Happy Birthday Will Hutton - we need more like you!

Anthony Barnett
Anthony Barnett
6 June 2010

I went to a very nice celebration last night thrown by Jane and Will Hutton and it made me think about what makes Will special. He has a grasp of the totality and makes connections accordingly, is the obvious answer. A great example last week in his Observer column when he warned:

Germany will soon have to decide what it wants – a hard currency and a broken Europe or a compromised currency and a Europe that holds together. It is a decision that will affect all our lives and I'm not optimistic that Germany will make the right choice.

What lies behind this gift? Will studied economics, became a stockbroker and remained a Keynesian (the subject of his first book) before becoming a reporter for Newsnight and then the Guardian and Observer. Because he was a Keynesian he retained an abiding interest in government and regulation of the markets. Because he approached government with the energy and open-mindedness of a market economist he was never mandarin in his approach, but rather looked at how the overall system of government works with the eyes of an outsider.

This led him to become a unique supporter of overall constitutional reform in Britain, that put all his Fleet street colleagues covering economics in the shade - they were either Labourist or free-market, he was a genuine political-economist (perhaps Martin Wolff is the exception).

The combination had a kind of fusion effect, making Will an incredible source of political and intellectual vitality (even if this also ensured he was always late, he'd catch up faster than anyone!).

It's typical of the new government's adroitness and the previous one's nervousness that it took Cameron to invite Will in to report on equal pay. But Will should take Will Davies' warning in OK that the regime strategy here is to decouple 'fairness' from class and power. I'm going to look to Will to test and report on the connections, not skirt around them. 

There was a brilliant piece on Blair-think in yesterday's Independent by Armando Iannucci. He wrote,

Blair once infamously said: "Do I know I'm right? Judgements aren't the same as facts. Instinct is not science. I'm like any other human being, as fallible and as capable of being wrong. I only know what I believe."

That passage only makes sense if the final line is reversed. Normally, we seek evidence, and form conclusions on the basis of what we find. We believe what we know. Blair's logic overturns about two-and-a-half-thousand years of rational inquiry.

The logic was not only Blair's. Many a journalist now sets about telling us what they know on the basis of what they believe or feel. Will Hutton is outstanding in setting out his arguments on the basis of what he has read and researched and he demands that his readers think too, rather than reach inside themselves for their inner Blair. Little wonder that Labour Prime Ministers even when they assured him they agreed with what he said, didn't dare employ him. 

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