Britain's Brown taps his own Donald Trump to boost dismal ratings
Conservatives snapped up a Labour seat in Norwich North in a Friday by-election. Brown has turned for help to self-made billionaire Alan Sugar, putting him in the House of Lords – and naming him ‘enterprise czar.’
Alan Sugar is Britain's Donald Trump, a brash entrepreneur who has dispatched five seasons' worth of contestants on the BBC's version of "The Apprentice." The British press has dubbed him a "bully" and the "beast of Brentwood" (where he keeps his home) for his on-screen antics.Skip to next paragraph
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But last week, the flamboyant billionaire was given a new sobriquet by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown: Lord Sugar.
The appointment of the tailor's son with the cockney accent to the House of Lords, the government body once reserved for British nobility, is more than a mark of the growth of meritocracy in British political life. It's part of a desperate effort by Mr. Brown, deeply unpopular at home, to avoid being told "You're fired!" by voters in elections that will be held sometime before next June.
Sugar, a self-made billionaire, is Brown's new "enterprise czar," and his tasks range from cutting red tape to guiding government investment.
Yet opposition politicians were crying foul even before the Jewish boy from London's scruffy East End donned the ermine robes of a lord.
Only blatant snobs will complain
The Conservative Party lodged a complaint with the BBC, saying Sugar's dual role working for the broadcaster and the government is a conflict of interest. Blatant snobbery, countered fans who welcomed his arrival as a breath of fresh air in the rarefied world of Westminster.
Sugar remains an outsider with an apparent distaste for many of the polite conventions of Britain's establishment, despite his unofficial ranking as Britain's 59th richest person. Born in 1947 in poverty in an East End that had been devastated by World War II, his live quickly took on the sheen of a Horatio Alger story.
By 12, he was leaving the house every day at dawn to boil beet roots for a local trader. At 16, he was selling car antennas from the back of a van, and by age 21, he'd amassed enough capital to start Amstrad - Alan Michael Sugar Trading. He had an initial public offering in 1980 and, after overcoming difficulties in the 1990s, was bought by the broadcaster BSkyB for a reported $200 million in 2007.
"There is a huge amount of snobbishness about his appointment," says Stephen Alambritis of Britain's Federation of Small Businesses. "As an entrepreneur who has made it from a very modest background he is someone who many look up to for inspiration."