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A personal lesson from 2016 – don’t be so gullible

If 2016 taught me one thing, it’s not to be so gullible.

We journalists are by nature a cynical bunch and often follow contrarian paths, so when Cameron gave us the SP on the European referendum and the date, I thought hang-on, the Brits might just do it – they might vote to send us over the edge.

But, I remember one conversation quite early on, when one fund manager I was interviewing for a feature, was not just bemused, but incredulous that he was being even asked the question about a possible Brexit. “Listen, we don’t even figure that in…,” he said “…it’s just not on our radar.” That set the tone for all following interviews – a lot of the City’s great and good seemed surprised that I would even ask the question. They would pause a few seconds and then answer as though trying to explain an adult concept to a slightly slow child. It got so bad in the end, I almost gave up asking.

Senior Fund Manager

One senior fund manager – in fact, this guy was about as senior as you could get – said ‘…it’s just not going to happen, right. The British people will never vote for change. Let’s move on.’ Now this guy was an accepted commentator on politics and economics, and indirectly, influences hundreds of thousands of people’s pensions and investments. He knew what he was talking about. Yet he was spectacularly wrong and unlike most of us, he’s paid a fortune to know what he’s talking about.

At a later presentation about the implications of the result, he apologised, but there was no falling on his sword. He almost laughed it off and fair play to him, why should he go? Most commentators got it wrong.

Ears still burn

And I swallowed the line. I remember colleagues asking me in the office, so what does our City Editor think of a possible Brexit vote? And I replied with the same rubbish everyone had been saying to me: ‘…listen, this isn’t going to happen people, relax!’ My ears still burn with shame every time I think of this.

So much so that when they talked about Trump in the same way, and even though most of my logical brain agreed with them, I retained the thought that the former US Apprentice boss might just pull it off.

And, it’s a good lesson learnt – many of the City luminaries are just like us – most of the time, they haven’t a clue as to what’s going on! That’s a pretty sobering thought.

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