Thursday 23rd July
Principal Will Hutton – Think and Act Big! How to navigate through the pandemic
Thursday 23rd July 2020
After nine years as Principal of Hertford college, eight years as chief executive of the Work Foundation, four years as editor-in-chief at The Observer and ten years at the BBC Will Hutton has learnt a thing or two about thinking, and acting, big. In the last of the Hertford Responds webinars, Will reflects on the final months of his Principalship, shares some highlights from the past nine years and and insights into how the college has adapted to a socially distanced world.
Catch up with the lecture below!
Below are the answers to some questions which didn’t get asked during the Q&A.
Q: What advice would you give you successor? (or ‘what do you intend to do when you come up’).
A: Be patient, build a consensus and if even then you can’t take people with you – you probably need to change tack or even abandon whatever proposition. Don’t allow yourself to be disappointed about reverses. And don’t above all be afraid of Governing Body. They are good people who want the best outcome.
Q: Will the increasingly presidential style of our Prime Ministers accelerate or decelerate the socio-economic changes you rightly prescribe and are so urgently needed?
A: Personality driven politics and the character of the leader are going to grow in salience I think. All the more reason to build in constitutional checks and balances to Presidential-style leadership.
Q: Japan has benefited from Keynesian economic system. It is still an imperfect democracy, but can countries unite and enhance a Keynesian system and democracy again?
A: They can and will. For example the EU Recovery Plan is Keynesian in its thinking. Italy will receive four times more than it did under the Marshall Plan…
Q: Does it surprise you that right wing newspapers outsell left wing newspapers 3:1?
A: There is amazing stasis in the newspaper market with it being very hard to start new titles – so the right wing dominance is baked in. Many readers buy papers for their crossword, fashion or sports coverage – and don’t realise the paper in question is foisting very right wing views on them. However the New European is doing well, the Mail is less hysterically right wing and even the Sunday Times is now less emphatically conservative: there are readers out there whose tastes are not being met. Interestingly the Guardian and Observer are both improving their market share. But until a government insists on the separation of news and comment, and corrections being as prominent as the original article’s mistakes overt bias is one of the facts of the British political life.
Q: What do you think of the proposal that each country is allocated 30% GDP in monetary financing to cover the cost of COVID. There wouldn’t be a run on currency because everyone is in the same boat.
A: I am not sure who would do the allocating – or whose money is being allocated? Is this an international de facto currency like the SDR? It’s a great idea, but a pipe dream given current international tensions. However, in effect this is half happening at the moment: every country’s debt levels are reaching new peaks – but the markets give everyone a pass because we are all in the same boat.
Q: Are you concerned about Prime Minsters’ unelected officials bypassing the civil service?
A: Yes. An independent civil service is one of the bulwarks of our unwritten constitution. Over my lifetime all the threats to democracy and our constitution were imagined to come from the left. Wrong. It is the Brexit right who are the menace to the rule of law and our democracy.
Q: What kind of corporate governance reforms should be put in place to build the UK’s Mittelstand? Surely not staid supervisory boards and workers’ councils of Germany.
A: I think employee voice and counterweights to excessive board autonomy will be one of the platforms for success in the 21st century, so I don’t share the denigration of things German – even if their processes are a gnat clunky at times. Britain needs a root and branch overhaul of its training, governance and financial systems to create a mittelstand – and a culture that celebrates business building rather business flipping (in order to create the fortunes to pay the school fees!)