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For the second time in two years a Conservative Prime Minister has sought party advantage by gambling with the country’s future and losing. Theresa May now joins David Cameron, Sir Anthony Eden and Lord North, who lost America, in the rogues’ gallery of Tory political disasters.

The country now has to live with the consequences of their failed gamble. In a sensible, modern, democracy like –say- Germany, the two main political parties would sit down together, right now, to provide reassurance to the public after a General Election that had produced a ‘hung parliament’. …

As someone who has travelled from economics to politics and, now, back again I am aware of the risks of cross-contamination. Economics as a profession has been infected by public scepticism as a result of politicians’ misunderstanding or misusing forecasting models usually by failing to spell out the assumptions and qualifications behind them.

Economists in the Treasury, Bank of England, IMF and OECD are now among the reviled and ridiculed ‘experts’ who ‘got it wrong’ and failed to understand how the optimism and willpower of the British public would triumph over the nay-sayers and Remoaners lurking behind those unpatriotic econometric equations. Actually the equations said ‘if x then-maybe-y’ not ‘y will happen’ but that was drowned out in the noise. …

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Many thanks for inviting me to give this public lecture. For one thing, it is both flattering and fascinating to be asked to follow in the footsteps of Governor Carney. Or, indeed, in the footsteps of your Chancellor, Lord Leveson, who grilled me for an uncomfortably long time during his Enquiry dealing with the Murdoch takeover of Sky.

For another, you decided to take onto your staff my impressive former press officer, Jo Robotham, which suggests good judgement on your part. And, not least, I have positive recollections of an official visit I paid here two years ago, looking in detail at your sports science department, en route to a conference on Industrial Strategy and the Northern Powerhouse in New Brighton on the Wirral. …

Night-schools and the rediscovery of Adult Learning

I was invited by Ruth Spelman to give this lecture immediately after a presentation at the RSA (Royal Society of Arts) which had been conducting a project on the future of continuing, lifelong, learning. I shared a platform with David Blunkett who, along with people like John Prescott and Alan Johnson, personally embodies the tradition of working class self-improvement, achieved with the help of adult education delivered through the WEA, trades unions or municipal adult education colleges. …

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I don’t like or agree with Brexit but I get the basic logic behind most of what Theresa May is trying to achieve in her ‘clean Brexit’.

If immigration control is a key strategic objective then this difficult to reconcile with Single Market status (though ‘having cake and eating it’, as Boris Johnson puts it, wasn’t explored very far). If escape from the European Court of Justice was an overriding concern (though why?) then we have to leave the common commercial arrangements over which the Court presides. If we are to have a national trade policy then we have to leave the customs union (though the costs to our supply chain industries are potentially serious). …


It is an honour to be asked to give this lecture. I asked myself: ‘why’? My only encounter with Brian Leveson was from the witness stand of his eponymous inquiry: one of the more gruelling experiences in a gruelling five years as Secretary of State for BIS. I am not sure if that encounter, or what led to it, was the reason. But it gives me an opportunity to talk about what has been called the ‘elephant in the room’ in the debate about media regulation: the interconnected issues of ownership and plurality.

Media plurality merited only 6 out of 146 paragraphs in the Leveson Report summary and, as a subject, it has largely disappeared in the endless saga about the Royal Charter and the precise nature of self-regulation. But as an economic minister and an economist I was and am deeply interested in competition policy and the market for corporate ownership; and as a political practitioner and democrat I am concerned about the progression from market dominance to market abuse, whether it is in the market for banking, pubs, books, football or newspapers. …

The few days since the election of Trump to the US Presidency have already produced a deluge of comment. In truth we are no nearer to understanding whether Trump is a cynical populist who will try to distance himself in office from the commitments he made to get there or someone who wants to use the Presidency to pursue the ugly prejudices which he articulated; whether he will listen to necessary but unwelcome advice or simply indulge his massive ego; whether he is primarily interested in making deals with potential adversaries or picking fights with overseas governments which cross him.

The question of Britain’s future role in the Trump world is a parochial one but important for us. The obvious starting point is to observe that the UK is in a horribly exposed place: no mans’ land. We are still in the EU but in the process of leaving it with not even the bare elements of a successor regime in place. …

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The debate about Heathrow expansion can easily be caricatured as between economic rationality (the Airport Commission) and business (the CBI and other lobby groups) on the one hand and London Nimby’s -all million of them- and greenies (worried about NOX and carbon) on the other.

There are of course very important and genuine concerns over the environment and over aircraft noise and this is what energises the protestors including the politicians in London who are mobilising against the expansion.

But as an economist and a former Business Secretary I am not willing to concede that there is an overwhelming economic and business case for Heathrow to expand through a further runway (and associated terminal). The Davies Report (the Airport Commission) which recommends Heathrow’s new runway (over Gatwick) is a technically accomplished piece of work; but it rests on a series of assumptions which are doubtful and…


The Cadbury tradition is being celebrated here and I vividly recall that on my last outing with the Lunar Society Sir Adrian was on the front row. I would like to pay tribute to his work and his considerable legacy.

My own appreciation of that tradition started rather earlier with Bournville cocoa and Cadbury Milk Tray though I confess to divided loyalties. One of my earliest recollections is of the deliciously sweet smell of chocolate manufactured in Terry’s 200 yards from my first childhood home. My mother worked on the production line when she left school at 15; my father started his working life on the shop floor, across the city in Rowntrees; and my uncle, who broke through the glass ceiling into management, ran the box making plant. …

With the financial turmoil, the vote share of social democratic parties has fallen across western Europe. The new challenge for the centre left is to build an outward-looking economy.

If the centre left faces acute crisis. The Labour Party is being destroyed by infighting. If a general election were held any time soon Labour, under its present leadership, could expect a mauling. The Liberal Democrats are recovering from near-annihilation, at least in terms of the number of MPs we lost in 2015, yet morale is high on the back of our successful local government campaigns. However, we are yet to break back into double figures in the opinion polls. A Conservative government, which has just perpetrated the biggest policy disaster in generations, leading to Britain’s unplanned exit from the European Union and perhaps to a self-inflicted recession, is being rewarded with large poll leads. …



British politician and economist, former MP for Twickenham and Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills from 2010–2015 under coalition government

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