Look Where We’re Going; Escaping the Prism of Past Politics

EVENT TRANSCRIPT: Look Where We’re Going; Escaping the Prism of Past Politics

DATE: 18:00-19:00, 16 September 2019

VENUE: The Henry Jackson Society, Millbank Tower, 21-24 Millbank, London, SW1P 4QP

SPEAKER: Lord Howell of Guildford, Chair of House of Lords International Relations Committee

EVENT CHAIR: James Rogers, Director, Global Britain Programme, Henry Jackson Society


James Rogers: Ok then. Good, good evening Ladies and Gentleman and thank you to coming to this book review session of the Henry Jackson Society. So this evening we are going to look into some of the changes taking place in the, well, early/mid years of the 21st century and whether or not the ideas that have been foreseen by the last centuries intellectuals still have any validity indeed whether the changes that are underway in the world today seem quite radical and whether we have the intellectual ideas to actually focus and understand what’s actually happening. And our speaker tonight is the Right Honourable Lord Howell of Guildford. Lord Guildford has just written this book “Look where we’re going”. And he has a very distinguished history beginning as a policy advisor to Edward Heath in the 1960s and moving on to direct the Conservative Political Centre before becoming a Minister of State in Northern Ireland. He’s also served in the administration of Mrs Thatcher and David Cameron which makes him the only person, I think, to have served in the three administrations. He’s currently the Chair of the House of Lords committee for International Relations and he has a track record of forecasting developments long in advance particularly in relation to future energy transformation and the changes in the Commonwealth and he has written a number of books of which this is the latest example, which you procure online. So without further ado if I can hand over to him, he will speak for about 15-20 minutes and then we will have ample time for a discussion afterwards, so think through and prepare for your questions. Thank you.

Lord Howell: Er is it working?


James Rogers: Yes, I think so.

Lord Howell: Well thank you Chairmen and thank you Henry Jackson and I am very honoured to be given the chance to add some of the thoughts in this book you can see in front of you. You have to be a bit careful about that Lord Guildford business because the original Lord Guildford was actually the father of Lord North who was the one that didn’t get on to well with our American cousins. And I’m not terribly keen to be tied up with him. Now I am of Guildford because it’s a lovely place, and was the MP there for 31 years so naturally I’ve got a lot of ties there. Now, to this where we are now. Let me start with a sort of health warning. I’m afraid some of the ideas in this book, some of the realities that I assert and argue are gonna give a few people indigestion. In fact, you’ll find a section in the book, Lord Fowler the Lord Speaker kindly did a four or five-page introduction and then we get into my introduction and near the end of that you’ll find a little health warning marked possible side effects. And it does warn that anyone who’s mind is locked into the ideologies of the 20th century or a great deal of the assumptions and verities of the 20th century, which continue to be asserted all-round the place is going to get…. really they should put the book down. They shouldn’t really read it at all. In fact, they should out it down immediately and consult their doctor or their MP before it does them serious damage.

That’s my little health warning and you can read it there in the book. Now, what are we trying to do, what are we trying to do in our political world what are we trying to do in the media world, what are we trying to do in the opinion world, what are we trying to do in shaping some of the huge forces that are swirling round us. First of all, we have to grasp, which is not grasped by a lot of people, we are in a completely new epoch. And as new as the epoch of, I think my book begins with the famous Turner painting of the Fighting Temeraire sailing ship of 92 guns being dragged to the breakers yard by a steam tug. That was the beginning of the steam age which led to gigantic social and therefore straight on to political upheavals of the kind which in fact shaped what was the modern world up to the 19th and 20th centuries. We’re in the same sort of situation now expect on a much much bigger scale. And I’m gonna just run through one or two of the propositions and then please throw the brick bats at me because you won’t accept all of these.

First of all, the grand political and philosophical debates and struggles of the last century have been largely overtaken by new technologies, which have changed everything; our lives, our concerns, our politics, our parties, how get born, married and die, our economics, our behaviour one to another and to our rulers. And our national direction and destiny. That last bit is obviously related to the island on which we are all sitting this United Kingdom which obviously is of primary concern to all of us here. Second, I assert that the book of Thatcher is now closed. Now this is delicate. Because of course she was a great Lady and her examples, her personal examples of her conduct and approach are ones that are forever valid but a great deal of the Thatcher story has been utterly distorted by time and by both enthusiasts and critics who’ve tended to polarise the whole story, either she was the great apostle of free markets navana and we want to get back to that say some or others say she was the smasher up of social democracy and the apostle of greed. This is all parody, this is all punch and Judy stuff prevailed by the media and I’ve sent quite a lot of time in this book explaining it wasn’t like that at all. I was in it involved in it both before, I wrote her speeches before she became Prime Minister and I work in the cabinet with her for a time, for four years actually. And the parody which is presented to us that it was all about the state v the individual it was all about the individual it was all a battle between greed and profit on one hand and social station on the other all this parody needs to be unravelled if we are going to make sense of where we are now. Third point and I promise not to say not too much about Brexit, but, it’s obviously a headache, a very interesting headache, but there is an entirely new agenda now calling in our politics. And if I have one very big message to convey above all others it is that normal times are not going to return. There are people who think “Well once we’ve got through the Brexit thing and in due course Trump will get his comeuppance and we’ll be back to Pax Americana and dear old Uncle Sam everything will be back to normal. Forget it. There is no return to normalcy. We are in a completely new pattern of political forces in which those kind of normal times are never going to be allowed to return. In this completely changed world Britain has to find a new position. Actually that was obvious long before Brexit. And some of us were writing books and arguing that we really needed to adjust to a 21st century international order, a new cycle of international affairs, where power is distributed in entirely different ways. And the obvious point obviously is the rise of Asia, the reenabling of Asia, the propositions now they’re more than propositions they are facts, that the bulk of growth in the next 10 years in consumer markets is going to be in Asia and not in the West at all. Doesn’t mean to say that the West is finished as some apocalyptic ideas indicate but it does mean to say that the pattern of power in the Western world is gone.

