Tag Archives: recession

Downfall on a Croydon tram

You know that an online meme has truly gone viral when someone does a Downfall mashup, and so it is that the recent Emma West ‘racist woman on a tram’ video can now be seen in a new version with Hitler – the source video got past 12m views in a few days before the person who uploaded it decided to delete the video. You can still see it all over YouTube though as other people uploaded copies.

It is an embarrassment to watch. West is clearly drunk, or using something you can’t buy at Boots, and making it all worse, she is carrying a young infant who seems oblivious to the foul language and threat of violence. She has now been remanded in custody to January 3rd by magistrates in Croydon – with the order to keep her behind bars apparently for her own safety.

When you take into account her accusation that someone on the tram comes from Nicaragua, though they are quite obviously not from Central America, it descends into idiocy. Just with the added foul language for good measure.

Most reactions to the video have expressed outrage. The UK is a modern, forward-thinking, liberal society that despises this casual racism. At least, this is the intelligent, educated, liberal reaction.

England is also a country where, just a few days ago, police questioned the captain of the national football team over alleged racial abuse of fellow professional footballers on the pitch.

Emma West doesn’t allow her targets to be limited by race; she appears to despise anyone who isn’t English – particularly the Polish – apparently demonstrating that cultural racism very clearly still exists in the UK.

British people know this anyway. The hard working, mostly Christian, white-skinned Poles have faced a negative reaction from the British as their numbers have increased since EU expansion in 2004. Anyone with a slightly longer memory, or appreciation of British history, would know that there were 16 Polish fighter squadrons within the RAF during World War 2, with squadron 303 at Northolt being the highest-scoring fighter squadron in the RAF. But do the ignorant worry about history?

The Irish faced a similar reaction many decades ago as they came to the UK looking for work. Landlords considered dogs and blacks to be just about as welcome as the Christian, white, Irish workers.

Racism isn’t always about the colour of your skin or the God you worship.

Within the British Isles we have often mocked each other in jokes. The drunken Irish, the stingy Scots and so on, but when a video like this achieves such notoriety in such a short period of time it would appear that something else is going on that exceeds mild stereotypes. That John Terry himself can squirm behind excuses such as ‘the context in which certain remarks were made’ shows how little the establishment really cares about true racial harmony in Britain today. Is ‘tolerance’ still the rather pathetic objective here?

The truth is that without migration the UK would never be able to boast the music of Morrissey or the Beatles. The chicken tikka masala might never have become the favourite dish of the nation – offering solace to all those who can’t manage a vindaloo. And Damien Hirst might never have started chopping up cows in the name of art.

The value migration brings is acknowledged by most, and the most recent explicitly anti-migrant political movement, the British National Party, was roundly defeated in the 2010 general election.

But the white working class fears migrants because of the perception that they steal jobs – it’s that simple. They like Irish beer and Indian (usually it’s actually Bangladeshi) food, but they don’t want foreigners coming and taking their jobs.

And jobs are where the political debate is at right now. Unemployment is soaring. The economies of Europe are collapsing and the OECD predicts that the UK will soon enter a new recession with more than 3m unemployed – that’s at least 400,000 more people without a job than right now.

If the government doesn’t grasp that this lack of employment opportunity is going to be a tinderbox that tests multicultural Britain to the limit then I suggest that ministers get on a tram and start talking to people – admittedly difficult when they are not even talking to each other because of Europe. But, don’t forget to carry a swear box.

Hitler In Hell

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Recession in the UK

The UK economic data for Q4 2010 was staggeringly bad. The economy contracted by 0.5% when economists had predicted growth of around 0.5%. If the next set of UK numbers look like this then the country will be officially back in recession – the dreaded ‘double-dip’ where growth is not strong enough to sustain recovery from the last recession.

The economic downturn at the end of the past decade was the worst I have known in my life. In 2008, I lost all of my clients and I was also in the middle of getting divorced – so I was paying for two houses in London. Not the ideal time to be increasing costs and reducing income! Still, I rode that out with a reduction in savings, I found new clients, and now I have moved to Brazil where the economy is growing.

