Bring me a bully

Monday 1st July 2019

I was on a Brexit panel in front of  a bunch of corporate City lawyers . The subject was, pretty predictably, what does Brexit mean for the City.

Sitting next to me was Jacob Rees-Mogg, who, whatever your political taste, had details of most of the consequences already laid out, like a careful seamstress with her patterns and cottons and materials.

As a City generalist, I  set out my modest stall. Pretty obvious stuff.  I rehearsed the usual views –  that the City has survived and will survive because it is populated by an ingenious tribe who – again, love ‘em or hate ‘em – have endured and prospered better than most of our old industries. And given the average youngish  age of the present tribe, who would want to relocate from the grooviest town in the world..and so on.

Then, I said, and this is before Boris’ weekend announcement of a Brexit task force, what the Brexiters need is a Beaverbrook. Max Aitken, was a Canadian-born newspaper publisher , with Daily Express as his seat of power. His peerage followed his election to the House of Commons in 1910 – the dear old Express became the most successful mass circulation paper in the world. He used his editor’s office to promote the British Empire as a free trade bloc, but most of all was employed by Winston Churchill in 1940 to inject some vim into aircraft production at that critical  time of the Second world war. He was by all accounts not a very nice person. A bit of a bully.

But most of all he was not a civil servant – he’d had political ambition, but his launchpad had been business. By mid 1943, Britain had mastery of the air war.

Margaret Thatcher , in the eighties. was pushing through another rather big change. She was suspicious of her Cabinet – and thanks to that superb recent documentary, how right she was – so she employed a businessman called David Young. Again, taste varies ,but he knew how to disprupt and deliver.

So – I leant back and folded my arms , job done  and then my fellow panellist said words to effect of ‘Well, here we are in the City. Among professionals whose bread and butter is negotiation. So why don’t we employ not a politician or a civil servant, but someone who is used to big stakes and large gambles. Who understand the art of negotiation.”

No bad idea,is it, from wherever you come ? Our Whitelhall and Westminster representatives have been outmanoeuvred by EC technocrats – our continental friends are well versed in sniffing out weakness  and keeping their cards close to their chests.

Let’s get a sharp person in who knows the value of our the jewels, but is not going to give them away lightly, if at all.

Michael

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