A dinner discussion with Lord Macpherson

Held on Tuesday, October 16, 2018

With support from Ruffer & Co


  • Lord Macpherson (C. Hoare & Co.)



Nick Macpherson is a man of many parts. A nailed-on member of the British Establishment (Eton, Balliol, plus graduate work at UCL), he began his career at the CBI and Peat Marwick, before joining the Treasury in 1985 – where he was the highest of high-flyers. From 1993 to 1997, he served as PPS to two powerful Chancellors, Ken Clarke and Gordon Brown, before moving over to the public services and finance Directorates. In 2005, he succeeded Gus O’Donnell as the Treasury’s Permanent Secretary – where he remained until 2016, guiding the economy through the GFC and the debate over Scottish independence, stepping down just ahead of the Brexit referendum.

He is currently chairman of C. Hoare & Co (like Ruffer, a much-valued supporter of the CSFI), a director of British Land and Scottish American Investment Trust, and a visiting professor at King’s, London. He is also an accomplished tweetist (17,000 followers), whose recent forays make clear his personal distaste for Brexit and support for suspending the Article 50 process. Beyond that, I note in particular:

  • His powerful defence of the civil service, quoting Keynes on the Treasury’s role as a ‘bulwark against overwhelming wickedness’;

  • His opposition to Labour’s proposal to use the ‘government’s’ stake in RBS for ‘directed’ lending (his view seems to be that this amounts to creeping nationalisation, and – while it may be OK for the railways – nationalisation doesn’t work for the banks);

  • His suggestion (which I find intriguing) that the UK economy may actually be growing substantially faster than the data would suggest;

  • His support (which stems from the previous point) for relatively rapid interest rate “normalisation”; and

  • His opposition (on moral grounds) to UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

I also note his comments about the role his fellow OEs played in the Brexit saga: “One let it happen; one made it happen; and yet another is making it worse.”

So, there is a lot to talk about – and perhaps to disagree with. I am, therefore, delighted that Nick (since 2016, Baron) Macpherson of Earls Court) has agreed to come and share his views over dinner. As usual, the only rule is the Chatham House rule; otherwise, all’s fair. Thanks to our friends at Ruffer, I can promise excellent food and wine.

If you (or a friend/colleague) would like to join us for what I am sure will be a lively discussion, please let us know by emailing alex@csfi.org or by phoning us on 020 7621 1056. Since we only have a couple of dozen seats, an early response would be appreciated.

Sincerely yours,

Andrew Hilton