Eating hats

Published on May 21, 2015


It’s a sad reflection on the way our memories work that Lord Paddy Ashdown will probably be best remembered as the chap who offered to eat his hat if the exit poll turned out to be right, when it (sort of) was, whereas his greater contributions were over Bosnia and leading a centrist party (not the source of hilarity occasioned by the “Paddy Pants-down” headline).

He could use the number-cruncher’s line that all forecasts are wrong, as this one was, but his gravitas would probably lead him to follow the experienced FD’s approach, to look at the drivers underlying the forecast as the truth, and alter his hat eating accordingly.

But let’s not forget that he wasn’t the only one who trusted the statistics that he’d been given for the past weeks and months that showed quite a different position. Matthew Parris had started the election campaign believing in a Tory bounce but even he lost sight of this, and the only pollsters who saw it refused to believe it too.

And when I heard David Cameron urging a Tory outright victory a few days before voting, it sounded like standard political spin, ultra-positive thinking reserved only for zealots.

But when they turn out to be right, zealots become people of deeply held belief rather than a bit mad.

I’m no pollster but I am a businessman with knowledge of creating business statistics. In helping growing businesses our aim is to get numbers that match the feel of the MD for the business, without compromising objectivity or professionalism. If the company believes that it’s profitable but the accounts show a loss then careful handling is required. Or if it’s doing well but about to run out of cash, the position needs to be arrived at step by step.

When done properly the MD, and the rest of the board, understand and accept the liquidity position, even if there’s quite a bit of technical stuff to digest. And it’s the same with the electorate. My view is that we understand what is going on in the economy despite, not because of, the media and other reporting agencies (such as pollsters) that try to simplify but fail to explain. If we don’t understand something then we don’t ask Smith as Griff Rhys-Jones, Alas, used to do, we Google until we get the answer. Whether or not we were capable and well-informed before, we certainly are now. But there’s more that can be done. That’s why WealthBeing will include an on-line calculator to work out what your business needs to earn in order to achieve your personal financial goals, despite a retiring politician saying that such calculators are not necessary.

Unshakeable belief supported by realistic, but not always real, assumptions are what create success especially if those targets seem just out of reach. And if I’m wrong in that then I’ll eat MY hat; so long as , like Paddy, I can specify the type – not marzipan for me, pork pie.