By Harry Phibbs
Follow Harry on Twitter
Congratulations to Michael Hintze who has been awarded a knighthood. Mr Hintze is very rich – a billionaire if measured in US dollars, although probably not quite in terms of sterling. His hedge fund CQS is among the top perfomers in the world. This is a success not just for its investors but also for the rest of us, helping to create jobs and wealth around the globe.
Mr Hintze was ahead of the pack in warning that the scale of toxic debt due to sub-prime mortgages meant some UK bank balance sheets were less than solid. A pity more people didn't listen at the time.
It is not surprising that Mr Hintze takes an interest in politics. His family were refugees from Communism – twice. His grandparents fled Russia after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. To escape Communism they went to China. Whoops. Michael was born in the Chinese city of Harbin. Again a Communist takeover prompted a departure and so he grew up in Sydney.
With his wife Dorothy he has set up the Hintze Family Charitable Foundation. It has made donations of over £30 million in recent years – £1 million to the Old Vic, £2.5 million to the Nation Gallery, £3 million to Wandsworth Museum which was saved from closure. In fact Wandsworth has done particularly well out of him – he is a local resident and is fond of the borough. A new inpatient centre at the Trinity Hospice there is another cause he has supported.
He is also prepared to back the ideas he believes in – even when they challenge the consensus. So he supports the Princes Foundation for Building Community – a heroic body that has done so much to offer an alternative to the ugliness the architectural establishment has been imposing on us for so long. I suppose the Prince of Wales would be rather less keen on another cause Mr Hintze has backed – the Global Warming Policy Foundation. But as with his stance on the banking crash, Mr Hintze is looking rather prescient in helping an alternative view to be explored. There is also support for the excellent and fearless Institute of Economic Affairs.
Does anyone seriously claim that all this isn't enough to merit a knighthood? Yet the honour for him is sneered at, due to him also being a donor to the Conservative Party. The donations are substantial – around £3 million over the years – but a small fraction of his charitable giving. Yet the suggestion appears to be that they should disqualify him from getting an honour.
What is especially unreasonable about this is that some of the critics in the press would also oppose taxpayer funding for political parties. Without any evidence that his business has been given specially favourable treatment, Mr Hintze is attacked for backing what he believes in with his money.
The suggestion seems to be almost unchallenged in the media that donations to poitical parties from wealthy individuals are reprehensible per se. They are not. It is unfortunate that the Labour Party has slid back to being so heavily dependent on trade union donations – which really do provide cash for influence of the most crude and blatant nature.
Flourishing artistic life in our country is enhanced by private sponsorship. Democracy is enhanced by political parties being independently funded by their supporters, rather than becoming branches of the state.
Mr Hintze deserves recognition for his contribution to both.