Monday, 30 December 2019


Richard Hall's extended New Year 2020 blog will be published at around 2pm UK time on January 1st.

Monday, 23 December 2019


Fa la-la-la-la-la-la-la!!!!
Yes, it’s the season of merriment and letting one’s hair down.

And this is what Scrooge said after turning into a raving optimist:
“I’m as light as a feather. I am as happy as an angel. I am as merry as a school-boy. I am as giddy as a drunken man. A merry Christmas to everybody! A happy New Year to all the world! Hallo here! Whoop! Hallo!”

Yet the view I’ve been getting of Christmas 2019 is very different. As I ask people what they’re doing for Christmas their response has been alarmingly consistent.
“Yes , sleeping , pizza and boxed sets”…”No parties?” 
“Good Lord no. I may not get out of pyjamas or my house all week.”

Britain is battered. Christmas should be renamed Rest-Cure-Wednesday with Santa-Pause and a succession of silent nights.

We’ve been reduced to this wobbly state by Brexit uncertainty, the election, the weather, a weary and depressing media. Emily Maitlis’ tirades, the Today programme, the Guardian (our own version of Scandi Noir – brilliant writing but suicidally depressing), all making us want to get off a world which is falling apart.

It’s so bad that instead of regarding Christmas as a week of celebration we’re hoping to be in a coma not through alcohol or drugs but through exhaustion and a sense of emptiness.

As a self-appointed apostle of hope and optimism I think we need to change that right now. Here are how we can massage our senses and exit 2019 with a bit more hope, certainty and focus:
Sight. Christmas as a time for winter, snowmen, misted breath, communal play and jollity. Henrik Avercamp the 17th century Dutch artist captures this beautifully. Who can look at this and not chuckle. Ho. Ho. Ho.

Smell. The smell of mulled wine, mince pies, stuffing and tangerines are so cheering. I hear the Burnley Working Men’s Club like ‘Benny and Hot’ – Benedictine and hot water. That smell would do it too.

Touch. Cashmere sweaters. Fur (faux now of course). Fluffy towels and hot, hot baths.

Hearing. Christmas simply has cornered all the best tunes. The best church music, the best pop songs and the very best church services. Listen to King’s College Cambridge at 3pm on Christmas Eve and melt with delight.

Taste. Christmas has historically been about refuelling to combat the cold with lots of protein, starch and sweet stuff. Christmas dinner is the most elaborate and sacred meal of the year. On average it’s a 5,200 calorie blowout. Watch Jamie Oliver’s “Countdown to Christmas” to see how delicious this all is. Yum!

Christmas (if we allow it to beguile us) is full of hope, fun and enjoyment. If you want to sleep lots too that’s fine but try sleeping after the fun and games not instead of.

Finally. No News at Ten. No newspapers. No social media. Have a news-free week and that will do you so much good.

Happy Christmas to everybody.

Monday, 16 December 2019


We’ve been hearing a lot about leadership, that Corbyn is a weak leader, that Johnson is a decisive leader (albeit a bit of a rascal.) At Christmas we’re told about the burning need for a leader 2000 year ago. But I no longer think we really understand what a leader is.

Is it the command-and-control, “follow me” hero who storms the hill? Is it the charismatic,  inspiring thought-leader or is it anyone who has a title which automatically confers on them respect and deference?

The old fashioned concept of leader like Elizabeth 1st, Churchill and Thatcher is not what is needed today. Indeed different businesses in different conditions require different leadership skills.  It’s this that makes me loathe the absurd Alan Sugar’s depiction of leader.

We have too many examples of Attila the Hun in the boardroom and few leave businesses in good  shape. Martin Sorrell is rumoured to have called his Chief Executives on Christmas morning not, as they’d hoped, to wish them the season’s greetings but to ask them why their staff to turnover ratio had slipped by a % point in December.

Phil Green, Harriet Green and Steve Jobs were successful as leaders for a while but at what cost? Values take a kicking when the “number” is the only thing that counts.

Modern business is more like football than chess. The flow of play that a well organised team can achieve is what counts. My sense is that most businesses need to have executive teams where everyone knows their role and who are all aligned to achieve the same objective.

Winning with style and purpose. Author and academic Jim Collins defined “Level Five Leaders” as the holy grail. He describes it as comprising:-

“a powerful mixture of personal humility and indomitable will. They're incredibly ambitious, but their ambition is first and foremost for the cause, for the organization and its purpose, not themselves.”

The idea of selflessness has always been locked into the philosophy of the Civil Service where the importance of the role is rewarded in generous pension arrangements rather than big salaries. But in general Civil Servants are what it the title says “servants” not “leaders”.

The idea of employees – as obedient factotums not as people showing initiative and freedom of thought – is especially appealing to the old fashioned leaders with a military bent for command and control. But unfortunately for them we have spent a generation encouraging creativity.  The upside of this is the surge in new inventions and breakthroughs in all the tech sectors. Wouldn’t we rather have a bunch of wealth creating geniuses motivated with “concierge-management” - great food, services and a stress free lifestyle rather than a controlling leader?

Great leaders will leave great legacies or achieve the unexpected but above all they’ll get the best out of their people who’ll  be coached into being great, dedicated followers.

