Tuesday 4 August 2020

Last Orders! Calling time on the UK

Will the last one out please shut the doors. I'm not by nature pessimistic and I am by nature patriotic. I'm not patriotic in the way that I want to shut the door on others, or think I'm better because I was born in the UK. I am patriotic in that I realise that I was damn lucky to be born here, to believe that we do things properly, we have the rule of law, we give people a chance, we lead the world in music, culture, science and ingenuity. We invented all of the sports that are worth watching. My Dad was an immigrant who came here in 1943 to fly bombers for the RAF, to preserve the principles of democracy, rule of law and justice.

I am proud of the NHS, the religious tolerance (which wasn't always the way in the UK, as a Roman Catholic I know of the English Martyrs).  I don't seek to excuse the sins of the past, we have to learn the lessons of history to avoid repeating them. I believe that the Uk has improved beyond all recognition as a nation since the end of the war. We all have access to education and healthcare. The systems are in place to ensure no one should strave or freeze to death (sadly people do). We have a police force that polices by consent. We don't have our own army on the streets keeping order. When we vote, we don't vote under coercion.

But and this is a very big but, I've never been less confident about the future of our great nation. I honestly beleive that all of the things I mentioned above are under threat. Don't get me wrong, we are unlikely to wake up next week and find ourselves in a different reality, but after ten years of austerity, many have been chipped away at their very foundations. Over the period of austerity, legal aid has been eroded, so that it is too expensive for the ordinary person to access. Heaven forbid you find yourself in court, but if you do, it will make a sizeable hole in your life savings. The law is becoming something only the rich have access to and that is not right. If you have no legal representation, then you are not living under the rule of law and you have no justice.

The NHS, which has saved many people's lives is at threat as never before. Donald Trump hates it. The US has made it quite clear that the price of a post Brexit trade deal is access to our healthcare system. You don't have to be a genius to figure out what he really wants. Religious tolerance? Antisemitism and Islamaphobia are on the rise. Over the past four years, I've been shocked to hear how many people I've known for decades are religious bigots. This takes many forms, but holding UK muslims responsible for what happens in the name of that religion for what happens in rural areas of third world countries, where there is little proper education, is like blaming your local Vicar for Fundamentalist Christians shrieking 'God Hates Fags' at funerals in America. A good friend of mine is the chair of a mosque, he is a hard working man, owner of a local restaurant and has been in the UK since 1973. His father was in the Imperial Army during WWII and he is very patriotic towards the Uk and the Queen. He recognises the opportunities he has had offered to him and his family. However whenever there is an atrocity committed by someone in the name of Islam, he knows that certain sections of the UK  population hold him collectively responsible. In short, we are losing our common sense and tolerance.

Education? Well student loans are scaring a generation off from Universities, schools are underfunded and public sector schools struggle to keep the best teachers. There has always been inequality in Education, but this has massively increased over the last ten years. Those who need least help up the ladder get most. The advent of things like means tested benefits, Universal credit and benefits sanctions have lead to homelessness and hunger. Again it is the people at the bottom who suffer most.

Yesterday we discussed the challenges facing the Police force. It seems to me that where we had community policing and policing by consent, the police have all but given up on anything that isn't terrorism, murder or serious organised crime. If your are the victim of  a non violent robbery or burglary, I doubt you will have any expectation that you'll get your property back.

The malaise goes deeper than all of this. Walk the streets of London and all you see is litter. Not only that, but we seem fine with it. Go to Sweden or Germany and you don't see people casually throwing rubbish in the street. The government tells us that we should wear masks, so that if we have covid19 and we are unaware, we don't inadvertently sneeze and infect people standing around. The response, people claiming it is a bit uncomfy and infringes on their civil rights. When my Grandfather was in the trenches in WWI and getting gassed, I wonder if he felt the gasmask was infringing his civil rights?

A modern nation only succeeds and thrives if people are given the tools to succeed and a reason to succeed. By removing access to education by finacial manipulation, we are destroying our future ability to compete with nations that are investing. Many of our Universities only survive because they are crammed full of foreign students. Our top firms only survive as they attract migrants to fill roles that we are not educating our own people to do. For reasons I don't understand, the concept of work based qualifications fell out of favour. City and Guilds apprenticeships disappeared and now if you go to a building site, all you will find is immigrant labour doing skilled trades for good money. Successive governments have failed to recognise that there are many UK citizens who will not be brain surgeons but could be very good plumbers, bricklayers and painter/decorators. There is an acceptance that 'Brits don't want to do dirty jobs'. For me this is nonsense, if they could see that they had a trade that would earn them good money, they would soon see the purpose, but they don't even know where to start. When I left school, I had a qualification in painting and decoration and worked as a painter for three years, before doing an IT course to work in the even better paid IT sector. In 1983 I did a government sponsored TOPS course, getting paid £40 a week to learn Computer Operations (£40 a week then is worth £115.83 in todays money). There was a shortage of IT workers, so the govt of the day acted to fill the gaps.

It was also relatively easy to start a business. I started my rehearsal studio business in 1979. There is so much more regulation and hassle running a business. The 'sue for anything" culture has done for many businesses. This has made insurance premiums skyrocket.

All of this has crept up on us, but with the covid crisis, the country is now in hock as never before. The gibes about Gordon Brown selling the gold and leaving the cupboard bare are nothing compared to the finances we are now facing. My advice to everyone is to make sure you have your cheap £10 off meal, because when we start picking up the tab for all this, you may not be able to afford to go out for a very long time (assuming any pubs and restaurants survive).

The bottom line is that on January 1st, the UK will have finished the transitional period of our withdrawal from the EU and we will be picking up the tab for covid. What are the wealth making industries that will power the recovery? It won't be tourism any time soon. Our best brands such as Rolls Royce will have very limited markets for their aero engines with the contractionion of the air market. I hope I am wrong, but I just can't see where the wealth will be generated. The financial services industry has traditionally been the thing which has saved us, but as we depart the EU, we have lost direct access to several important markets and sources of income. Without covid, we may have ridden the wave but I fear we are blundering into a perfect storm.

To my eyes, there is no easy solution, so get those deals have a drink and a burger, because when time is called, it may be a long time before we are going out very much.

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