Monday, 20 October 2014


It had been a strange week what with Clacton and the prospect of the Stroud and Rochester by-election at which the Tories promise (threaten?) to send the Cabinet several times to drum up opposition to Reckless. It’ll be ghastly for the voters.

Ghastly is how I felt as I saw a lethal Panorama report by softly-spoken Darragh MacIntyre on Nigel Farage. As I watched Nigel’s brazen contempt for the EU and his embarrassing behaviour I remembered that great advertisement which the Democrats ran in 1960 against Richard Nixon.

Like Nixon, Farage has a slightly sleazy and flaky look about him - definitely a “nice little runner only one careful owner and because I like your face I’ll knock off fifty quid. OK?” sort of person.

And then, I thought, I must read the Daily Mail and see what’s going on. It was 88 pages long with some 42 stories in the first 40 pages (before we hit travel, property, lots of ads, TV, Sudoku and sport) of which 7 dealt with sex - mostly rape and paedophilia - 7 with politics, mostly anti Tory establishment, and an astounding 14 on health, many lambasting the NHS.

A sample of these

  • “Air Passenger in protective suit as ebola fears start to grip the west”
  • “Filing your nails daily does more harm than good”
  • “Run off four miles to burn off just one bottle of Coke”
  • “Piling on the pounds? Blame it on Jet Lag”
  • “Don’t call 999 until you’re unconscious, dying man is told”
  • “France to curb binge drinking”

But on page 35 - immigration rears

  • “Adult asylum seekers pose as teens to get school places”
  • “Our right to be here by Park Lane migrants”
What was the overall effect of the paper?

There were some rather grumpy arguments between my wife and me about how the paper seemed to use consistently just one ‘typical’ story to stir up general anger about immigration, the NHS or government.

I was very conscious of the Taxi Driver grumble - “and another thing” - and I noticed this, for instance, in the leading article when Cameron’s team were accused of being in danger of making “a mistake they’d made all too often in the past”. Expressions like “All too often, not for the first time and how typical” are key words of negative thinking.

How did I feel? I felt shocking to be honest. This is not company I want to keep or a country I recognise or would want to live in. It’s sterile, cantankerous and permanently discontented. The sun doesn’t shine in Northcliffe House the Mail’s HQ.

And another thing - they really do think “Voting for UKIP will hand keys on No10 to Miliband” (p.19) - source: Lord Ashcroft. And you know, I think they actually want this.

Because then they’ll really have something to complain about.

That Miliband made a right balls of it - typical!

Monday, 13 October 2014


In a turbulent week of Clacton and Heywood & Middleton by elections we have the continuing paradox of good news and bad news. The UK is the fastest growing economy of the G20 yet all around we hear of top line decline in companies and that the going is tough.

On Saturday I reflected on Tim Bell ex Saatchi and Saatchi and the most extraordinary stand-up presenter I ever saw in advertising. Tim (now Lord) was good enough to endorse one of my books. In his own recently published book “Right or Wrong” he reflects on the renaissance days of advertising in the 1970s when creativity was king:

We had long lunches, late nights, irrelevant expenses. Sometimes I got by on the wing and a prayer…for example we used to make up research results all the time”.

Yes, 72% of people did back then - today it’s down to 41% according to Pinocchio Polling Inc.
Tim was a showman and a driving force. A mix of charm, insight, persuasiveness and recklessness.

But he had real, old fashioned style.

But that kind of style is out of vogue. The world now needs more balanced and empathetic leaders. In a world of increasing pace we need anchors of thoughtfulness. Interesting to see there’s an increasing move towards slow reading, slow cooking and slow travel. We all need to let our brains work at a more considered, wandering about, reflective pace. The joy of reading is in letting the story enfold and transport you.

Slow cooked shoulder of the lamb is a brilliantly yummy antithesis of fast food. Walking is the new joy and nowhere better than Venice where each alleyway leads to new discoveries.

Last week the new CEO of the M&S Bank was profiled in the Times. Sue Fox has a lifetime of banking behind her at HSBC. Why am I pleased about her appointment? We have Ana Botin as worldwide boss of Santander, Daniel Nouy head of the Euro Banking Watchdog, Jane-Anne Gadhia CEO of Virgin Money. But only around 10% of the top jobs in banking are taken by women (although 50% of all employees are female).