We are now looking at a completely new distribution of power. Next digital populism is here to stay. You may say “well we’ve always had populism” and in the 20th century it was mobilised by dictators like Stalin and Hitler and Mussolini and so on to devastating effect. Populism elected the leaders and the leaders then imposed horror on themselves their own countries and every other country to a great degree. But actually digital populism is something else again. We are now dealing with empowerment of masses as never before. I think the other day Mr Putin was claiming, casually, that Liberalism is dead. Well it isn’t dead but it has become much more complicated because how can I put it? Marx was always talking about the empowerment of the proletariat, the empowerment of the masses and that has happened in a way he couldn’t dream of. But of course it hasn’t produced the coherence and unity of the People that he dreamt of in his analysis at all. It’s produced a cacophony of different arguments and counter propositions and a mosaic and fragmentation of views on a scale that has never happened before. So massive all-embracing digital connectivity and identity politics and migrants and [inaudible] on the march throughout the world who in turn are being enabled by their communication revolution and a computer being placed on a microchip, these are the guarantees that we are going to have more and more populist pressures and they are going to be more and more difficult to handle and not going to go away.

So however the politicians start into this? Well in truth the left/right vocabulary is incapable of explaining or conveying what has occurred in the redistribution and interplay of modern power. And this is the problem for the political parties of the moment which you can see so clearly that we, and I am on the Tory side, we have been taught in the Thatcher era and we have formulated our views round the pearls of free markets versus state consensus and regulation. During the last third of the 20th century we more or less unscrambled the state corporatism that had dominated the 20th century, partly because of the two world wars but partly because the 19th century laissez faire was deemed to have been a failure. But we unscrambled all that and there was a new era but what has occurred now really takes us far beyond all of that and we’re in a pattern which the intellectual giants of the 20th century have simply not prepared us for in way. They haven’t prepared us for the hyper-capitalism or the social disorder or the rancour or as I say the polarisation of the digital age. So, where do we go from here we are now moving fast into a world of networks and supply chains of infinite complexity, there is a new kind of globalisation around there’s an assign argument, people saying “are we for or against globalisation?”. Doesn’t matter whether they for against it. The new patterns of globalisation are going to roar ahead driven by demand often the demand of people claiming they’re against globalisation. We are now moving into the era of globe botics and robotics which are going to do for many middle class and white collar employment what the old globalisation of the 1990s did for blue collar workers in creating the sort of rust belts and so on on that President Trump has majored in saying he’s somewhere going to cure it which he isn’t. To prosper, even to survive, Britain has to lay hold of every available instrument and asset and connection it can find. Britain’s best but most under used access routes into this new mealier of rising Asia is the vast system of Commonwealth links and ties with which there by good luck rather than good planning because our establishment has done everything to rubbish the Commonwealth. But by luck we find ourselves in this new pattern of connectivity, but completely under used and still not fully understood by the mandarins of the Foreign Office and Commonwealth Office but in which we happen to be embedded. It’s not a hub and spoke as many people still think it is a network story. The world is organised into networks and we are very lucky to be in this one. We’re trying to get into some of the other great network of the 21st century such as the regional and economic comprehensive planning system, the new ASEAN, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, the new version of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. This is where the action is, these are where all growth of consumer networks and markets are going to be and we are having to busily insert ourselves into these. And again this was happening well before Brexit it was a necessity far beyond the important of having good relations with our neighbours in the European scene.

