David S. Muir worked in global marketing for fifteen years prior to becoming Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s Director of Political Strategy in 2007. Mr. Muir came to the Institute of Politics this fall as a Visiting Fellow.
Harvard Political Review: How did your business background help you as a political strategist?
David Muir: Coming from a background in market research, you learn a lot about people and how they interact. You also learn that what you want to say and how you communicate can actually be different. These elements of communication and engagement are important in the world of politics. The other thing is the role of emotion. Emotion drives people and markets, but too often political discourse is divided by emotion.
HPR: How did British politics change with Gordon Brown?
DM: The first two parliaments of Labour government, led by Tony Blair, were under fairly benign economic circumstances. The government was a clear beneficiary of globalization because, once China entered the market, there was massive downward pressure on inflation, and inflation has somewhat been the British disease. Globalization also created lots of jobs in the U.K., especially in the financial and technology sectors. Conversely, in Gordon’s time as political leader, globalization was no longer a benign force. China’s huge growth created resource constraints…We had been a massive beneficiary from the downward pressure on prices and now we were struggling because pressure was upwards.
HPR: How do you think Mr. Brown’s decision to step back affected British politics and the Labor Party?
DM: I think his decision to stand down was exactly the right decision. If you’ve lost an election, it’s time for somebody new to take over. But he and Tony Blair were absolutely giant figures within the Labour Party, and they dominated the field. I think it’s best for them to stay off the field in order for the new generation to build itself up. Blair and Brown cast a long shadow on British politics in a good sense, but it is imperative that the younger generation gets out from underneath that shadow.
HPR: What are your thoughts on the current economic crisis?
DM: It is clear with hindsight that Greece should never have become part of the Eurozone, but people have to be clear that, if Greece is kicked out of the Eurozone, you’d have not just a bankrupt state but also a bankrupt corporate sector. It wasn’t just the Greeks who wanted to be in the Eurozone, but was also the French and the Germans, thus making it an aggregate responsibility. Ultimately, I think the E.U. as it currently stands is actually incapable of solving this crisis; instead, the IMF must be brought in to solve the problem, but that may be plausibly unpalatable and is likely to be resisted by the European leaders.
HPR: What do you think is the role of the U.K. during the Eurozone crisis?
DM: The U.K. is definitely going to be affected, but at the moment is very much a bystander. I think this bystander status is definitely a big change and would not have happened if Gordon Brown was still prime minister. Instead, the U.K. is confined to being a spectator. It will probably pick up a big tab, since the U.K.’s biggest export market is Europe, likely causing its growth further decline and weaken. Therefore, there’s likely to be political controversy in the U.K. over the next six months about whether having a fiscal austerity at a time when demand is contracting is the right thing to do.
Alpkaan Celik ’15 is a Staff Writer. This interview has been condensed and edited.