So I’m pleased to see some rebalancing but more pleased by what Sue said about leadership:

It’s about authenticity, living your values and being a visible role model. It’s about creating an environment where people can be the best that they can be.”

We need people who are outside the bubble, who understand today’s world and who are prepared to argue what they believe rather than avoiding confrontation. Most of all we need leaders who are team players and who understand the old fashioned macho leader is a dead concept. Sue Fox claims she knows what it’s like being in a call centre and I believe her.

I do understand the day-to-day issues and what they’re facing. I’ve lived it. I’ve been there.

As Nancy Durrant wrote last week in her interview with Stage Director, Phyllida Lloyd…”go girl!

Monday, 6 October 2014


Just a short time ago we accepted as a universal truth that a company belonged to the shareholders and since the shareholders wanted dividends our job was just to deliver profit.

Go back longer and owners of companies stumbled upon the idea of adding value to make a buck (or if you were Henry Heinz a bean.) Take a commodity, add some magic ingredients, trumpet your existence and make sure you could hardly move without finding it. Result a profitable, valuable brand.

A long time ago a less subtle technique for achieving wealth was used. Smash and grab. Attila, the Romans, Walter Raleigh, Thomas Cromwell, the British Empire, the American Railroad entrepreneurs all went out and took what they wanted - money, jewels, property, land and slaves. Some Russians copied this ‘honourable’ activity after perestroika and the Yeltsin liberation of state assets. These oligarchs haven’t exactly worked for their wealth. Most have simply stolen it.

The game’s changing. After the banking crisis and the astonishing valuations of high tech companies there’s a widespread reaction against corporate wealth. As I stumble in search of Nurofen through crowds outside Boots baying “pay your taxes” I realise how much it’s changed.

Quite simply the consumer of tomorrow will say in the cliché from the 1976 film Network:

I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore

(I just watched Peter Finch in the film ‘Network’. Look at the clip on YouTube - it’s still chilling nearly 40 years on.)

Ron Paul, the former US Republican congressman and two-time Republican presidential candidate said “Don't steal - the government hates competition” and if you look at what governments in the past have taxed he has a point. In the UK fireplaces, hats; in Russia beards; in Ancient Rome urine (which was used in leather and the treatment of cloth). The Americans have been and in some States are no less inventive. There’ve been taxes on blueberries, pumpkins - those going to be carved, body piercings and in 2005,Tennessee began requiring drug dealers to anonymously pay taxes on any illegal substances they sold.

The world operates globally yet small players in a given market like UK retail can shake the foundations, the might of Google and Amazon are being increasingly criticised on the grounds of their failings as good citizens and respectable occupations are shifting.

A French patisserie maker came to live in the UK recently to set up business.  This new neighbour was invited to a drinks party - “what do you do?” someone asked. “Je suis un…baker” Horror! “What’s wrong?” he asked. “We don’t like bankers” they said “I’m a baker not a banker” he protested. They gave him more to drink and embraced him fondly.

Slowly we are beginning to treat big wealth like big anything.

So is this the age of the baker?

Maybe not but it’s certainly an age of refreshed values as Wonga found out last week. Their age of funny-money is ending. And shortly the slogan will read “Wonga is no longer”.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014


The remarkable thing about the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles was the teamwork Europe showed in this most ‘teamly’ of golf formats, the foursomes, which we won 7-1. I shall no doubt reflect more and deeper on how it is four Englishmen and representatives from eight other European countries came together as one cohesive synchronised unit. How it was that even suspiciously UKIP looking spectators were howling “Europe! EEUURRope!!!” How for one glorious weekend we all felt as one.

And yet we are increasingly Eurosceptic with 51% saying they’d vote to exit and only 40% voting to stay in in a recent MORI poll.

I suppose if we exit we’ll no longer be part of the Ryder Cup which will be very good news for the USA. Just as it was for us when an always-beaten Britain in golf joined forces with Europe and the miracle started because of that alliance. Do we detect a possible lesson here?

But that would be less sad than the loss of what feels like an increasingly natural link. I actually feel more European than at any time in my life. Do I hate Brussels bureaucracy? Of course. Do I admire the Euro economy? Not particularly, no. But do I think we have a huge and necessary leadership role in the Europe of the future - of course I do. Without the UK I really do suspect Europe may not make it.