And remember today, I was secretary of the European movement 40 years ago, 50 years maybe, when Europe was 26% of the world GDP. If indeed you come count in a moment means anything anymore, then it became 23% then it became 18% then it became 16% and its now about 11. Europe hasn’t shrunk but the whole world has expanded at a fantastic rate making the proportionate importance of our neighbourhood, which we need to be on good terms with much less important than it was. So that’s the international story and it is linked with the domestic and social structure of our country which is in a very uneasy way at the moment because as a result again of the microchip and the iPhone and the web everyone’s knowledge of communication there is a huge feeling of dissatisfaction. Everyone’s been in power they can challenge them, the metropolitan elite, the Parliament, the corrupt politicians and so on. And they are waiting for the benefits and the benefits haven’t come. They haven’t come because of course the hyper capitalism which we have developed, or has emerged with the rise of the digital age is not a very fair and sharing organisation at all. The concentration of capital now, there was always vast inequality but now A) its visible and B) under hyper capitalism it is on a scale that I don’t think has been matched in history. You can produce statistics to show that overall inequality maybe rather less now than it was 10 years ago but that’s not the point. You’re not talking about income inequality we’re talking about concentrations of wealth on a scale that has never happened before and a pattern which now produces for the top one percent of the entire population whatever it is, 70% of the assets. And a pattern in which the growth of wealth, the growth of wealth, goes towards those who have already got the wealth and savings rather to a wider number of households. I therefore spend a bit of time in this book saying unless inside our democracies, unless inside our societies we can devise new and far more effective ways of sharing the dignity and status of wealth to millions of households we’re going to continue to get this kind of angry populism and outrage and sense of lack of recognition and sense of lack of justice and unfairness which rages round the public communication systems at present.

I also argue, this sounds like a side issue but all these things relate, that we’re not helped liberal economics which has been really conducted and developed on a really narrow basis. Narrow in the particular sense in that it excludes women. We’re still dominated by this concept of rational economic man and here’s a thought for you: Who’s heard about a lady called Margaret Douglas? Answer: none of you because she was Adam Smith’s mother. Adam Smiths looked after Adam Smith the whole of his life, he didn’t marry. She provided, she got the books for him, she got his education for him, she gave him every meal and got him out the front door every morning. She never gets a single mention, not a word in all his works. Why? Because the value of her work couldn’t be measured. They had no, until we reached this really in the last 20-30, there have been no means of measuring the true value of output of a vast chunk of the economy. That chunk that is unpaid and is performed mostly by women although that’s changing I think, and represents really the bedrock, the fundamental part of the output and value of society. So now the economists are uneasy now as they realise huge other values and huge other outputs have been missed by their analysis and if you want to measure what’s happening in the economy, the GDP and these other aggregates, what Keynes, Kuznets, Simon Kuznets and then Keynes called together in the 1930s are very very rough and probably rather useless in describing where we are. I think I quote the excellent Diane Coyle at one point who pointed out that the way to increase your GDP is to include prostitution and drugs and car crashes. That’s the way the Italians managed to get their GDP up to beyond the British in the 1980’s. Il sorpasso. Wonderful. Just an illustration that we’re playing with concepts that have very little relation to modern welfare, modern growth and the health and integrity of society.

So, then finally it is possible to argue nevertheless freedom and democracy that Henry Jackson stands for are the necessary conditions for economic growth and unless you have Western style freedom and democracy you won’t get growth, you’ll get a sick society. It is possible to argue but then you have to shrug off rather awkward fact: that we have Asia and China in particular with a growth model that doesn’t have much freedom and certainly doesn’t have democracy, they hate it, and yet is generating a gigantic rate of growth. Some people say “well, in due course it’ll all collapse because they’re not free and the autocracies will fail”. Well, I analyse this in my book and seems to me much more likely that different forms of capitalism will interweave and sometimes merge interlocking in a web of unparalleled density and complexity and there really isn’t a theory around, an explanation of what is emerging. The Wealth of Nations doesn’t do it. Das Kapital doesn’t do it. Hayek’s Constitution of Liberty doesn’t do it and hopefully we haven’t had any new Mein Kampf either. I’m quite taken by the scientist and philosopher Yuval Noah Harari who says really there isn’t any story anymore the isms have gone. The belief in God is pretty limited to certain sectors and not many of those in the West and into various other Gods and that we may be moving into a nihilist age where there is no story and no cohesive loyalty. So there we are. This is my destructive element of the book. At the end of it all are we going to stop short of anarchy? Yes, I think we can, certainly in this part of the world, because we have some basic understandings and belief in good manners, civic government and care and restraint which obviously in the Middle East have long since gone but here are able to hand on to these things. They may or may not stop us sliding into a bitterness and division on a scale that will make the 14th and 15th century wars look quite mild and I think this is the danger and reality potential political parties now have to adjust. It’s no use hanging on to the old ideologies, it’s no use hanging on to the old shibboleths, there is a new and very difficult and different world emerging and my book ends not with neat conclusions but saying that the political changes now coming into our lives are so great, that it requires, we require political parties because one has to produce a government, there has to be stability but the political parties are going to have to change their bases, their ideologies and their propaganda in a very very radical way and of that there is only very limited sign at the the moment. There I will stop there.

