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  • The Perceiver

Discussion with Lord Dick Taverne

The Perceiver is honoured to have hosted a discussion with Lord Dick Taverne, former financial secretary of the United Kingdom, former Member of Parliament and current Lord Temporal of the United Kingdom House of Lords, to discuss Britain's future and her economic recovery from the pandemic. Please find the simplified transcript below:


Shiv Pillai

First question, whilst you're a Labour MP you held the role of Financial Secretary to the Treasury for a year. With your knowledge of the British economy and having played a major role in the Harold Wilson government, which attempted to restore the valuation of the pound after 1967 devaluation, how do you see Britain recovering economically from Covid in the next 10 years?


Lord Taverne

Huh, big question and first of all, I must confess that my concern with economics has faded over the years. I always find that you have to concentrate on certain questions and I tend to do something for 10 years and then take on something else. So I'm not an economist and I find that my own predictions for the future don't look very accurate. On the other hand, they may still be right. My feeling was that we were going to have a very considerable and serious recession because we are losing trade with Europe with something that's been a decline, something 40% both imports and exports, and this is going to have a pretty devastating effect. The idea that new trade treaties elsewhere are going to be a balance for the enormous trade with Europe is just a pipe dream. And for example, the Australian deal is a very minor deal. The effect on the economy is going to be less than 1%, whereas of course the trade with Europe is vitally important. So my feeling is that if we suffer so badly in trade, at least my feeling, my intellectual analysis appears if we still suffer so bad from loss of trade there will be in due course a weakening of the pound. This would happen before if one runs of big balance of a deficit and if you have a weakening of the pound, the only way to prevent this being really damaging is to raise interest rates. Now already there is talks that inflation is going to be rather higher than we thought it's going to be at the moment, slightly above the 2% that the Bank of England aims at. But if we have a real crisis of sterling then I think one might find that interest rates have to be raised by more. And when we are so deeply in debt, the idea that interest rates going up is not going to cause very serious damage I think is also another pipe dream. So who's right? Well, I put this question to one of my expert advisors, namely a wonderful man called John Kerr, Lord of Kinlochard. A former Permanent Under Secretary of State to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and former British Permanent Representative to the EU. A very learned man with a lovely sense of humour which makes it worth talking to him and I said, where have I gone wrong predicting that we have a serious recession? And he says, I don't think you have. I think all the things that we've talked about in the past are likely to come true that in fact people have still have not yet appreciated the impact of Brexit. We'll see. I mean one doesn't like to say where with as it were, as if you wanted to happen, we're going to head for a serious recession with unemployment and inflation, no, of course not, but I think it's going to be hard to avoid it and the government have not been very good at looking very far ahead. And in addition, we've got the problem - The Irish protocol. Again, I just don't know what happens. I'm not an expert on Irish affairs. All I hear is on the one hand that Brussels thinks they're going to get a deal. On the other hand, I can't see the Irish protocol Northern Irish protocol to be more accurate being something which which is going to go happily onwards because Donaldson, the new leader of the DUP is dead against it and I'm not surprised that the DUP felt betrayed. Boris had said that no British Prime Minister could ever contemplate a border in the Irish Sea or bureaucratic obstacles to trade between the United Kingdom mainland and Northern Ireland. And that's what we've got. And the DUP promises could never happen, and it's happening so I can understand why they feel desperately betrayed. But on the other hand, I don't know quite whether this is what effect this is going to have on the Northern Irish Protocol, and indeed on the Good Friday Agreement. Now all these are problems which lie ahead and I don't think Boris Johnson is very good at looking at them. So my own feeling is that we're not going to be heading for the sunny uplands, the way in which most economic forecasters now seem to think. But they are good economists and. I know very little about economics so I I can't be very dogmatic about this or even feel qualified to make a really weighty judgments which people should consider. So on the economic side I feel that I just don't know what's gonna happen, but there are reasons to be very cautious about being optimistic. What I'm very worried about at the moment is the future of our democracy. I really think that people have not taken the threats of the present government seriously enough. First of all democracy depends on a measure of trust in government and who can trust Boris Johnson? I've quoted the words of the former French ambassador and when she retired and she said your Prime Minister is an inveterate liar. Now, of course, I can't use those terms