And I’m influenced by UK business leaders - a hard headed bunch - 80%+ of whom say we should stay with Europe. The CBI spell out the numbers saying that at around £70 billion a year EU membership is worth nearly 5% of Britain’s GDP.

The desire to leave is less well founded by far than the Scottish “yes” votes’ argument was.
Back to golf and that astonishing cultural harmony we saw. It was more than golf. The US team were statistically on average slightly stronger but the star spangled banner didn’t have the clout or the passion of that star-circled device for the EU.

I felt as though I was watching the possibility of “Europeness” as German embraced Spaniard and Dane embraced Scot. Unlike the World Cup or the European Song Contest Britain seemed happy to be in close company with its neighbours.

The mood in Britain is pretty well anti-everything at present. We have become a nation of “Doom Dabblers”. Given this I am not hopeful of a referendum on Europe.

I am (I recognise this) irrepressibly and even irritatingly optimistic.
But there are two guiding principles here though not just a bucket of warm Bonheur.

The world needs more collaboration. Being small may be beautiful but things are too complex to do them solo.

Learning to be in and loving being in a team needs strength of will and empathy. Opting out is always the easier choice.

Little Britain could be great in a united Europe which it helped lead. Or we could be proud, independent, little and ignored.

Our choice.

Monday, 29 September 2014


I’ve just started reading “Smarter: The new science of building brain power” by Dan Hurley.

He’s an American journalist who writes for the New Yorker and various science journals. He writes beautifully and persuasively about how it seems possible to improve our fluid intelligence, our IQ, by a series of brain training exercises. The theory is the same as that of physical exercise making our bodies fitter. If bodies, why not minds?

It even applies to people whose theoretical brain power is on the ebb - the elderly.  But, more than 500 years ago one smart lady, Elizabeth 1, recognised the need to keep learning. She claimed to learn something new every single day. And she lived to 70 - a fine Elizabethan age.

Giving up on learning and assuming we know how to fit the facts to the script that we’ve already written for ourselves hit the headlines this week. Tesco, a victim of unreasonable expectations all round, seemed to have romanced its profits somewhat and a whistle blower showed them the yellow card. Extraordinary that mighty companies haven’t leant you can’t fib anymore.

On stage next, Ed Miliband. So you’re a show off - “look no safety net!”-  and you try to do your conference speech unscripted. But you screw up and forget to mention two crtical issues you meant to raise. OK stuff happens. But then you try to wriggle out of it in a furtive “the dog ate my homework” kind of way.

Had you said “Yeah. I made a mistake” I’d have felt better about you. Extraordinary that big public figures haven’t learned that they can’t take unnecessary risks and that they can’t fib anymore.

Whilst we maybe overstate the importance of presentation in our working lives, decent clear communication is the least we expect and inspiring oratory works miracles (whether read or half read.) What we don’t need are word perfect actors.

Age is the greatest teacher of all. Most mature people I know have more inquisitive minds than they did when younger even if the passion to get-it-done and go-for-it has waned somewhat. Ferocious characters like Portillo and Tebbit mellow and even a foul-mouthed trader called “the Animal” at Salomon Brothers in Michael Lewis’ exposé “Liar’s Poker” is a genial novelist now in Colorado.

Yet the concern some feel about the upcoming generation’s ability to think nimbly and cleverly and have a NASA scientist competence with technological complexity is misplaced. Never confuse cleverness with understanding. By far the greatest asset in a world where marketing and people skills are still king, is empathy. We must be able to get what people really feel and think.

Finally Einstein’s version of insanity best describes the Tesco issue:-
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results".

We must vary our behaviour in response to what’s going on around us, avoid silly risks and learn to tell the truth.


Monday, 22 September 2014


I have been increasingly aware of how querulous the general mood seems to be at present. What thrilled me about the Scottish Referendum was the lack of apathy, look at that extraordinary turnout, and whilst the level of debate was certainly passionate people were at least arguing cogently about something that really mattered. What I hated was the sub-racist pro-Englishness that accompanied the victory for “no”. It smacked of football thuggery. “….’ere we go, ‘ere we go, ‘ere we go…..”