James Rogers:

Ok. Thank you very much Lord Howell those thoughts in relation to your book, what I found interesting is that you are saying that we need new, if you will, radical ideas as to where we are going, to equip us to understand the changes that are taking place but it seems to me at least in a British perspective that in some ways the political parties are even digging in. So on the Conservative side you have a Cabinet with many libertarians, on the Labour side you have a Cabinet that is perhaps more left wing in recent memory and well on the Liberal Democrat side you’re going into sort of runaway, if you will, pro-Europeanism. Then you have on the fringes a kind of a Green politics that is perhaps emerging and has captured many young people’s imaginations with the extinction rebellion and things like that. So do you think we are moving into this sort of period of entrenchment because people simply don’t know how to respond to these changes or is something else happening that’s unique to the UK?

Lord Howell:

I think it’s something else is happening. Networks have their own agenda and their own power. And they are evolving very fast regardless of what our politicians may do sitting around a cabinet table or mobilising political parties. That is actually happening now. Very fast indeed. So, it is like riding a tiger. If we want Governments that are able to stay on the back of the tiger or stay in the saddle to use another analogy, they will have to understand that their language and type of thinking is going to have to change. To be a libertarian means absolutely nothing at all. If you’re a Libertarian are you in favour of the masses now being empowered and having opinions and localism and everyone wanting their own identity and the Scots wanting to be Scots and the Welsh wanting to be Welsh and Yorkshire people wanting to be Yorkshire and everyone challenging the Centre and talking down and denouncing our Parliamentary system as corrupt is that Libertarian? No, of course it is not to them but it’s actually what other people would say “yes this is liberty against Government.” The old arguments which Hayek and others tried to put in their brilliant works of the 20th century simply do not explain the paradoxes which we face now. So round the table, the cabinet table, if anyone wants to carry authority and respect and trust or regain it because they have lost it at the moment if anyone wants to do either of these things, they are gonna have to make some very wise and insightful observations about the way society is going. And share with people genuinely and honestly what is actually happening. Somewhere Keynes said that the thing he really quarrelled with, the real quarrel was not with the people who disagreed with his economics, macroeconomics Keynesian style and all that, it was the people who did not understand what was actually happening and any little bit of the curtain lifting I can do in this book, that’s the kind of curtain I would like to lift. What is actually happening doesn’t fit in to libertarian vs socialist. As I say right at the end of my book, the isms of capitalism and and ism of socialism are very interesting but they are antiques. They do not fit in to the way the world now works.

James Rogers:

Ok thank you. Well, enough out of me lets hand over to you, who has some questions, ok the person at the back with their hand up.

Audience member number 1:        

I heard fairly recently, it was Aristotle I think who said that democracy is a corrupt form of polity. Polity being direct democracy. So now we’ve had Brexit and the MP’s are so disobedient to the referendum, I don’t want to trust this democracy we have now and I was just wondered what you thought about having, I know everybody says let’s not have a referendum again, but my feeling is we should have more independent MP and we have obviously errhhh a system that is secure where we vote online on a variety of issues like the water being nationalised or not or you know say we had another referendum we did it online as well as on paper. But eventually instead of this left/right two party system we make it groups but also independents and we get a variety of ideas and a coming together that is the right path rather than “we do it this way because its left wing” or “we do it this way because its right wing”. I just wonder if you can see [inaudible]

Lord Howell:

I like a lot of what you’re saying, I mean, you made a very big statement that you don’t like the kind of democracy we have now and I think that is very widely shared. It’s not a statement which 20 or 30 years ago would have sounded almost shocking. But it isn’t now and there is a problem because in the super communication age getting elected and campaigning and getting votes requires one skill, having a good administration that is sensitive to people’s needs and delivers quality government, requires quite different skills and we are seeing a dismissal gap between the two, we are seeing our process of democracy carry on with the old parties, producing certain results, well at the moment producing chaos. And people saying “well these people are not, they’re singing various songs which are attracting votes or repelling votes, but they are not delivering quality government. They are not on top of the requirements of modern civilised societies in really basic things, housing, health, really good education, really good technology for the kids, limitations on crimes and gangs, moral wilderness in our inner cities and on top of these things they are full of lectures about how we must have free markets and so on, how important freedom is to vote and so on but in practice it’s not working that way.” So I do think we have to start saying “Well wait a minute. How are these Asian societies working?” and “Is it really true as David Riesman, who has written a brilliant book on this, is it really true that democracy is really the least worst of all methods, as Churchill insisted, or are there other ways in which we can get into Government really good administrators who can manage the huge demands of modern government and society and yet be accountable in some kind of democratic way which is more satisfactory than what we have at present. It may be and there are books being written by this all the time, that through modern data communication, through block chain and through other AI and other forms of communication, a Government can pick up more quickly what people want and need and whether they are going wrong or right and whether they should be corrected than seems to work through old fashioned democratic system. This is a very dangerous area and one slip up and you sound as if you are being anti-democratic which I`m not, but for heaven sake we must have a democracy that works and if people now feel that its riddled with fakery, that it’s not delivering results, that tiny minorities are manipulating the whole thing and electing leaders which most people have second thoughts about. If that is the story, then we really to think how we can prevent democracy dying.

