Monday, May 28, 2012

Brian Hindley 1935 - 2012

Last Monday I went to the funeral of a very good friend who also happened to be one of the leading intellectual lights of the eurosceptic movement, Brian Hindley, who died a month short of his 77th birthday. Brian's achievement as an economist, particularly in the field of international trade, his extensive knowledge in his field coupled with an ability to write spare and very accessible prose is described well by Martin Wolf in the obituary published last Friday by the Financial Times.
The salient characteristic of his scholarly writing was an ability to bring economics to bear on the institutional details of policy. Hindley applied the forensic style he had learned at the University of Chicago from Milton Friedman, whose monetarism he embraced, and George Stigler, supervisor of his thesis on the separation of corporate ownership and control.
Although he took no intellectual prisoners, he was unfailingly courteous. Such was his integrity that many of those with whom he disagreed respected him personally. Those who knew him as a friend delighted in his tough-mindedness, decency and robust sense of humour.
How very true. Brian was capable of having an argument about practically anything but whatever the subject was, the debate was always conducted with good humour and usually ended with a big grin and, if appropriate, the offer of another glass of wine.

My own friendship with Brian was born and grew through our involvement with the Bruges Group. His was much longer. In fact, he was one of the founding members and this is what Mr Wolf has to say on that subject:
Hindley was also a founder member of the Bruges Group, created in response to Margaret Thatcher’s speech in the Flemish city in 1988 in which she declared that “we have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain, only to see them reimposed at a European level”. He became involved out of concern at the encroachment of the EU on the UK’s economic liberties, rather than on its sovereignty. He wanted the group to provide a civilised forum in which those concerned about the consequences of Britain’s EU membership could engage, irrespective of party allegiance.
He authored pamphlets on the topic, including “Europe, Fortress or Freedom?” in 1989. Becoming co-chairman along with Barry Legg, a campaigner on tax and former Conservative MP, he viewed his task as one of maintaining high intellectual and editorial standards. But a clash between the two prompted Hindley to quit.
In 1996, he co-wrote (with Martin Howe QC) “Better Off Out: The benefits or costs of EU membership”, for the Institute of Economic Affairs.
The pamphlet was updated and reprinted several times and was probably responsible for that political formula, now used by various people, including the odd Conservative or so.

Brian was first co-chairman with Martin Holmes and the two of them managed to revive the Bruges Group after a period of doldrums and make it into a dynamic intellectual forum. Martin sent this appreciation:
It was my privilege to work with Brian for almost nine years as Co-Chairman, 1993 - 2001. During that time we never had a single disagreement or cross word worthy of the name and I came to respect and admire Brian as a man of academic integrity and personal probity who was deeply troubled by the EU’s extending tentacles.
Brian was a first rate economist who resolutely opposed the CAP and European Monetary Union but he was no dry-as-dust economist. At one annual conference at King’s College I asked Brian what aspect of economic integration he would be speaking about that day. He replied that he intended to speak about the growing threat of political integration as that was even more significant.
Brian was a true servant of the cause of economic and political freedom and he and the Bruges Group were made for each other. He will be greatly missed.
It was not just on economics that Brian contributed expertise to the Bruges Group, as Martin Holmes points out, but on such matters as the growth of the ECJ's power and the threat imposed by the Constitution (now Lisbon Treaty) on freedom in general.

It is very unfortunate, that Brian's involvement with the Bruges Group ended on a slightly sour note when he, characteristically, objected to a particular publication because of its intellectual standard.

My memories of Brian revolve round exuberant lunches or the odd glass of wine after a meeting in his house when we would discuss and often argue about many things though not about free trade (I am basically a supporter but my knowledge could not come anywhere near Brian's) or about Britain's membership of the EU. Interestingly, Brian did not think that the UK needs to look to an alternative grouping outside the EU and was not a great supporter of EFTA or the EEA or, for that matter, of NAFTA. Why not go it alone, he would say, and create free-trade agreements.

We disagreed on some political matters: Brian was a staunch republican while I am an equally staunch monarchist; he tended to lean more left-wards in American politics than I do and one of our strongest arguments was about Sarah Palin, whom he judged entirely on the basis of what the New York Times said about her. I may add that another cause of disagreement was our respective views on the MSM and the blogosphere. Brian was cautious about the blogosphere while I tended to be all too dismissive of the MSM. As far as the British blogosphere is concerned, he was probably right - it does not seem to be going anywhere far.

What else did we talk about? Our families and our travels, literary explorations and our shared love of detective stories and thrillers though, once again, our opinions varied with me liking the more traditional detective story more and Brian preferring thrillers. However, these divergence did not result in arguments. After all, there is plenty of room in the world for both genres.

Brian's death is a personal loss to me and to his many friends (all of whom have happy memories of jolly and noisy arguments) though more so to his family who were, separately and collectively, the lynchpin of his existence. Beyond that, the economic and the eurosceptic community will miss a strong-minded, enormously talented and intellectually courageous member.


  1. Yes a wonderful tribute which is fully deserved.

    He was Co-Chairman for all my time as Director of the Bruges Group (1993-2001) and was always an intellectual powerhouse, extremely kind and very supportive of me personally and the Group's activities.

    He held views deemed to be outspoken and brave at that time but which would now be seen to be in the mainstream which shows his intellectual and human integrity.

    He will be missed and deserves every word of Helen's praise.