in the House of Lords. Churchill was once so upset by what some opponent was saying that he said you liar and he was forced to withdraw and he apologised profusely to the House (of Commons) and said I had no idea of calling the honourable member a liar. I merely wish to suggest he was guilty of a technological in exactitude. Well, I think we've had to face terminological in exactitude time after time. And another massive terminological in exactitude. It's all in that book by Peter 'over?' on the part he assault on truth and it's very serious. Secondly democracy is not just a question of obeying the will of the people. There are two views about democracy. One is the Rousseau view. Rousseau, whose inspiration between the Committee of Public Safety because he said the will of the people, must always prevail and that seemed to be a lot of the arguments behind the referendum. Doesn't matter what effect it has on the rights of individuals or the rights of minorities. Our parliamentary tradition, the tradition of York. And indeed, of the continent of Montesquie has been that in fact human rights, rights of an individual, rights of minorities are essential part of democracy and the rule of law is essential to democracy. And at the moment, the government doesn't seem to give a hoot for the role for the rule of law. Look at the prorogation of parliament. It was an attempt to stop scrutiny by Parliament of very important issues, and thank God we had a Supreme Court that overruled it and said it was beyond the powers of Parliament and that was heavily criticised by the Attorney General, Suella Braverman, who said a court may not overall the decisions of politicians. Well, for God sake, that's the end of of parliamentary democracy. Look at the Daily Mail going to town after the ruling of the Supreme Court, 'judges were the enemies of the people'. Now, instead of being immediately denounced by the government and the Minister of Justice, there was a silence for years until they said or maybe that's going a bit far to say that they are (judges) the enemies of the people. Well that's an attitude to a vital part of democracy, which is very, very disturbing. And then of course, there's the Johnson view about contracts, which he signed or statements he's made. I mean I can't think of somebody all outlined, and Peter Oborn book, for example very important things are cultural values and I think that one of the few things that Britain could be really proud, part of the skill of our scientists is a cultural institution of the BBC, which incidentally was very much inspired by Jewish immigrants from Central Europe before the war. And it's not exactly an argument against immigration, but the BBC is one of our great institutions, admired throughout the world. Our diplomats were admired throughout the world. One of the few successes of the government in recent times was the overseas aid, which was much admired by other nations. Now reduced dramatically, which is going to have the most terrible effects in places like Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, Middle East and Africa as well. But Johnson doesn't stick to what he has promised. That is all part of a solemn promise in the Conservative manifesto, 'We will maintain the 0.7% of our budget as a contribution to international well being'. But look at the look at the cultural side. The government appointed a panel to decide who should be the new head of Ofcom, which decides our cultural future. So Boris Johnson nominated that independent, glorious progressive progressive figure, Paul Dacre the former editor of the Daily Mail. And to their credit, this council appointed by the Prime Minister, rejected his nomination. So what does Johnson do? He abolishes the Council, dissolves the Council. We can't have these independent bodies overruling what I want. Look at the way in which Priti Patel has been treated. There she was with a reputation in every department she'd been in charge of of being a bully. And of being extremely unpleasant in the way in which he treated civil servants, so an investigator was appointed independent investigators. What did he find? That Priti Patel was a bully and that she broken the ministerial code, which means she should have been sacked. Oh no, that's alright. We don't care about, what independent investigators say, Johnson said. Priti Patel is very loyal supporter of mine, so she must be allowed to go on bullying. I mean this kind of behaviour is deeply damaging to our democracy, and if we can't have an independence of the judges, who should have been defended the moment that Daily Mail statement appeared as I should have been condemned at once. If somebody who behaves the way that Johnson behaves and caring nothing whatsoever for the truthful that promises to someone pledges he makes. That is very dangerous to democracy. And indeed it means the legal profession is in a terrible state because of the enormous cuts in legal aid, which means trials have delayed for four months and sometimes years. And that is a complete denial of justice. Two, we can't really boast about our dust if we still have a first class lawyers, we attract a lot of international litigation, but its litigation involving billions, it's not litigation for the ordinary individual. So justice is decaying, truth is being disregarded or contracts are being broken and there's a chumocracy at the top in which big contracts awarded to people who made large donations to the Conservative Party or are great friends of the of the Conservative cabinet.Pretty terrible state.