James Rogers:

Ok I can see a few hands, I think there’s plenty of time so let’s start with the gentleman here at the front.

Audience member number two:

I am rather agree that democracy is itself a problem. It’s now seen to be a problem. For one reason that David mentioned that the people who are good at getting power are very often not very good at exercising power which requires a total different mind-set. And the other is that when you are a member of Parliament you’re rather like a car. A car without petrol is no good, a Member of Parliament or a party without votes is no good. And therefore as an elected Member of Parliament and Government who tend to do those things which you know you ought not to do in order to get votes and you tend not to do those things which you know you ought to do in order not to lose votes. Compare our democratic system with the way China is run, look at the results that they’re getting in China, look at the results we are getting here and I think it’s very instructive to compare the two.

Lord Howell:

Well I think that is very true and the other paradox is, and my book is full of paradox’s, the other day President Trump, bless him, was in Vietnam, arguing, talking to Kim Jong Un trying to persuade the North Koreans to behave and his bait was the following: that if the North Koreans would behave better and stop firing off missiles, the Americans would use their economic strength to turn North Korea into a new, wait for it, a new Vietnam. A new Vietnam. This is Vietnam where they lost 55,000 troops fighting the Communist menace 40 years ago. And now here is the President saying, an economy that proclaims itself officially to be Marxist-Leninist, but is actually a roaring capitalist economy, manages to bluff its way through and maintain some kind of accountability and some kind of stability and indeed a great deal of market success while not really following the patterns what we understand democracy to be. So that’s a paradox, you say the MPs are doing what they shouldn’t do, the MPs are stuck in Party’s still. And we do need Party’s to get an executive Government at all. If you don’t have Party’s you just have a dictator, you have Oliver Cromwell or you have whoever it is, Fattah El Sisi in Egypt. They don’t have Party’s because Party’s get in the way and start electing people. But we do need Party’s, but it’s no use having Party’s that are formulated around completely outdated and redundant concepts. That is our problem now. And there’s a simple answer which irritates me always: “Oh let’s go down the centre. Let’s be half socialist, half capitalist.” That’s actually not the way the world works at all. The future centre is, I always liken this to geese flying in the sky, the goose at the centre, of the V. The person with the most innovative ideas who can break out of all these limitations, break out of all this language and show how constant innovation and constant newness of understanding can deliver a more stable and reassuring society but it’s a long way to go.

James Rogers:

Ok yes.

Audience member number 3:

Thank you very much. Ewan Grant, I was the UK Custom Services Intelligence analyst at the ex-Soviet Union and I subsequently worked in mainly Ukraine, never in Russia, I saw first-hand the incredible, myopia of the European bureaucracy which simply did not have a clue about that society and how it had changed and not changed. It was embarrassingly awful. My question, a lot of people need to read your book and hear what you’ve said, my question Lord Howell is, you’ve pointed out ideologies are obsolete, they’re not the answer to the problems [inaudible]. What kind of reaction are you getting to what you’re saying and what you’ve written? Does that really break down around the old ideologies or are the reactions different from what they would have been 20 years ago.

Lord Howell:

I think they are different. I think they are different because of the fantastic advance of technological exchange and the sheer volume of connectivity that there is….let me just quote some figures, I don’t want to sound a nerd but every minute, every minute, and this is probably two years out of date so these figures need to be probably increased by at least 50%, every minute there are about half a million tweets in the world. Every minute there are 47 million Instagram communications. Every minute there are 15 million texts, this is every minute of the day. Continuously right through the day, all the time, this is averages. Every minute there are four million exchanges on Facebook, the total connectivity of the planet is on a scale that is simply unimaginable even 10 years ago. So people are beginning to realise that in this atmosphere of vast variety and mosaic of opinion the, as you said, the old neat arguments that I was bought up on, the State versus the individual, the philosophies of Burke, of Locke and Burke and so on and so forth don’t come up much at all they certainly don’t address the problems of the day. So I think there is a real alarm feeling that we are heading into this nihilist future but a desire for wisdom and depth and leaders who’ve got real insight and can see ahead what one politician said one inch ahead is total darkness. But there is a real demand for some wisdom to explain how we are going to maintain some degree of hierarchical authority, some respect for parent, so you don’t go out at night and join your gang and knife a few other people, some idea of loyalty to a national story and some idea of how a nation holds together and goes out into the future. I think there is a tremendous demand for all this. I think it can be met partly by some of the things I’ve suggested about our Commonwealth network and our agility and our island innovative power and so on. But it does all need pulling together as a story and Mrs Thatcher to her credit did towards the end of her time even when she did begin to go extremely sour on Europe, which remember to start with she was in favour of the Common Market but by the end she’d had more than enough. But she did create a feeling of a sort of national story that we were performing again after years of lagging behind our Continental friends and everybody else and a rotten Pound, strikes, poor rates of growth, shrinking currency and so on she did restore that, but it didn’t last. It didn’t last I’m afraid the internet age come along, the digital age came along, the whole capital system, capitalist system became hyper boosted and ended up exploding with the Layman Crisis and since then we’ve been trying to pick up the bits. So there a real demand for a holistic story of where our island can go in a very fast changing world and a contempt those who go on talking about the old ideologies or the old foreign policy you know “Stick to America” despite the fact that American is not sticking to us incidentally. Or support the United Nations which itself it wading out of its connection to the masses and with the people. Or be at “the heart of Europe” well haha to that. So yes, there’s a demand, there’s a demand and its one that I think all of us have to try our hardest to meet by understanding in the world and explaining it honestly.

