As we ponder the implications of what Brexit will really mean, Richard Harvey reminds us that the UK has been through tough times before and why keeping a sense of perspective is key.
You could be excused for imagining that falling interest rates, lousy investment returns, a jittery economy and our forthcoming departure from the EU means Armageddon is nigh.
So it was mildly comforting to hear the views of John Spiers, chief executive of EQ Investors. Of Brexit, he said: “I personally voted ‘Remain’, mainly because I doubted that we had the right calibre of leadership to guide us through tricky exit negotiations. “I feel a bit more confident about that now. There will be hurdles to overcome, but when you’ve lived through periods when electric power was only available three days per week, with inflation running at 25 percent, these don’t seem too daunting.”
At the risk of coming across as an old git (a moniker which I proudly bear), I endorse his view entirely. I’ve lived through…
- Post-war rationing – OK, only as ankle-biter, but no fun when the local sweetshop guarded their jars of dolly mixtures and jelly babies like Fort Knox deposits.
- The Cuban Missile crisis of 1962 – when it didn’t matter how rich you were, because if JFK hadn’t seen off Kruschev’s warships en route to Cuba, then we’d all have been queuing up at the smouldering remains of the Pearly Gates.
- The Three Day Week of 1974 – when National Union of Miners’ industrial action meant the lights went out, and everyone lived by candlelight. Terrible for industrial productivity, but not, ahem, on the personal front – there was a remarkable upturn in the birth rate nine months later.
Humiliated by union militancy, Prime Minister Ted Heath called a General Election on the premise of “Who rules Britain?”. The voters’ answer was “Not you chum”.
- Rampant inflation of almost 25 percent a year later, which meant a pay rise four times a year (hurrah!). But it made zero difference in terms of purchasing power (boo!).
- The recession of the late ’80s, when as a director of a small PR company I was compelled to explain to suppliers why their invoices might be settled a little late. Or, actually, a lot late, and…
- The Great 21st Century financial crash, when I witnessed my modest pension pot become even more modest, and my holiday euros ranked at par with the pound sterling. Deja vu anyone?
So don’t worry, be happy, and keep it all in perspective. Although it might be wise to rephrase that advice when you’re dealing with fretful clients.
Talking of perspective, I’m indebted to ‘Slicker’, the nom-de-plume of the City column which appears in that esteemed organ ‘Private Eye’.
According to him (her?), some of the sound and fury emanating from Westminster at the size of the BHS pension deficit might be reserved for other big companies, who are looking at the sort of black hole which would have exercised Stephen Hawking.
‘Slicker’ names BT, BP, BAE Systems, International Airlines Group (aka British Airways), Tesco, Unilever, Royal Bank of Scotland, GKN, AstraZeneca and GlaxoSmithKline as enterprises which have pension fund deficits which dwarf that of BHS.
Following the departure of Ros Almann and with the post of pensions minister now under the auspices of the under secretary of state, it’ll be interesting to see what happens next!