People just seem not overly fond of people. We are retreating into grumpy tribes. We don’t like the Scots, we don’t like the government, we don’t like our jobs - there’s just a lot of “don’t like” flying around - especially in the Tory party. What is wrong with them? They seem to dislike each other even more than they dislike Labour. They are unhappy and they want to hurt someone, anyone…”ere we go”.

The idea should be to get the best out the assets we have. So we want to create the most productive alliance with all of our allies, harnessing the genius in Scotland with our engineering brilliance all over the country, with our creative fecundity in the arts and media, with our financial firepower in the City of London and if we can mobilise that with the best of the EU instead of balefully lamenting their foreignness then collectively we might get somewhere and create a world to be proud of.

Hey, how rose tinted are my spectacles?

The querulous thread came up in a conversation last week about increasing the number of women in key roles. Not because that would be fairer (although it would) but because it would strengthen us, because it would activate talent we are currently wasting. Why are we spending so much time living in the past rather than recognising that the new generations (what we call generations Y and Z) are different. They’re bemused by the xenophobia, selfishness and misogyny that exist and they won’t accept them.

Someone said “we used to rule the world - so what the hell went wrong?” So did Venice, Persia, Greece, Rome and Egypt in their time. Domination is a male concept. What we want to do surely is not rule but help create. Our influence for good is still enormous and if instead of getting cross, territorial and  thinking of life as a zero-sum-game we formed teams and groups to solve problems and uncover opportunities then we might be better off.

I was not always a fan of Bill Clinton but here’s what he said in a speech at Yale in 2010:

A lot of these whacko things that are happening in … politics today are not really what they seem, they’re just people screaming — stop the world, I want to get off. The problem is you can’t stop it and you can’t get off. And since we’re all stuck, we better make it better together.

Right on Bill. Right on.

Monday, 15 September 2014


I watched a referendum debate on TV the other night at which hordes of young Scottish students were in the audience. They were amazing- very bright, eager and full of passion. If this is Scotland, I thought, they’re going to have a ball whether Thursday’s decision is ‘yes’ or ‘no’. And the debate has gone beyond a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ already. It did that with Gordon Brown’s olive branch, not so much an olive branch as an olive forest. And the bruising nature of the debate from the ‘No Campaign’ has meant one thing.

Union as we know it is over.

There’s been an overall miscalculation by everyone and oddly I think this includes the SNP. They were, I was told a few months ago by a pundit, making the most of an average hand that had been dealt to them. But the campaign, populist, mostly positive on their part and above all young now feels more like a revolution than a referendum.

I wonder if Alex Salmond realises what kind of toothpaste he’s squeezed out of the referendum tube. Times writer, Robert Crampton, who’s been touring Scotland on a temperature-taking tour, may be right in predicting a successful “yes” vote. But what he rather sadly concludes is that this is a great, happy and upbeat nation we’ll miss. One he thinks that deserves to have a go by itself. But the general sense is that Alex will have served his time whatever happens. Old politics - simply not fit enough.

A friend of mine said right at the start of the campaign that he'd been down to England on holiday and felt what a miserable bunch we all were.  This holiday had converted him from staunch “no” to wavering “maybe”. Another friend defined the issue as a “governance” one. Westminster cannot rule anywhere anymore - too remote culturally. The mayor has taken over London and Westminster is sitting in a stagnant, historic pool. If Scotland goes, just watch the action from Cornwall and Wales.

(Something odd’s just happened. I’m a dreadful typist and I just made an error - Westminster as “Westmonster”. History will judge this époque as the one when centuries of history may be seen to have reached their sell-by date. ‘Westmonster’ is in its death throes.)

Undertakers are gathering like Nigel Farage and George Galloway (in that Scottish Referendum debate looking grumpy, wearing a trilby - why? What’s George got to do with anything?). Both are yesterday’s minor men.

Back to Scotland ….. whatever happens on Thursday this is the place to be right now … like Berlin after the wall came down. It’s got energy, verve and ambition. I’d guess it might even manage to hang on to its young talent - previously it squandered its entrepreneurial youth. It’s got momentum and that rebel yell feeling that successful and innovative places seem to have.

I think the referendum is no longer relevant. A new, young nation has been launched.