact, Osborne even went so far as to co-sign a puffy opinion piece about Google and Britain’s technology industry with Eric Schmidt in today’s Financial Times.
The piece itself is not really worth reading — especially since it repeats the canard that London’s digital business community has swollen from 200 companies to more than 700 in just a couple of years — but it is just the latest evidence of the extensive relationship between Britain’s ruling politicians and the Californian company.
Let’s just look at some of the links here:
- Cabinet ministers and senior advisors have met with Google dozens of times since taking office, including around the time of an important review into intellectual property laws
- One centerpiece of that review was an idea, quoted regularly by Cameron, that “the founders of Google said they could never have started their company in Britain”. According to recent digging by The Register, seems to have been incorrect
- Eric Schmidt is a member of the Prime Minister’s advisory council on business
- Top Conservative strategist Steve Hilton — “the PM’s most unconventional adviser” — is married to Google’s global head of communications, Rachel Whetstone — herself a former Conservative Party apparachik
- Before becoming Prime Minister, David Cameron argued that Britain’s National Health Service should be using something like Google Health for its digital record keeping
- Also while in opposition, Cameron flew to California to address Google Zeitgeist
That’s just a little smidgen of it. At its root, Cameron seems to be enamored with Google’s disruptive approach to business — particularly the rhetoric of change and innovation that has surrounded it over the past decade (even if the company is increasingly looking like a bully, not a bright star.)
His obsession with Google’s influence may not be anything more than an infatuation, which is not unusual: Tony Blair had a similarly doe-eyed relationship with Bill Gates and Microsoft.
But at what point is Google’s relationship with the government too close for comfort?