So the EU referendum debate is over and finished – or is it? Failed politicians have thrown themselves onto their swords while others have been thrown onto them by former colleagues. A lot of people have been left deeply uninspired by the debate whilst convoluted negotiations in Brussels continue.
The In/Out referendum was conducted in a very reserved, British way with the ‘don’t knows’ holding the balance until they stepped into the booth. The predictable issues of tariffs and immigration, subsidies and federalism were explored but by and large the debate was careful to avoid the elephant in the room – the viability of an expanded EU in 10 years time. With the UK sitting out on a limb at the edge of Europe there’s a big gap between Westminster and Turkey, Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro etc. (PS: Where is Montenegro?)
Given the profound implications I thought it would be fun to conduct an (entirely unscientific) opinion poll amongst Traders on a London Market where 90% are first-generation immigrants. The results surprised me – there was a far deeper understanding and willingness to address the issues than amongst professional politicians. It was like ‘Question Time’ on steroids. The majority voted ‘Out’ and not just to slam the door behind them. There was a deep-rooted conviction people should accept responsibility for their actions and take risks in return for reward. Risks are of course something which politicians shy-away from so the referendum debate seemed pretty shallow and uninspiring. No-one inspired confidence and stood out as a leader. Perhaps they should have copied WW2’s charismatic General George S Patton. He also fought a campaign in Europe after announcing “I know my army is a bunch of peasants but they deserve to be led from the front, not driven from behind”. Hmmmm….
Much more inspiring were two inquiries held by the House of Commons Business Innovation and Skills Committee. Firstup was publicity-shy and blunt-speaking Mike Ashley, Founder of Sports Direct to respond to allegations by the ‘Unite’ Union that he pays less than the national minimum wage at his Shirebrook distribution centre. At first he refused the invitation to appear (‘It’s none of Parliament’s bloody business..’ etc) which could have put got him bangedup in prison. But Mike didn’t fancy the publicity so kept his cool, told his PR advisor to shut up and pointed out “I’m not Santa Claus… and I can do a better job for the people at Sports Direct than Unite”. Mike got off lightly in return for agreeing to review and address the allegations. Result: Round one to Mike.
The following week they hauled in Sir Philip Green, Chairman of Arcadia Group to quiz him why he sold BHS for £1 to Dominic Chappell a year before it went bust. Sir Phillip, unlike Mike is certainly not publicity-shy but is equally direct. He suggested Arcadia had ploughed £600 million into BHS before selling it to the former bankrupt and ‘Premier league liar’ Chappell after an OK from bankers Goldman Sachs who endorsed him. Phillip revealed he was now in touch with the Pensions Regulator to sort out the £570 million staff pension fund deficit. “The regulator made a phone call – maybe someone bought them a telephone” he said. Result: Round two to Phil.
I wonder if Mike or Phil would like a job as PM?