William Nicolas Hutton (born 21 May 1950 in Woolwich) is a British political economist, writer, weekly newspaper columnist and former editor-in-chief for The Observer. He is currently Principal of Hertford College, Oxford, and Chair of the Big Innovation Centre, an initiative from the Work Foundation (formerly the Industrial Society), having been chief executive of the Work Foundation from 2000 to 2008. He is widely known for his advocacy of centre-left policies, criticisms of the neoliberal economic consensus, and his long association with key members and policies of the Labour Party.

Early life

Although born in Woolwich, where his father had worked at the Royal Ordnance factory (Royal Arsenal), Hutton began his education in Scotland. He went to Bishopton Primary School in Bishopton, Renfrewshire, then Paisley Grammar School when he was eight. His father moved to Bromley, then in Kent, and he attended Southborough Lane County Primary School in Petts Wood.

Hutton studied at Chislehurst and Sidcup Grammar School in Sidcup, where he was introduced to A level economics by a teacher, Garth Pinkney. He only got average marks at O-level, but enjoyed the sixth form more, studying geography, history and economics. He organised the school tennis team. After studying sociology and economics at the University of Bristol gaining a BSocSc (2.1), he started his career as an equity salesman for a stock broker, before leaving to study for an MBA at INSEAD at Fontainebleau near Paris.


Hutton moved on to work in television and radio, spending ten years with the BBC, including working as economics correspondent for Newsnight from 1983 to 1988, where he replaced Peter Hobday. He spent four years as editor-in-chief at The Observer and director of the Guardian National Newspapers before joining the Industrial Society, now known as The Work Foundation, as chief executive in 2000. In 2010 he was criticised for his handling of the Industrial Society by a number of publications including The Sunday Times and Private Eye, for having sold the company's "family jewels". As a result of Hutton's directorship the Work Foundation ceased to be financially viable and was sold to Lancaster University.

As well as a columnist, author and chief executive, Hutton is a governor of London School of Economics, a visiting professor at the University of Manchester Business School and the University of Bristol, a visiting fellow at Mansfield College Oxford, a shareholder of the Scott Trust Limited which owns the Guardian Media Group, rapporteur of the Kok Group and a member of the Design Council's Millennium Commission. In March 2011, he was appointed as Principal of Hertford College, Oxford, taking up the post later in the year. He continues to be associated with the Work Foundation as chair-designate of a major new initiative on innovation. He sits on the European Advisory Board of Princeton University Press.


As an author, his best known and most influential works are The State We're In (an economic and political look at Britain in the 1990s from a social democratic point of view) and The World We're In, in which he expanded his focus to include the relationship between the United States and Europe, emphasising cultural and social differences between the two blocs and analysing the UK as sitting between the two.

Hutton's book The Writing on the Wall was released in the UK in January 2007. The book examines Western concerns and responses to the rise of China and the emerging global division of labour, and argues that the Chinese economy is running up against a set of increasingly unsustainable contradictions that could have a damaging universal fallout. On 18 February 2007, Hutton was a featured guest in BBC's Have Your Say programme discussing the implications of China's growth. The analysis in his books is characterised by a support for the European Union and its potential, alongside a disdain for what he calls American conservatism – defined, among other factors, as a certain attitude to markets, property and the social contract. In 1992, he won the What The Papers Say award for Political Journalist of the Year. In 2003 he was made an honorary Doctor of Laws (LLD) by the University of Bristol.

His latest book, Them and Us: Changing Britain – Why We Need a Fair Society, was published by Little, Brown.

Personal life

Hutton married Jane Atkinson, the daughter of a neurosurgeon, in 1978, and lives in London. They have two daughters, Alice and Sarah and a son Andrew. His wife was a director of a property development company called First Premise based in Richmond upon Thames, which she founded in 1987. Jane was diagnosed of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia in December 2013, and died in February 2016. Hutton calls himself an agnostic.