Lord Brian Griffiths of Fforestfach – Political Control

The feel­ing that pol­i­tics has every­thing under con­trol — that is what peo­ple want, explains the British politi­cian and vice-direc­tor of Gold­man Sachs Inter­na­tion­al. The inter­view edit­ed by Alan Webber.

Dis­rup­tion in eco­nom­ic life in a free soci­ety is inevitable. Dis­rup­tion is the result of new ideas, new ways of doing things and new tech­niques. But there is a neg­a­tive side to dis­rup­tion. The ques­tion is, as a soci­ety how do we han­dle, on the one hand, the good side of inno­va­tion and, on the oth­er hand, the costs that peo­ple have to bear? It’s impor­tant from society’s point of view that we facil­i­tate change. When it’s out of con­trol, peo­ple get frightened.

”I think dis­rup­tion is every­thing in our econ­o­my. It goes with innovation.”

Brex­it was about the Unit­ed King­dom tak­ing back con­trol of two things: its laws and its bor­ders. I don’t think the British peo­ple are racist, xeno­pho­bic, nativist, let alone fas­cist. The prob­lem is, for a num­ber of years the gov­ern­ment has pro­posed an immi­gra­tion tar­get and it has been con­sis­tent­ly over­shot. The gov­ern­ment seems unable to con­trol immigration.

Today you can divide soci­ety between “any­where peo­ple” and “some­where peo­ple.” Typ­i­cal­ly “any­where peo­ple” typ­i­cal­ly are uni­ver­si­ty grad­u­ates, pro­fes­sion­als, inter­na­tion­al­ly mobile, and tend to be social­ly lib­er­al. “Some­where peo­ple” tend to be the peo­ple who have real­ly suf­fered over the last ten years. They are Cor­nish fish­er­men, Welsh sheep farm­ers, Sheffield steel work­ers. Their real incomes have declined.

Brex­it was a protest vote from them. They were say­ing, “Stop! We’re part of this soci­ety, too, and nobody is pay­ing atten­tion to what has been hap­pen­ing to us.” Inequal­i­ty in Britain has actu­al­ly declined in recent years so it‘s now at the lev­el it was in 1984 but there‘s a greater sense of exclu­sion. And there is anoth­er fac­tor. When I was grow­ing up, most par­ents thought their chil­dren would do bet­ter than they had done. Today peo­ple do not have con­fi­dence that their chil­dren will be bet­ter off.

”Britain is not anti-Europe.“

I think our soci­ety has become too indi­vid­u­al­is­tic. Peo­ple are look­ing for com­mu­ni­ty and for life with­in com­mu­ni­ties. And they are look­ing for the sacred. If you study his­to­ry you rec­og­nize that in Europe we have dif­fer­ent cul­tures, dif­fer­ent lan­guages, dif­fer­ent insti­tu­tions, dif­fer­ent lit­er­a­tures. The vision of 1945, the Euro­pean Coal and Steel Com­mu­ni­ty, which had a strong Catholic ele­ment to it, was a ter­rif­ic vision. But in sup­press­ing nation­al­ism, it also under­mined patriotism.

One key ele­ment of Brex­it is that idea of patri­o­tism – not nation­al­ism, but patri­o­tism. The rea­son for the growth of minor­i­ty par­ties in Europe, some of which have a very nasty side to them, is that we have denied peo­ple the oppor­tu­ni­ty to say in pub­lic, “I am a patri­ot,” with­out being a nationalist.

It’s in our self-inter­est as the Unit­ed King­dom to have a strong Euro­pean Union. In the end, Britain leav­ing the EU is good for Europe. It is forc­ing Europe to face up to the fact that the present tra­jec­to­ry is not sustainable.

”The UK is not leav­ing Europe but it is leav­ing Brussels.”

When I think about how this applies to Upper Aus­tria, I’d say, first, that region­al devo­lu­tion is very impor­tant. Are there areas where Upper Aus­tria could take greater con­trol from Vien­na? Sec­ond, have we invest­ed enough in tech­ni­cal edu­ca­tion, voca­tion­al train­ing and more gen­er­al­ly tech­nol­o­gy? Final­ly, the wel­fare state has to tran­si­tion to a wel­fare soci­ety, a real com­mu­ni­ty where peo­ple who need help can find help from oth­ers in their var­i­ous communities.


Lord Bri­an Grif­fiths is a well-known British econ­o­mist. He grad­u­at­ed from the Lon­don School of Eco­nom­ics and Polit­i­cal Sci­ence where he then taught before mov­ing to The City Uni­ver­si­ty Lon­don. In addi­tion to his posi­tion as Dean of the City Uni­ver­si­ty Busi­ness School, he was Direc­tor of the Bank of Eng­land between 1983 and 1985.

As advi­sor for domes­tic pol­i­cy to Prime Min­is­ter Mar­garet Thatch­er, Bri­an Grif­fiths served at “Num­ber 10 Down­ing Street” as Head of the Prime Minister’s Pol­i­cy Unit between 1985 and 1990. Bri­an Grif­fiths was the dri­ving force and mas­ter­mind behind the government’s pri­va­ti­za­tion and dereg­u­la­tion pro­grams as well as edu­ca­tion and broad­cast­ing reforms, which turned out to be a key part of Thatcherism.

With Thatcher’s retire­ment, Brain Grif­fiths joined Gold­man Sachs Inter­na­tion­al and still serves as a direc­tor today. Dur­ing his career, Lord Grif­fiths has dealt exten­sive­ly with the rela­tion­ship between eco­nom­ic mat­ters and the Chris­t­ian faith and has pub­lished numer­ous books regard­ing mon­e­tary pol­i­cy and ethics in eco­nom­ic life.

Since 1991 Bri­an Grif­fiths has been a mem­ber of the British House of Lords and declared him­self in favour of Great Britain leav­ing the Euro­pean Union.