Shiv Pillai

In the next 10 years, should the left reclaim populism as the right have done so successfully with Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage in this past decade?

Lord Taverne

Well, it depends what you mean by populism. If you mean populism, adopting Russo's dictum that the will of the people is always prevail, no. If it's populism of the kind that is being explored in Hungary and Poland and Mr. Viktor Orban were suppressing democratic rights, no democracy and prosperity, which it brings only flourishes if you have the rule of law and you do not take of unqualified populist view. So no, I think that I'm not sure that it's necessarily going to be the policy that guarantees the popularity of the government who have gone very populist and are certainly doing very well in certain solid Labour constituencies.It doesn't look as if Boris is necessary all that popular with the public. At least it wasn't in Amersham at the by election. And that I think extraordinary fact. Because, again, I was so pessimistic about the way the Conservatives disregard the expenses on element on expenses and have distorted the use of social media so that one feels nobody knows what the truth is, but what prevailed in Amersham was the people on the doorstep talking to people and maybe that is going to be a future. Maybe the British public at some stage is going to start worrying about sleez. So again, forecast of possible to make it the present time because everything will politics is awful and the parties are not in a very good state. I personally want to see a Labour government. Only possible alternatives to the Conservative government and the Labour Party didn't do very well in Amersham with 622 votes. Liberal Democrats did superbly well, but then they often do in by elections. And I do think it's very important for British politics that we should not go for this easy populism as the government is trying to do, but that we should work back towards getting real values promoted and what I think is needed is a sort of common anti conservative front or by Labour, Liberal Democrats and Greens. I think that could be something which could shake the Conservative Party. I look back at history, I'm pretty old, so inevitably I'm somewhat impressed by what happened long time ago. When I was a young graduate and keen on entering politics and keen on people, Labour, MP and a group of us met including people like Bill Rogers, who's a great pal of mine. We're the same age and we've had exactly the same parliamentary career until I went off my own first and he then was gang of four just wants a lot of other young graduates and we thought we would invite interesting Labour MPs to dinner and we invited Roy Jenkins as a promising young MP at the time. And I think Roy Jenkins was a great loss leader because he was a man of great integrity, enormous skills and terrific success in government. First of the Home Office reforming Home Secretary and later as Chancellor. Probably the most successful Chancellor since the war. And we invited by Jenkins, who then was an up and coming young MP we said. This is 1958. Dates of course of time nobody now remembers, and we said who's going to be in the next Labour cabinet. And he said what Labour cabinet? We said look at the polls we are miles ahead in the polls! And he said, well, I'm sorry, I think we're going to lose the next election. We were absolutely flabbergasted and he said, look, Harold Macmillan was Prime Minister and just beginning acquire considerable authority later known as Supermac for awhile, but not quite the time yet. And he (Roy Jenkins) said there is a big boom on the way, and that is always good for government. Difficult for positions, but also vitally important. Labour is very split. Labour does from time to time split between left and right through, seen recently. Labour split between Bevenites and Gaitskellites so I'm sorry. I'm sorry, but we're going to lose and not only did we lose despite the huge lead we had in the opinion polls, but the Conservatives had a majority of 100 seats, so everyone said you're not in our lifetime will we ever see a Labour government again. And Roy Jenkins wrote Nautica saying, wait a minute now doesn't look very good for labour, but remember 1902. 1902 was the time when not a cloud on the horizon for the Conservative government led by Lord Salisbury at the time, hopeless divided opposition within the liberal opposition who deeply split over the bull. And no prospect seemed of defeating Labour government. Four years later, the biggest anti Conservative landslide in history. Well, I'm not saying this is going to happen, but you may find that the popular Mr. Johnson suddenly as regarded as disaster because it may be that Brexit does prove a pretty good disaster. I don't think there's much evidence yet that people have shifted their opinion. If there was another referendum, it would necessarily be very different, but there's a lot of signs that a of people are going to be in difficulties and trade with Europe, and in other ways. And these things can change very suddenly. Government is not free from scandals. And if Johnson, instead of becoming the king of the world as he hoped to be when he was a schoolboy becomes the king of sleaze as he seems to be more fitted for the purpose then one might find that the reason of a big change in public opinion. We just never know. These things are unpredictable. But still I I think one can't rule that out and it's never predicted by the press. They always go for the leaders spinning full.

Shiv Pillai

Lord Taverne, you are a known Republican? Therefore, do you see the downfall of the British monarchy in the next decade, and if so, would it be because the tumultuous past months for the Royals which saw an interview from the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, which was seen as a scathing attack on the royal household?


Lord Taverne

No, I doubt it actually. I mean, I'm a sort of modest Republican and that out much rather not have all the paraphernalia and the class effect of the monarchy and way it's governed. I mean doesn't have to be like that because the monarchy's in Sweden and Norway and the Netherlands are where the monarchy, are just ordinary members of the public, as it were. My sister went when I was briefly at school in Poland. My very early youth had a sister who went to school with him with the future head of the future monarch Princess Beatrix because she went to local school like everybody else and a Norwegian monarch doesn't assume the kind of paraphernalia of class and all the rest of it which goes on monarchy. However, I think as a constitutional monarch the Queen hasn't put a foot wrong and I don't know the way she's managed her family that doesn't seem to be a great success. But nevertheless, she's been very clear that she's not going to intervene in politics and she's hardly ever dropped the slightest hint whether she liked the Prime Minister of the day or disliked the Prime Minister the day. The only time I've heard of her making her uncautious remark was when there being a visit by the French President and Roy Jenkins told me, I think very rashly I shouldn't ever have broadcast this, but he said that each she did say to him afterwards Mr. ........ does have a high opinion of himself, doesn't he? The time I've ever heard of any in courses, remarks made by the Queen. So the Queen's fine, I've been at war with Prince Charles myself. He takes a very anti scientific view. It seems to me about a lot of issues. I think he doesn't really terribly like modern medicine. He likes us to go back to the old days. Not quite days when you got plague devastating 1/3 of the population. You prove it is not doing all that well. He's very strongly opposed to genetic modification, for example, now I've written a book about that and every single scientific body in the country has said that there is not a shred of evidence that genetic modification has done any harm or was likely to any harm, either to health or to the environment. And the evidence is overwhelming. But there's a great sort of feeling 'well, you know it's it's science, couldn't overreach itself', and that's what the Prince of Wales feels. Now he's often said that he would like to see the monarchy play a somewhat Presidential role.




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