Brexit isn’t the only issue gripping the Western world these days, although if you open any newspaper or turn on the TV you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise.
The decision is a week away and the bookies are taking plenty of bets, not least because it’s impossible to predict the outcome. It’s the equivalent of a novice hurdle at Fontwell in the middle of January.
My own advice is to watch the weather on the 23rd. If it’s a nice day and the turnout is over 55% we will remain in the EU. If it’s a lousy day and turnout is around 40% we will leave. Leavers are much more determined to vote whatever the weather. Remainers tend to be driven by caution, fear of the unknown and not much more, perhaps because neither side is saying they like the EU as it is.
It has been a supremely unedifying debate, marked by far too much blue-on-blue warfare despite the prime minister’s desire to avoid it, and an opposition leader conspicuous by his absence, largely because it’s an open secret he’s not that keen on the EU and never has been. I personally spent far too many hours of my life on the green leather Commons benches listening to Jeremy wax on about how it was a capitalist construct designed to snuff out workers’ rights.
On the other side of the Atlantic the race for the White House is hotting up. Both Clinton and Trump are marked not by positive approval ratings but the extent to which voters, including many in their own parties, don’t like them. This will be a choice of the least worst option, and my money is firmly on Hillary. Voters may not trust her but they know she’s not going to blow the world apart. Trump has managed to offend so many voters that in the end he will fail.
But alongside the growth of far right and far left parties in Europe, what this race and the election of Corbyn show is massive disenchantment with the established ruling class. Trump and Bernie Sanders both rail against one of the cardinal principles of capitalism - the free market. To an auto worker in Detroit who has seen his $16-an-hour job shipped to Mexico for $6 an hour, free trade sucks. It makes bosses rich and shareholders happy, but also millions of ordinary people unemployed and mad as hell.
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, the trade agreement between the EU and the US bringing together the world’s largest trading blocs, is stalled because the French don’t want to sign it. They know a thing or two about protecting workers’ rights, but they also have a stalled economy and horrible unemployment.
Hollande’s feeble efforts to make labour more flexible are greeted by violent protest. Nothing epitomises the challenge to Western economies more clearly. Do we still believe in free trade or should we accept that occasionally protectionism has its virtues? Controlling migration is a form of protectionism just as effective as imposing tariffs. Do we still believe in the unfettered free movement of goods, people and services? Food for thought as we cast our votes next Thursday.
Markets hate uncertainty. We need to know if the UK is in or out, and whether an ‘out’ vote leads to six weeks of money-market turbulence or six years of protracted and aggressive negotiation. We need to know who is in 10 Downing Street and who will be leader of the free world.
It is hardly surprising that the property market is slowing. Given the circumstances, it would be extraordinary if it were not. But it is not collapsing. Growth may or may not slow if we vote to leave but the fundamentals of the world’s seventh-largest economy are still strong.
Steve Norris is chairman of Soho Estates and BNP Paribas Real Estate