Followership matters more than leadership now. The task is to make them believe following is worthwhile. That’s what leaders do.

Monday, 9 December 2019


A little while ago my wife was selected to sing that unaccompanied first verse of “Once in Royal David’s City”. The church was in darkness and a long silence descended before her voice rang out clear, confident and thrilling. An hour before she’d stared at me as I wished her good luck and she said:-

If I f*** this up it’ll ruin everyone’s Christmas.

I thought she was being a little melodramatic. as if.

Congregation claim Christmas ruined as soloist sings flat.  ‘My children cried’ grumbles mother of ten.”

But unless things really matter they wouldn’t be worth doing.

The General Election hasn’t ruined Christmas but perhaps it’s dampened it a little.

“You better watch out
You better not cry
You better not pout
I’m telling you why
Our party leaders are coming to town.”

Strange they’re called “Party” leaders –the least festive bunch ever – no party, just gloom and repetition –get this blog done, no shilly-shallying. Blog done and then some fun.

In over half a century of studying elections I’m struck by the scale of venom now that each of the leaders are attracting and the collapse of tribal loyalties. Boris is seducing died-in-the- wool labour voters. Jeremy is winning over Waitrose shoppers with his “nice” manifesto.

As someone noted about the perils of a Christmas election it’s impossible to prophesy who the new Messiah will be, or indeed if he’ll turn up at all, because so many voters voting after work will be pickled and uncertain of their own name let alone their voting preference. However it was reassuring to hear that some returning officers take a favourable view of a drawn penis being a legitimate indication of voting intention provided it was in the confines of a candidate’s box. 

Meanwhile the sound of carols, the hordes of shoppers and Amazon deliveries and the mystery of Christmas create that sense of excitement we felt as children seeping into our consciousness despite our protestations of cynicism and a feigned grumpiness.

Paperchains, balloons, tinsel and tangerines. That’s what I remember most. Plus one other thing. My father – a serious, Scottish banker who most resembled Frazer in Dad’s Army on a day to day basis – transformed into an astonishingly funny stand-up comedian – a Billy Connolly for just a few days a year. Liqueurs like Green Chartreuse and Cointreau appeared and swiftly disappeared down family throats. We became the Music Halls, singing raucously and having fun.

I was in Oxford Street last week and popped into Selfridges. It brought back the awe I used to feel at Christmas. Such plenty, such  luxury, such colour, such good humour, such wonderful smells of Armagnac, perfume, mincemeat, chocolate and freshly ground coffee. It’s Christmas cornucopia, that once a year calorie excess that entrances me.

So you can’t muck up Christmas. Its remorseless good cheer, misted windows, laughter and kissing under the mistletoe (perhaps not now; the mistletoe-too- movement?) are addictive.

No you can’t muck up magic even if you’re party leader.

Monday, 2 December 2019


Despite the calls to unite the country and bring people together I don’t see it happening nor do I think it should. Maybe we should recognise that we are designed to argue and disagree.

Most of the enthralling works of fiction involve conflict. The best music in operas is in those with the most depressing plots. Life is not like Love Actually. Life is awkward. 40% of all marriages end in divorce and the worst emerges when people are thrust together. Happy Christmas everyone.

Take families. I was talking to someone from a large, ostensibly very close family recently and asked if they spent much time together. “Not if we can help it” he said grimly. When I was small my big brother got on pretty badly with me and once memorably confided “I don’t like Richard at all.” Unfortunately for him I idolised him and the more I worshipped him the more he was enraged. As we got older we started to get on very well. Maybe we mellowed. Maybe getting on better just takes time (like wine). 

The current election reveals how deep the fissures in our society have become (or is it that divisions that have long been there are being more strongly exposed?) The history of Civil Wars in America , Spain , Sri Lanka, Somali, Eritrea/Ethiopia and back in the 17th century in Britain suggests reconciliation is often rather superficial.

If we recognise that Civil War and uncivil arguments are part of the human condition where conflict is about matters of principle (whatever they may be) not about money and not usually about really important issues, we might get somewhere.

The Brexit argument has been around for a very long time. Since the 11th century England has had grave reservations about the French and their opportunistic takeover of this country. Centuries of equally grave reservations about the French, the Dutch, the Spanish, the Papacy, the French (again) and the Germans involving constant disputes, sorties and wars fill our past. Britain didn’t suddenly take against Europe in 2016. The awkward British were merely acting true to form.

Some would call this the British character. A more accurate description might be that our history has shaped in us a disputatious tendency and a covert desire for a good punch-up given the slightest opportunity. The only way we can get on a bit better now is do something we are terrible at. Listening to each other.

The ability of our leaders to be grown up, diplomatic and civilised would be a good start. Fat chance, unfortunately. given the current cast of politicians. In Travels with Charley: In search of America (1962) John Steinbeck went on a road trip with his poodle Charley, discovering the racism in the southern states was as raw as it had always been. He urges us to understand each other: “Try to understand men. If you understand each other you will be kind to each other. Knowing a man well never leads to hate and almost always leads to love.”

It’s time to try and understand our differences not pretend they’ve gone away or can be easily resolved because, sorry, they haven’t and they can’t.