Philippa Stroud is Director of The Legatum Institute Foundation.
The smearing of Legatum was fascinating to behold. The accusations about us were wild, inconsistent and read like the plot of a Le Carré novel.
For six weeks we endured a barrage of allegations, on print, TV, digital and in Parliament. Each day seemed slightly more exotic than the next.
All sorts of shady tactics were involved. There were countless pages of sexed-up dossiers, out-of-date court-papers from failed legal actions, the transcripts of convicted criminal defamers, dubious un-sourced tittle-tattle from intelligence services in far-off countries, door-stepping of our friends, hearsay from former colleagues, lazy and unsourced innuendo, and telephoto lens photography snatched secretly and without consent.
I just wish I hadn’t been at the receiving end.
Nonetheless it made me proud of the team at Legatum as I watched them unite, grow stronger and engage with the debate. I was proud of our founders at the Legatum Group who took the heat, and never wavered, and proud of our friends who stood by us.
The attacks were systematically organised. Behind them were an alliance of media owners, business people and politicians. Their objective was to stop Brexit. They saw Legatum as both a threat and opportunity.
How so? Before the referendum, Legatum Institute did not have a view on Brexit either way. Like most broadly-based think tanks with staff on both sides, we had stood back from involvement in the vote last year. Our output is easily checked.
But as the complex Brexit process began, we have sought to help. Our motives were very much in the spirit of our mission, “from poverty to prosperity”. In other words, to figure out whether Brexit could help improve outcomes for British families.
Who would have thought that could be so threatening? But something we were doing posed such a threat that an orchestrated group went to extreme lengths to drown us out.
And the big idea? Trade!
Shanker Singham has emerged from his often-overlooked world of trade negotiations to become the man of the moment. An advisor on trade around the world, he is probably Britain’s leading expert on this arcane but critical discipline.
With his colleagues on Legatum’s Special Trade Commission, Shanker has challenged orthodox views about Brexit in a way I could not have imagined. Their work is highly-technical, baffling in its complexity, and subtle in its conclusions. Frankly, under any other circumstances it would all be viewed as just a little boring. But such is the value of an idea that brings freedom and prosperity that I believe it is worth defending.
Their insight is that the highly-regulated trading bloc created by the EU is, inadvertently, creating a long-term problem for our economies that could ultimately cost ordinary people their jobs and their livelihoods, and that if Brexit is properly handled, opportunities abound in a number of settings that could catalyse a number of stalled trade initiatives that have contributed to a slowdown in global growth.
They argue that the answer to this economic cul-de-sac is a new approach to trade that lets countries like Britain excel in their competitive advantages. Whilst we did not intend it to be this way, we discovered through our research that Brexit could provide an opportunity for Britain to take a different road – one that could ultimately deliver greater prosperity, particularly for hard-pressed families worried about jobs for their children.
At a time when we face unprecedented challenges from economies like China, and paradigm-changing technologies like artificial intelligence, this is a way to ensure there are good jobs in Britain for our children, he argues.
This is a heretical view to many of those who have dedicated their lives to building the EU’s regulatory and trading system. They undermine our work because it is a dangerous rival to their own world view. And they smear Legatum to try to undermine confidence in Brexit.
The sadness is that this is a time when we need leaders who can reunite the country. I know many who supported remain, like Singham himself, and are now trying to contribute to a successful future for our country. But there are some, who cannot come to terms with this direction of travel and who are seeking to achieve their aims by strengthening and driving home divisions. This is not the way of the statesman.
At the Legatum Institute we have repeatedly called for our politicians to build a nation that works for everyone. Our post referendum work “48:52 Healing a Divided Nation” demonstrates that the referendum vote was a bold statement by millions of people who wanted to change the political economic and social status quo. We offer a way that those who supported leave and remain can come together to build our future.
At Legatum, we are dedicated to Britain’s democratic tradition. We believe freedom of speech is a building block of that tradition. We value selfless leadership and statesmanship because it is what the British people deserve, and it is what builds strong nations which have the opportunity to prosper.
We will not, therefore, shrink back. We will push forward on this important work. I fully anticipate that none of us will come through the next couple of years with exactly what we have in our minds’ eye now. But if we listen to one another, respect one another and work together we will build a Britain fit for the next generation.