Event round-up: The View from the Bridge January 2018

Our latest View from the Bridge saw three expert speakers sharing what they think is going to happen in 2018. Is it going to be, ‘the year of living dangerously,’ or is that too pessimistic?

Gina Miller (transparency campaigner and thorn-in-the-side of the government on Brexit), Anne McElvoy (Senior Editor at the Economist) and George Buckley (Chief UK Economist at Nomura) ‎took up the challenge.

Predictions ranged across sectors and spanned the globe. The usual suspects featured (Brexit, the global economy, gender) along with some unexpected ideas – could Trump bring about peace in Korea?

On Brexit, the panellists offered views on different aspects of the issue . Gina Miller, perhaps unsurprisingly given her success at forcing the government to give Parliament a vote on triggering Article 50, focussed on the current legal disputes.  Plaintiffs in Wales are claiming that failing to include within the Withdrawal Bill that the advisory referendum is now a legal decision results in the whole thing being invalid and illegal.

Ms Miller also talked of a case that has been filed in Amsterdam to ascertain whether EU citizens’ rights derive through membership of the EU or derive because citizens are now “part of a treaty”. The importance of this, she explained, is that it could result in every British citizen having the right of freedom of movement. She expected the case to be referred to the ECJ.

Ms Miller was critical of the Labour party, saying it had  been too quiet around the Withdrawal Bill and have allowed the executive to expand its  powers. She puts this down to Labour smelling power for themselves – why wouldn’t they want an increase in power if they come into government, she asked. But she described the idea of a Corbyn government with more power and subject to less scrutiny as filling her with “horror”.

When asked why businesses were not lobbying the government more, Miller said she understood that they were in the background. Anne McElvoy agreed, saying most companies do not want to talk about this publicly. They got a bloody nose during the referendum so now don’t know how to make the arguments.

Ms McElvoy on global trends, with a key issue  for her being Trumpism vs Marconism. She felt 2018 would be the beginning of Merkel’s twilight years but did not believe Merkel would leave the world stage before restoring London-Berlin relations.

George Buckley looked at the global economy. He described an optimism on global economy output, evidenced by an increase in capital spending across the globe – with capital spending and orders in some economies growing by 10%, particularly benefitting capital exporters such as Germany, the rest of Europe and South Korea. He warned that the UK would not benefit from this as Brexit is dampening companies’ willingness to spend.

Although he described a slightly depressed situation in the UK, which now ranks bottom with Italy on the G7’s GDP growth (1.5%) he said there were reasons to be optimistic. The global economic recovery is excellent for the UK, which is highly open (60% against the USA’s 30%), and global austerity policies have been toned down. But his biggest worry was that Brexit uncertainty would result in businesses holding off investment and consumers reducing their spending, particularly if the UK’s deal with the EU is not concluded until the 59th minute of the 11th hour, as David Davis has said could happen.

Inevitably, the discussion  covered Trump. Ms McElvoy said that there is a policy on North Korea – it’s not necessarily being written by Trump – but a hardening on the issue was inevitable, regardless of who was in the White House, because it is a 20 year problem.

US tax reform will see benefits skewed towards higher earners, which was a strange way for a populist president to address the problem. Indeed, Ms McElvoy pointed out, a lot of people do stand to make money out of this presidency. She was more concerned about the pitching of Wall St against Main St and the further divisions this could lead to in American society.

Mr Buckley made the point that the US economy’s recovery cannot be pinned to Trump, though the task for the Democrats in the midterms is to explain why, if the economy is doing so well, is Trump such a bad president Ms McElvoy countered.

The event ended with a discussion on gender. When asked what companies should do to harness the energy and interest of millennials in philanthropy and community to tackle the gender gap, the panellists all agreed more needs to be done on internal mindsets. A focus on gender is not the answer, Ms Miller said, calling for a better focus on socio-economic groups and education. A lot of women are held out as shining examples of success, but actually come from the same pool as men and attended the same universities. She described them as “men in skirts.”

Ms Miller called for a greater focus on the pipeline of talent. Pipelines are more important than anything else, she argued, in getting female talent to the top of companies. If cultures do not attract and retain women throughout their careers, they will not make it to board level. Ms McElvoy agreed: Queen bees are not the same as having a happy hive and it’s the women who make it to the middle of companies who have it the hardest.