As part of the ageing process, I find myself invited to be non executive director, or give panel talks, or join august trade bodies. On the whole, I’m happy to give back something to the industry that’s supported me for over 30 years, and given me an agreeable, if permanently somewhat stressful, way of life. I accept these invitations in the same way that I have stopped counting the grey hairs and focus on the few with any colour, and in much the same way that I am no longer able to have an evening of non stop Negronis, white wine and foolishly little food, and then have all my wits about me at a House of Fraser range review the next day.
Thus it was that I attended an excellent dinner at the beautiful Home House in London’s Portman Square. ‘If all else fails to engage me,’ I thought, ‘at least I can gaze at the Adam interiors’.
I needn’t have worried; the evening was entertaining and enlightening. A mixture of old acquaintances and a quite excellent after dinner speaker ensured that the cornices and pilasters drew scarcely a glance.
As the evening drew to a close, I began to chat to a guest at my table who, due to the ebb and flow of the conversation, I’d not had a chance to speak to before. Almost immediately, the issue of the EU referendum came up. He was a serial fashion retailer entrepreneur, who has bought and sold a number of very well know high street businesses and who seemed wordly, urbane and shrewd. To my surprise, it became immediately clear that he passionately believed that Britain should leave. When I queried this, the look he gave me suggested that to hold the view that we should stay was as rational as attempting to teach foxes to knit.
I covered my surprise at his vehemence and tried to establish why he held such views. ‘Surely’, I said, ‘the economic argument is compelling?’. ‘We give £50million a day to the EU and all we get is bloody migrants’, he said. ‘But what about free movement of people to come here to work? Without such migration, our economy would collapse?’ I gave the example of a business I’m investing in; a start up cake and coffee shop where the best applicant for Manager was a Greek national who came here for the interview, and stayed, and is proving excellent.
I usually finish my column with a whimsical or pithy line, but this is too serious for that. Let us hope that the leave and remain arguments are better set out than my fellow guest’s.