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Tim’s Viewpoint

Do economists at the CBI, The Times and the FT model themselves on Edmund Blackadder, asks Tim Martin

In Wetherspoon News, I quoted Cambridge professor Simon Baron-Cohen, who correctly said that “each example of the erosion of democracy leads to an even greater erosion of human rights”.

Like the great majority of Oxbridge graduates – albeit with many notable exceptions – the professor is an ardent EU supporter, even so. He appears, subconsciously, to exempt the undemocratic EU from criticism. I also quoted Financial Times journalist Edward Luce, who criticised the last two American presidents for failing to support the ‘democracy-promoting creed’ in their conduct of foreign relations.

Unelected

Yet the Financial Times fails to apply the same criteria to the EU, with its unelected presidents, its court which is not subject to democratic control and its pseudo-parliament, whose MPs cannot even initiate legislation. In a previous edition of Wetherspoon News, we quoted in full a Financial Times article by Peter Mandelson, which appeared shortly after the referendum. The article explained that Mandelson, Cameron and Osborne, the architects of the Remain campaign, Oxbridge graduates all, decided not to deal directly with questions about issues such as the absence of democracy in the EU. Instead, when asked, they decided to avoid the question by ‘pivoting’ to the economy, with support from discredited organisations such as the IMF, the OECD, the Treasury and their ilk. This blindness to, or evasion of, the EU’s evident democratic shortfalls recalled the strange events of Britain’s debate about the euro 15 years or so ago.

Overwhelming

Then, the Financial Times, the CBI, most boardrooms, the majority of MPs, Blair, Mandelson, Heseltine, Clarke and the overwhelming majority of economists, supported the UK’s euro application with religious fervour, even though its predecessor, the Exchange Rate Mechanism, had caused economic mayhem only a few years before. The same paradox was evident then. The most highly educated lent support to a currency which lacked a basic ingredient: a government. The new currency could only work by transferring normal democratic powers over interest rates, budgets and taxation to unelected bureaucrats. Or perhaps autocrats is a better word. Charlie Munger, a partner of the world’s greatest investor, Warren Buffet, may have an answer. Munger’s view, which explains the often idiotic behaviour of financial markets, is that intelligent people suffer from extremely poor judgement when they become ideological, whether through religion or other deep beliefs. And, for some people, the EU is a semi-religious project. Gillian Tett, a Financial Times journalist, reached a similar conclusion in trying to assess why so many in the tightknit circle of business, media and academia got it so badly wrong over the euro.

Since the referendum, the economy has generated a stunning 300,000 new jobs

‘Groupthink’ was her explanation, which is perhaps not too different from Munger’s analysis.

Referendum

Leaving aside these theories, the fact is that the UK voted to leave the EU in the referendum, article 50 was triggered by an overwhelming majority of MPs and 85 per cent of MPs were recently elected on the basis of manifestos which accepted the referendum result. However, the gloom and disruption of the diehard Remainers in the media, parliament and boardrooms have reached epidemic proportions. The CBI, representing big British business, is one of the worst offenders. Its boss, Carolyn ‘we’re all doomed’ Fairbairn, set the tone with her Blackadder-style warning, before the referendum, that “a dark cloud of uncertainty is looming over global growth … particularly around the outcome of the EU referendum”. Closet Remainer David Smith of the Sunday Times is not to be outdone in apocalyptic prose: “Slower growth has been staring us in the face since sterling’s post-referendum plunge guaranteed a squeeze on household real incomes and a cloud of renewed uncertainty descended on business.” Well, David, it hasn’t descended on our business, nor on most businesses, from what I can tell.

Economy

Since the referendum, the economy has generated a stunning 300,000 new jobs, employment is at its highest-ever level, the stock market has risen by around 20 per cent and household incomes, as at the end of the first quarter of this year, were at a record high. The Financial Times is the epicentre of gloom. The first sentence of a July editorial reads: “The uncertainty surrounding Brexit means the UK economy is set on a journey with no compass.” Surely, this was written by Edmund Blackadder. If the editor of the FT is Blackadder, Baldrick is the FT’s economist Martin Wolf, who darkly prophesied that “Britain is incapable of managing Brexit and calamity will follow”. Not to be outdone, the Remain-supporting Times is full of predictions of doom and despair. The doyen of doomsters is Matthew Parris, a former conservative MP. In a bleak and doom-laden article on his return from holidays, he said: “I left Spain feeling ashamed to be British. I returned to England ashamed to be a conservative.” Stroll on, Matthew. Take it easy, old chap. The sun will still rise in the east tomorrow morning. Perhaps the most comic aspect of gloomy media reports on Brexit negotiations is the constant reference to ‘cliff-edges’. A recent edition of the FT had more examples of cliff-edges than the Cornish coastal path.

Phenomena

Similar phenomena occurred during the battle to save the country from the euro. In almost every debate I had during that period, euro proponents said “the euro train is leaving the station and the UK is not on it” or intoned similar metaphors. When critics start talking of cliff-edges and compasses, it usually means that rational arguments are running short. The most melodramatic recent requests have come from business organisations like the CBI and the Institute of Directors. They want the government to clarify and publish its objectives in the current EU negotiations. The obvious problem with this approach is that manifesting a clear desire for a particular outcome will result in the EU upping the price – or vetoing the proposal. Necessity never made a good bargain, as Benjamin Franklin said. People like Carolyn Fairbairn, and the majority of economists, who insist on a ‘deal’ are, in effect, sabotaging the UK’s negotiating position. As Mervyn King, the former governor of the Bank of England, has recently pointed out: “If you’re going to have any success in this negotiation, you need to have a fall-back position which the other side understands and thinks is credible. It’s not the first choice, but we have to have an option, otherwise the other side won’t listen. This ought to be something people can agree on… whether they voted for Brexit or not.” Mr King understands that the government needs to be able to say: “We’re happy to agree a free trade deal, if the European negotiators are agreeable, but we are more than happy to trade using World Trade Organisation rules, if we can’t agree.”

Successfully

That’s the basis on which we trade successfully with 93 per cent of the world which is not in the EU. Our most successful engineer, James Dyson, adopts a similar approach to Mervyn King’s and states that relying on WTO rules would be “no big deal”. In any event, as we did in the pre-referendum edition of Wetherspoon News, we have included four articles from optimistic Brexiteers and four from gloomy Remainers. Once you’ve digested their views, you can make up your own mind as to how we’ll do. I think democracy is the key to prosperity and freedom, and a lot of the other points which have been made are hogwash. But you can decide.

Indeed, in a democracy, you WILL decide.

Tim Martin

Chairman