Cardiff Business Club interviews Will HuttonDate Posted: 24 October 2017
'Brexit was a two-fingered salute to the Conservative leadership hell-bent on licking its wounds at a cost to the country'
Interview conducted by Paul MacKenzie-Cummins from ClearlyPR for and on behalf of Cardiff Business Club.
On Monday 23rd October, Cardiff Business Club welcomed Will Hutton – economist, columnist for The Guardian and current Principal at Hertford College at the University of Oxford.
Never one to mix his words, Hutton is vehemently opposed to Brexit. In his most recent article he remonstrated that the Conservatives negotiating Britain’s exit from the EU are feeding the public a “farrago of inconsistent nonsense, resting on the unchallenged assumption that the 1980’s transformed the economy for the better. They didn’t.”
In our pre-address interview, Mr Hutton started by saying that Brexit was quite simply a “protest vote.”
The referendum last year saw 60% of voters in Cardiff choose to Remain within the EU, while Wales as a whole voted by the same number to Leave. “You can correlate the vote with educational attainments levels.”
He said: “Where there is a higher concentration of those with degrees, professional qualifications and level 2 and level 3 skills, these areas are performing well and so they voted to Remain.”
But, once you start moving out to the Valleys and other areas, where the level of educational attainment is much lower than in Cardiff or Swansea, for example, “the status quo isn’t working anymore.”
This isn’t the first time this has happened.
In 1975, the UK was asked to vote over whether to join the then Common Market. Back then, the decision to do so was carried by a 2:1 majority and much like the referendum of 2016, this was also “an expression of frustration among the electorate.”
Mr Hutton argued that “the working classes voted against their interests in order to put two fingers up to the status quo.” The Remain campaign, he said, quite simply “didn’t understand that, didn’t anticipate it, and they had no answers for it.” This sense of disconnection between the ruling Conservative Party and the voting public has its roots a little closer to home, as Mr Hutton went on to explain:
“In the Conservative brain, overriding the national interest is the unity of the Party itself; that transcends country, security, and the nation’s economic interests. That’s the way they think.
“They didn’t want a blue-on-blue fight – they didn’t want to take on Boris Johnson or Michael Gove head-to-head. They instead wanted to heal the wounds of the Party after they had won [the General Election].
“This meant that their [pro-Europe] message had to be less direct; they didn’t want a track record of blood on the carpet that they would have to make apologies for later on.” This, he stated, “messed the campaign messaging up [and led to them] failing to really hit some of the lies that came out of the Leave campaign and not making a positive case for Europe.”
Europe, he asserted, is a “noble thing…it creates prosperity and jobs, it’s about growth.” One of the most important creators of jobs in Wales is the Finance sector.
Employing 54,300 people, the Finance sector has seen unparalleled rates of growth over the last two years. But uncertainty over Brexit has been exacerbated following a number of statements from some of the industry’s most influential players.
Last week, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein tweeted: "Just left Frankfurt. Great meetings, great weather, really enjoyed it. Good, because I'll be spending a lot more time there. #Brexit." In a statement, he warned that 1,000 of the 6,000 people employed by the company in the UK could be de-camped to Europe after Brexit.
This followed similar communications from JP Morgan and Deutsche Bank who both said they could each move 4,000 jobs away from the UK. So will this derail the advancing tide of growth we have seen in Wales? Possibly not, according to Mr Hutton.
“London is the world’s international finance centre, but that will soon cease to be. It will be challenged by both New York and Frankfurt. There will be an impact on Wales but it will more likely be indirect rather than direct.”
The growth rates that have been enjoyed by the Finance sector, particularly in Cardiff, over the last two-to-three years won’t remain as they are post-Brexit, but we’re unlikely to see retardation either. As Mr Hutton put: “Cardiff knew this; that’s why it voted to Remain.”
There is some hope for the Remainers though, he said. Brexit is “our generation’s Dunkirk” where defeat can become a platform for eventual victory. “I think there is a 30% chance of Brexit not happening at all,” he stressed.
“Opinions are shifting. People like me are arguing with increasing ferocity that it’s wrong. Businesses are arguing that it’s wrong, and the economy is changing people’s opinions too.”
Indeed, he went on to say that all but six of the 190 nations in the world today are experiencing growth yet Britain is already showing signs of falling away from the rest of the world’s leading economies.
“The world hasn’t seen a synchronised boom at any point ever and for Britain to grow at just 1% is a calamity – we should be growing at a rate of 3, 4 or even 5% and whatever the growth rate will be after Brexit, it will be 1% or more lower than what it should be.”
Brexit is, as Mr Hutton concludes, a disaster. But to quote from an article he wrote for The Guardian, it “can be turned around if millions have sufficient conviction, Dunkirk-style, to will it.”
This is a moment, he rallied, where “the radical centre needs to stand up alongside the business community to be counted. We’ve got 12 months to do it.”