One opinionated, multimillionaire businessman with populist views and atrocious hair is going to Davos this week. The other is not.
Donald Trump will surely hijack all the soundbites from the world’s most famous boondoggle this week. Yet away from the magic mountain, in an alternative universe they sometimes call the real world, we will probably learn much more about everyday lives.
The pub trade – as usual led by Tim Martin, the formerly mullet-haired, proudly Brexit-supporting boss of JD Wetherspoon – is giving the City its take on current trading.
Martin’s appearance will dovetail with outings by rivals Mitchells & Butlers, Greene King and Marston’s, which probably means plenty of clues about the health (or otherwise) of the UK punter – following Friday’s announcement that the country’s retail sales fell by 1.5% in December (which was much worse than the 0.6% drop forecast).
By definition, pub businesses have connections to normal people in a way Davos folk can only talk at length about. So, while the worthies and the worth-lots muse on noble topics in Switzerland (“how can we make our communities more inclusive and better equipped to overcome the root causes of today’s social and cultural divisions?”), the pub landlords will focus on more regular concerns.
Specifically for Wetherspoons, there are likely to be questions about a pending threat of curbs to airport bars, which are supposedly partly to blame for stag- and hen-night binge-drinking, as well as alcohol-fuelled air rage. (Elton John may not be raising that one with Jean-Claude Juncker at a breakout session in Klosters.)
There are also the general, and inevitable, questions about what will happen in the booze trade following Brexit.
Are pubs going to be able to find enough workers to pull the pints because of new immigration rules? Will the price of a burger and a pint of Ruddles be going up because tariffs are introduced on EU food? Martin is sanguine about both topics, despite widespread worries in the Remain camp.
When giving evidence last month on the implications of Brexit to parliament’s business select committee, the Wetherspoons founder talked about how everything would be fine, because decisions would now be in the hands of elected politicians.
Immigration policy will be sensible because it will be “controlled by MPs in this country, who we can influence”, while food prices could even come down if parliament eradicated tariffs on UK food imports: “For food, morally, it is the right thing to do,” he said. “It will increase the purchase power and the financial wellbeing of the British public” (and, presumably, Wetherspoons shareholders).
Still, for the record, Martin’s not your stereotypical Brexiter. He’s pro-immigration, has no time for Nigel Farage and – while, superficially, you might reckon he and Trump share more than a trainee hairdresser – the pub landlord has described the leader of the free world is a “complete egocentric weirdo”.
Martin’s stance on Brexit revolves solely around his belief that the EU is not very democratic, and a UK outside the bloc would benefit from being more so.
“If you don’t have democracy, you always end up with a nutter in charge,” he once said, in a virtuous position that would surely cause the odd Davos eyebrow to arch.
Considering the star attraction there this week, that might be another Martin line unlikely to get much traction at altitude.