James Rogers:

Yes, please

Audience member number 4:

Lord Howell you talked about China, a rising economy. Do you think your ideas can pan out in Chinese society with the internet and connectivity and also another question is, you’ve talked about the stability that every society needs, party and stability. Surely the stability goes beyond the borders and goes to the region. Now we are facing destabilised Middle East, Iran firing on Saudi Arabia and President Trump is locked and loaded. And what do you think should happen in this [inaudible].

Lord Howell:

Yes, well, I’d like to give you a sort of you know nice detailed, specific answer but I can’t. The world is in a very fluid state. The nations that are going to survive are ones that are innovative and agile. We may need to chop and change our allowances. It’s no use the Foreign Office telling us “We just go to stick with the Americans regardless”. That isn’t going to see us through. The American dream, as its being adumbrated by Trump by President Trump, actually he’s got a different agenda to us. It’s America First and America unpredictable and its America, on moment wanting to withdraw from foreign arrangements and the other moment thinking they can go around hitting people on the head in the Middle East and so on. We’ve got to be just much more subtle and clever in finding our way and deciding on the right alliances. On your point on what’s happening in China. Look 700 million China men or Chinese people are opening their [inaudible] and their iPad’s, every morning and going on the web. 700 million out of an entire population of 1200 million. So that’s allowing for children and so on. These people are in theory being curated and operated through a filtrated system through the Chinese authorities, in fact of course they’re bursting out all over the place. And what is more, we are going to see Alibaba, 10 cents and these other vast platforms spreading their wings outside China, outside Asia and possibly here as well. If we smash up our own Facebook, Amazon, Yahoo all the rest, if we decide to apply, anti-monopoly strictures and break them up the Chinese will be in a trice. So we have that warning as well. China will have to make its peace between the State structures, I don’t think there is any COMMUNism left there’s a sort of doctrine of Party and the vast powers of the market. They’re already doing so, China is full of vast market forces and some of the biggest companies in the World are now Chinese. Certainly some of the biggest cities in the world are Chinese. Certainly they are the biggest users of energy. This is a vast combine. So, they’ve gonna have to face these realities too. I said earlier I don’t think China’s going to end up sort of collapsing because it’s not democratic and free. It’s going to keep evolving and developing new growths and new forms of cooperation and we shall have to dance, not dance to their tune, but be very very agile over what they’re doing. Tomorrow does belong if it belongs to anybody, and it probably doesn’t, it belongs to Beijing. And despite the power of American finance which still very great, the major forces that we have to work with are both America and China. We cannot just stick with something called the West. We have to work with the whole world and its now emerging

James Rogers:


Audience member number five

Thank you. You have referred to this out of date narrow mind-set one sees in the foreign policy establishment in this country and in the political parties as well. Now we both know these people tend to recruit people like themselves and they promote people like themselves. We could be sleepwalking our way into disaster, how do we break this cycle? Particularly in the UK?

Lord Howell:

Well I think number one is understand what is really happening. Two, understand the limitations of what governments can do in this age of gigantic networks. Three, see through of the more [inaudible] claims that we can, this is kicking under a controversial area, that we can control and that we can assert our sovereignty and so on. I am afraid this doesn’t run. The world is totally interdependent. We can of course have our own local pride and our own local values and develop them in, as I said earlier to make our country perform in an agile way in these totally new world conditions but the idea that these world conditions are one where we can do our own thing, are just complete nonsense. Every law whether we are inside the European Union or outside, every law that we pass has to take account of a myriad number of standards and arrangements from the rest of the world. We are a great trading nation, if we want to stay a trading nation we have to totally adapting to other people’s rules in their markets just as they have to adapt to our rules in our markets. So, we have get away from some of these ridiculous arguments about being a ruler take or a rule maker and we have to bring home the power of the networks and the power of technology and changing people’s views about themselves and their lives and their issues to each other and I think we need some very very good minds. Britain is good at producing great intellectual minds. We have in the past been the intellectual leaders in Europe indeed in the world. And possibly we need some major insights into how things can be done to reassure and restore respect and trust which just is not there at the moment in our system of governance. This books just lifts a little corner on that. If we can start thinking about these things we are way ahead. At the moment there is no thinking going on at all in some areas.

