This is 67. Edelman UK’s biannual magazine exploring politics, business, economics and the forces hewing our world. We call it 67 because that was the year that we opened our office here in London, the first overseas office in Edelman’s history.
1967 feels like a different country, but in many respects the political challenges were similar. Britain was facing a moment of profound economic disruption. A host of stubborn fiscal and monetary problems confronted Harold Wilson’s government, with trade and competitiveness as root causes.
For two decades, the UK had been running a trade deficit. Britain trailed its European and US competitors in productivity; foreign holders of sterling were losing confidence. Britain’s creditors at the IMF and other central banks were on the phone. The situation was so grave that radical thinking was required.
The solution: rekindle Britain’s trading heritage, boost our competitiveness and ramp up exports. The only way to do this, was bold economic intervention – the devaluation of the pound by 14%. Wilson sought to reassure Britons that devaluation, “does not mean, that the pound, in your pocket, or purse, or in your bank has been devalued”.
The problem was, of course, that wasn’t true. Not for the first time, and indeed, as we know, not the last, a politician would lean on a narrow point to land a larger rhetorical one, only to see it unravel rather quickly. As Ted Heath put it at the time: “It will be remembered as the most dishonest statement ever made.”
Well, 50 years later, there’s some strong competition for that crown. If 1967 was the year the government needed to gird its loins and take radical action, 2017 will be just as monumental for the British government as it faces into Brexit negotiations, a currency worth 15% less than last year, and a divided country.
1967 also saw the first broadcast of the television show The Prisoner. The show, like many made in the counter-cultural 60s, worked on a number of levels. But at its heart was the theme of the struggle between the individual and the state. Could one person ever prevail against the power of a ruling state and ruling class?
Well, this year we will see more clues as to whether the dramatic political moments of last year, the rejection of government and the rise of demotic leaders, are ephemeral phenomena or moments of genuine political realignment. Whilst Donald Trump is hardly No. 6, the picture isn’t as a clear as you might think. It is of course a fact (a genuine one too, not a post-truth fact) that Donald Trump is now the President of the United States. It is also a fact that Hillary Clinton beat him in the popular vote by almost three million.
It is also a fact that Donald Trump has drawn not from the disenfranchised and forgotten for his administration, but from the ranks of the military, business and banking. Less “draining the swamp” than changing the water, perhaps.
That said, elections this year in the Netherlands, France and Germany will all feature populist candidates. Will they suffer the same fate as defeated far right Austrian presidential candidate Norbert Hofer? Or will the same hand of cards that gave us President Trump be dealt in Europe? With the comingling of terrorism and a seemingly endless refugee crisis to be exploited by political populists, and indeed ISIS, it’s anybody’s guess.
The findings of Edelman’s 2017 Trust Barometer make for grim reading. Trust in the United Kingdom is at a historic low of just 29 per cent. We are living through a total collapse of trust in the institutions that shape our society. There is an unprecedented feeling in the UK that life is not as fair as it used to be. Just one in nine of the UK population think that the system still works.
Amid all this change, one thing is clear – the world requires leadership at a time of immense challenge and change. Not just political leadership, but leadership in all areas of public life. And it is this theme, leadership, that defines our first edition of 67.
Our contributors come from politics, the intelligence services, science, media, culture and sport. I am delighted that we have contributions from the former Chief of MI6, Sir John Sawers, Jeremy Farrar, Director of The Wellcome Trust, the world’s largest medical research charity, sitting alongside reflections on leadership from Jérome Langlet of Lagardère, the owners of le Bataclan theatre in Paris, the CEO of the New York Times, Mark Thompson and from sport, England women’s football captain, Steph Houghton.
These and other contributors, whilst drawing from their own discipline, lay out the kind of leadership style and convictions that will be vital in the coming year.
I am particularly grateful to Michael Morley, the first CEO of Edelman London, for not only laying down the foundations of today’s business, but for his words of wisdom. In his interview he outlines the many differences between communicating in 1967 and communicating today. His assertion, however, that “we always found a way to make it work” continues to ring true.
I hope you enjoy it.
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Listen to the first Edelman 67 podcast, presented by Shauna McCarthy below: