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The mysterious case of the two John Redwoods

Conservative MP John Redwood - Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

Why is MP and Brexiteer John Redwood advising readers to ‘Sell Britain’, despite claiming to have full confidence in the process?

A few weeks ago, a small controversy raged online, one that deserves to be better known than it is.

We can call it: ‘The Mystery of The Two John Redwoods’.

At first there seemed to be a name-alike, some digital twin, some doppelganger – an investment analyst telling people to invest their money outside of the UK.

A few weeks ago this John Redwood wrote in an aside in a financial advice column: ‘I sold out of the general share ETFs [exchange traded funds] in the UK after their great performance for the year from early July 2016 when I saw the last Budget and heard the BoE’s credit warnings. The money could be better put to work in places where the authorities are allowing credit to expand a bit, to permit faster growth.’

Wikipedia defines an ETF as an ‘investment fund traded on stock exchanges much like stocks. An ETF holds assets such as stocks, commodities, or bonds and generally operates with an arbitrage mechanism designed to keep it trading close to its net asset value. Some critics claim that ETFs can be, and have been, used to manipulate market prices, including having been used for short selling that has been asserted by some observers to have contributed to the market collapse of 2008.’

Now, if your eyes cloud over reading this that is because we are in rarefied territory, the special domain of the wealthy and those who care for them. Like John Redwood, chief global strategist for the investment management company, Charles Stanley, established in 1792 and one of the oldest firms on the London Stock Exchange.

It provides wealth management services to private clients, charities and smaller institutions.

‘Time to look further afield as UK economy hits brakes’ was the headline of John Redwood’s column in the FT. After all, anyone with cash to invest would pay heed to a man described as ‘Distinguished Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, and a lecturer and commentator on economic and investment matters’. ‘Lecturer and commentator on economic and investment matters’. John Redwood?

Like a Shakespeare play in which twins, separated at birth, grow up with the same name but opposite views only to meet in a strange place, this John Redwood was advising his readers to do something that his namesake: the Right Honourable John Redwood, Conservative Member for Wokingham in the county of Berkshire and the Brexiteer’s Brexiteer, would never condone – ‘Sell’ Britain.

But John Redwood, Brexiteer ultra, and John Redwood, chief global strategist, are one and the same. The MP for Wokingham is supporting ‘crash capitalism’ in order to collect the shard of the British economy in a low-priced way later. In the good old days, men of this character were called ‘knaves without fatherland’.

Labour accused Redwood of ‘talking down the country’, others pointed out that while major investors might be able to move their money abroad, it is the ordinary people who will suffer the impact of a Hard Brexit on jobs and living standards.

This is more than a little strange. Had the part of him that is a chief investment strategist overcome/ overlooked/ forgotten about the part of him that is an MP?

Of course Redwood is entitled to a second job. It could even be said that working outside of Parliament is a good thing. An outside job could keep an MP in the real world and not tied up in wrap-around politics.

The problem is that Redwood is not just some obscure backbench MP. He is a senior member of the Conservative Party, the governing party not doing such a great job of governing. He is a member of the Privy Council, too. Above all, Redwood is a crusader, a drum major, a shill for Brexit.

If you need somebody to stand in the pouring rain on College Green across from the Houses of Parliament, Redwood is there. Defending what is increasingly becoming the indefensible. Even a bit strange.

Redwood is also a brand. It’s slogan is ‘Believe in Britain’. That is not what the other Redwood is saying though.

But he has an explanation and a defence: ‘As there is a concerted attempt to misrepresent my views on the prospects for the UK economy let me repeat that I am very positive about the UK post Brexit, as I have always said.’

As one response to this statement, on Twitter, put it… ‘You should have a word with that John Redwood chap who is impersonating you.’

This is Brexit World, a universe that is increasingly beginning to resemble a moment in the late JG Ballard’s novel Super-Cannes, another one of his dystopian epics, this one set in an imaginary post-modern complex in the hills above a Riviera town.

A character wants to understand the United Kingdom. Ballard, known as the ‘Seer of Shepperton’, writes that for some in England Alice In Wonderland was not a fairy tale but a documentary.

Could the ‘Two John Redwoods’ be the ‘signal in the noise’ that indicates a dangerous phase when Brexit will increasingly cease to make any sense at all?

Brexiteers and our two main political parties will continue to build everything around the belief that there can be a parallel EU, a bespoke entity fashioned just for Britain.

This delusion prevents us, the people, from fully understanding and facing what is at stake, what it all means. Things that don’t make sense will be made to appear to make sense. Like the Two John Redwoods. Like when one of them says, as he did after the article suggesting the opposite: ‘I see the UK as a great destination for inward investors and for domestic investors wishing to set up businesses, create jobs, build factories & new properties. Brexit is full of opportunity for businesses in the UK.’

Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;

All mimsy were the borogoves,

And the mome raths outgrabe.

Lewis Carroll, Jabberwocky

and Other Poems

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