James Rogers:

Ok, so we are going a little bit short of time and I can see several hands up so let’s have the lady there please.

Audience member number six

You talked about President Trump and putting America First and the dynamics this is presenting to the world, with the upcoming 2020 election and the long list of candidates do you see that dynamic changing and moving the relationship between the United States and the UK?

Lord Howell:

Er no I don’t. As I was saying we are not going to return to normal so, first of all will he get elected again, simple question. I think probably yes. Secondly, will he then get elected the four year after that as well? I don’t know, he may get his comeuppance, what he talks as the fake Liberal establishment, in which incidentally he’s piled not only entire American law system but the American media who now he depicts as the enemy. “We are against they” may get him through even that but I think probably other things in his life which are going make his position impossible. Certainly after six years if not in the next elections. But after that any idea that we then get back to a kind of non-populist Presidential Liberal elite system of the kind which the Liberal elites in America dream about in the East Coast is I think for the birds. You cannot put back in the box, you cannot put in the box the empowerment of millions and millions of Americans all of whom are on the blogs, on the websites, got their own ideas and their own challenges, and are gonna make the old forms of government and the old domination, the old hierarchy’s almost impossible to sustain. So I’m afraid another populist will come along. That is my view. And the Democrats will find it very difficult to find the right candidate. Very difficult. They certainly haven’t found them yet.

James Rogers:

Yes, at the back

Audience member number seven:  

Lord Howell you said that isms seem to be defunked but you keep coming back to there being populism on the rise. So I would be interested to hear your definition of what populism if it is the one breaking the trend.

Lord Howell:

I just didn’t quite hear….

James Rogers:

Yes, well you see I think the question was the gentlemen says that you’ve said that ism’s or the dated ideologies are over but you have mentioned several times this theme populism what do you mean by the term populism.

Lord Howell:  

Well I mean many many things, I mean the populist grievance box is very full of all kinds of different grievances but I suppose the basic quality is that there are forgotten people, ordinary people which is practically everybody in the pyramid of society and that there’s always a they and other, sometimes a foreigner, usually the word elite comes up, metropolitan elite and we can see our language is now full of the mantra’s and political generalities of populism. I mean the phrase that the enemies of the people, which was used by the Daily Mail is an absolutely classic, perfect example of angry populism which of course leads straight to totalitarian rule and people saying we are ruling by something called “the will of the people” this is the mechanics of what happens when a mass of people become convinced the worlds against them and there are forces against them so it comes up in many forms. The identity crisis, a lot of people feel their identities aren’t respected a lot of people, talking about LGBT or all kinds of causes or all kinds of attitudes. I mean the Islamic violence in the Middle East is a kind of populism when the tyrants of the Middle East were overthrown in what everyone thought was the Arabian Spring they thought democracy would spring out in the streets it didn’t. What came out in the streets was every kind of grievance and tribal rivalry and hatred and a totally unstable situation. So populism means, populism means that the mass of people, the overwhelming mass of people, 80-90% of the entire population feel they are in some way disadvantaged and while you may have said that has always been so in history now they’ve got the means to speak it, the means to say it, the means to communicate it via very strongly and very angry words and move it into the streets as we can see the street protest is taking over in all countries of the world including ours. This is this is these are the these are the characteristics of populism that’s what I mean by it.

James Rogers:      

Ok yes please.

Audience Member number seven:

You mentioned new patterns of globalisation and I want to know if you could talk about a bit about that and in the context of climate change.

Lord Howell:

Yes. Climate change is one issues that the world needs to address where it is not very helpful saying you are on the right wing or the left wing about it. It doesn’t fit into that. It cuts right across the old left/right politics of the 20th century. There are certain…. I’ve written books about this and got opinions you may not agree with but there are certain realities that even in the last few weeks, it is now clear that the Paris Agreement looked marvellous when everyone signed it but it’s not nearly enough. It’s nowhere near what’s required to curb the growth of carbon emissions and the rise in temperatures which everyone says is going to start a major persistent disturbance of the climate and disruption of every kind the melting of the ice cap and all the rest. So where do we go on that? We have to be realistic, the carbon emissions from China are rising 28% this year. Carbon emissions from India are rising 8%. Russia couldn’t care a damn about carbon emissions at all, although they claim their forests absorb it and President Trump of America after performing well as it moved from gas to coal sorry coal to gas up to about two years ago has now gone into reverse because Trump doesn’t believe in it either. So you know you got a world to cope with there and messages to get over. But you tell me where our politics connects with that at the moment we’ve got a younger generation angrily protesting about what Britain is doing but frankly what we do is hardly going to make an atom of different to the rapidly deteriorating situation. The carbon emissions story is looking very very bad. And if the scientists are right and the source of global warming is carbon emissions not other things as well the sun and so on. And if it’s really happening now rather than in 1000 years’ time, if they’re right and I think probably, I fear they are then we’ve got to do something which will require partly, carbon pricing for insistence requires world government, how do you get that? I don’t know. No politician today is talking that language. I haven’t got much to offer you but there is a hymn that says: “Oh God for whom a thousand years is but one single day”. Sometimes I just try and reassure myself that maybe the scientists may be a day out. But probably not, but today’s politics hasn’t got anything to offer, we are losing. They need a new story and climate change it needs new technologies to enable the Indians and the Chinese to get out from under and America and Russia and if they do we will have some chance to getting to two percent increase in temperature by 2050 but its miles away at the moment and this country in my view going for a zero carbon by 2050 or zero carbon by 2040 as Professor King is arguing this morning, the former chief government scientists is magnificent, maybe some sort of example but frankly its gonna make hardly an atom of difference of the rising trend of carbon emissions.

