Yuletide Cheer December 19, 2011Posted by markswill in Media, Politics, Schmolitics.
I don’t know about you, but during the past few months I’ve felt a sense of mounting if indefinable dread, cloaking not just my sordid personal life – which, regrettably, we may come to later – but universally. Railing, as they do, at the greed and irresponsibility of the financial sector which precipitated the recession-going-on-depression that engulfs most Western democracies, the transatlantic Occupy movements are but one symptom of this. I read in a recent New Yorker the tale of Ray Kachel, an apparently secure computer programmer who finding himself unemployed and broke as a result of America’s economic downturn (a/k/a collapse), decided to join the Wall Street squatters only to end up a penniless vagrant, but there also are other bad signs and evident consequences of our unquestioning reliance on capitalism and its feckless political governance.
The EU’s over-arching response to the Euro crisis, for example, is to compel governments to make swingeing public spending cuts which will, if they haven’t already, reduce the living standards to which we’ve become accustomed for decades. Cameron’s recent hissy-fit at the umpteenth crisis summit was, we are told, to ensure British sovereignty over the financial services sector which threw our economy down the toilet and ignores the reality that 50% of our trade is with a Euro-zone that’s almost surely bound to follow it. Smart move, young Dave.
Correctly, it’s been pointed out that unfettered reliance on credit has done for both society and the political apparati that was supposed to secure its finances, but when the spending has to stop, then the consequences must be faced. That said, I disavow lefty apologists who contend that this summer’s riots were due to social inequality and deprivation, but it seems clear to me that a population brought up to expect a welfare safety-net, if not certain levels of affluence, is not going to quietly buckle down and metaphorically dig for victory when they abruptly disappear. At least not when the trappings of prosperity and instant, unearned celebrity are rubbed in their faces by the media 24/7. So when the cuts really start to bite, as they already have in Greece, I would expect there to be far more civil unrest – a euphemism for fightin’ an’a lootin’ – on our streets, too.
Proof? Well although we don’t of course live under a dictatorship, on the evidence of the so-called Arab spring, and what we are now seeing in Russia and the US, regardless of the painful personal costs depressed and/or deceived citizenry are becoming emboldened to rebel against their oppressors like never before in my lifetime. What, for example, are millions of longterm unemployed youngsters, many of whom who’ve been forced to pay heavily for a further education that no longer guarantees them work, supposed to do with themselves and their accumulated debts? Sit quietly at home and play computer wargames that espouse mindless violence?
I also find it extraordinary that despite a groundswell of respected economic polemic, our government fails to acknowledge, much less exercise, the need to revive Britain’s manufacturing base which successive administrations have willfully run down in the dumb belief that north sea gas and financial services would be our balance of payments salvation, ho-ho-ho. Instead we hear daily wailing about the beleaguered retail sector which is supposed not just to be a barometer of the nation’s economic health, but the engine that will drive up employment and tax revenues. For chrissake get real guys: with massively escalating unemployment, energy prices and constant warnings about our dire economic state, who on earth is going to go out on a sustained shopping spree… on imported goods which enrich only remote eastern economies?
And Mary Portas, whose smug hypocrisy I have previously excoriated, has now unveiled her plan to revive Britain’s high streets which basically boils down to easing local taxes (which councils strapped by government cuts clearly won’t), tighten lucrative planning regimes (ditto) and cut restrictions that deter market traders (irrelevant). Tellingly, when one of the few reporters who raised her conflict of interest in also advising shopping mall developers who are in large part responsible for the decimation of the high street, Portas said she “didn’t want to go there”. I bet.
Anyway, with 200 outlets closing every day and Amazon offering an app that allows you to compare its inevitably lower prices as you walk round your local shops, town and city centres are basically screwed. And so as my oft-bemoaned consolidation of retailing into the hands of just a few online and supermarket giants moves ever closer, with all the disadvantages and dangers that holds, I’ll get personal.
I learnt last week that the site of the aluminum foundry that finally threw in the towel earlier this year is likely to house my hometown’s first supermarket. And this on top of the recently announced closure of one of the town’s two banks, HSBC, with the likelihood that following its recently announced ‘rationalisation’, the other one, Lloyds TSB (which operates just three days a week) will follow suit. This, allied to the increasing incidence of home delivery trucks from Hereford’s Tesco and Asda some 24 miles away, would seem to sound the commercial death knell for the high street of what was, at least before the recession hit, a fiercely independent little town.
Much of this you’ve heard from me before, although repeated tornadoes and flocks of dead birds falling from the skies aren’t driving this writer into a psychotic bunker mentality as they did the hero of Jeff Nichols’ gripping, if overlooked recent movie, Take Shelter… But as I began this little rant by claiming, there is I think something rather more ominous than wintry gloom in the air. And having taxed your patience with some 950 words today, if you can handle a little more pre-Xmas cheer, watch this space on December 23rd.
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