James Rogers:

Ok are there any further questions? Yes, please

Audience member number eight:           

Thank you Lord Howell, you’ve mentioned China quite a lot and you seem almost quite positive towards their system of government in terms of how successful it is. You’ve also mentioned the importance of innovation and call me slightly Western-centric but is it not a quality of a democratic society that we have a wide variety of diverse ideas and might that not actually help us to be more innovative then China which obviously has a more, you might say narrow minded, party line so Xi Jingping. So what I’m am saying is do we not have some sought of advantage being that democracy over perhaps an authoritarian system.

Lord Howell:      

We have some qualities. We do have some qualities which are allowing innovative thought to take place. Getting away from these political constraints or left/right/middle and so on and we are, we are an island nation anyway, we seem to have a tremendous talent for innovation. But the old theory that ONLY that it would work in the West in a democracy, is rapidly coming apart there are obviously qualities in the Confucian system which doesn’t sound at all democratic by our standards but does believe in a respect for elders, respect for government, respect for the hierarchy and within that a certain degree of freedom, but very limited degree, is able with technology which can be switched around the world on the press of a button, this enables innovation to take place. The Chinese are now in Li Keqiang’s words the other day, and you might say he would say this wouldn’t he, he said “We are a nation of innovators”. That’s what he said. The old theory was timeless, timeless confusion, Asia will never really stir and go forward and it’s gonna be the Protestant ethic and the lively West that’s going to deliver the new ideas. And up to 20 years ago I thought that too. The Asian and the Middle East people complained about the West but they all flew around in Boeing aircraft. But now they are knocking together their own aircraft. And their own aircraft are much more advanced than anything poor old Boeing has got stuck with, with its is it 637 X aircraft they can’t sell because it keeps crashing? I don’t know. There is a whole new technology of aircraft design and aircraft engines and applications of umm I talked to some Japanese at lunch today and they are developing the all-electric airliner which is innovation which has come out of Japan and to some extent China. And I don’t think our aircraft systems have managed to get on to that yet. So yes we have qualities and yes we got to use them but the old adage that “it only works in the wonderful West” and that we have to help the East and help the developing countries is all for the birds now. So of what we think are basket case developing countries are in fact extremely online technology countries like Bangladesh or Kenya and places. We gotta change our mind-set to develop our own outlook which gets us away from the slight patronising view that we are within we are the technology leaders and so on and the rest of the world is going to be so grateful for our assistance, it’s not like that anymore. We’ve got as much to learn from India and China and Malaysia and some of the African societies and Latin America as very have learnt from us. And so we better wake up to the fact that we are going to have to be extremely sharp and extremely agile and extremely engaged in all the new networks to survive at all.

James Rogers:

Ok well that’s actually quite a positive way to end in a way because yes we are facing competition like we’ve never faced before but actually maybe the competition is a good thing because it will force us to renew ourselves and the way in which our have operated in the new technology epoch that we seem to be moving into. So maybe things are not quite as bad as they initially seem and in a way it’s down to us to determine how we’ve going to utilise these new institutions and ideas that we should create to try and get through this moment of, if not decay, then I think stagnation in the West. And well I wonder where that will lead us. Well anyway thank you very much for coming tonight. Thank you Lord Howell for speaking to us.

Lord Howell:

I don’t want to depress anyone too much it’s just that the nature of the challenge has changed and unless all of us in this room I hope will urge the people up the road in Westminster to get thinking really hard about what’s happening.

James Rogers:


Lord Howell:

Ok? Thank you very much.


James Rogers:

Please, you’ve seen the new book and you can buy it online.


Lord Howell:              

Anyone want to buy it? They can. I hate being a salesman but someone told me I got to bring some copies along, its 20 quid a book. If anyone wants one and if you want me to sign it, I am told it reduces the value but I will if pressed.



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