But when I look back at the UK now, I can see so many more real problems that I could never see before, not least in terms of economic stagnation. I don’t mean in the terms an economist would use, I just mean in human terms.

Food prices are going up, it’s harder to borrow money for major purchases such as a house, fuel costs are increasing… but worst of all, I know of at least four friends who are searching for a job. Highly skilled, qualified, experienced, and able people out there searching for work. I’ve never seen this before even back in the hard times of the early 90s or the dot com crash a decade ago.

If the people in London with degrees and experience are getting turfed out into the gutter, then what’s happening to less affluent parts of the UK – especially where they depend heavily on the public sector for work? Wait and see, because the public sector job cuts are only just beginning…
Who Moved My Job?

The new poor

I’m going to write a longer piece for silicon.com next week analysing this New York Times story on the new poor.

But, in brief. This ‘creative destruction’ is one of the major reasons for pain and unemployment today. Often critics will cry out about the jobs being sent offshore to cheap countries, or the immigrants coming in and stealing jobs. These cries catch the attention of the media and make for easy headlines.

A profession becoming obsolete because of technological change is not as sexy and doesn’t get people on the streets waving placards. But look at some of the numbers in the US. 40% of all travel agents fired. 50% of print operators fired. Half of all US workers made redundant during the recent recession are still out of work.

If there was ever a single newspaper story that made the case for lifelong learning then this is it.

Borders boarded up

So it really looks like the book chain Borders is about to collapse.

What a shame.

When Borders opened their British flagship store in Oxford Street it was like a breath of fresh air to the book retailing market. Yes Waterstones was always knocking around in the background, but the majority of stores were fusty and dusty like Foyles, or just full of the latest bonkbusters, like WH Smith.

Borders had the most incredible magazine section, filled with magazines I’d never heard of, but loved handling and reading them. They had excellent coverage of most areas and the store was a nice place to be, even without buying.

It’s true that book retailing has changed enormously in the past 10-15 years – driven mostly by Amazon, but surely there is still a space in the market for high quality retail stores focused on books. Foyles has improved beyond measure, and Waterstones are also taking the fight to the supermarkets, so it’s true that the competition has learned from Borders, but their precipitous collapse remains shocking to anyone who has ever enjoyed shopping – and reading – there.

Tesco Bank. Your time has come…

The government is now throwing more money at the UK banking system.

As a nation, we really had no choice, but to bail out the banks. Hank Paulson allowed Lehman Brothers to collapse in the US thinking that the market would correct itself if a weak bank is allowed to fail. Instead, he tipped the whole banking system into further decline.

The government is seeking more competition in UK retail banking. They want to offload the public sector ownership of the banks they saved back to new market entrants. And it’s essential this happens. Listen to the press and the public on the radio phone-ins.

Nobody trusts the existing banks anymore. They are viewed as corrupt and with leaders like Fred Goodwin sailing into the sunset with millions in pension money, who can blame them?

We can go one of two ways.

State-owned banking is one choice. The government has already made it clear that they don’t like this option and they want to offload their present assets to the private sector – and this would happen even faster if (when) the Tory government is elected next spring.

So, our only really option is the new market entrants coming in and cleaning up the banks – like James Stewart in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’… walk this way Bank of Tesco.

Economists. What do they really do?

So what do economists do all day anyway?

They failed to save the world from the credit crunch and subsequent global economic meltdown, and now that there are supposedly some green shoots of recovery springing up, they tease us with hope. The news today is that the latest GDP figures show we have slumped even further into recession, so much so that this is now the worst economic downturn in Britain since the Second World War.

But, look back at the news yesterday. Everyone predicted that the latest numbers would show we are leaving the recession behind. Growth would be weak, but it would be a start on the track.

How can they just keep on getting it so wrong?

Government to slash spending

Last year we suffered a near collapse in the entire global banking system. At the time, people started questioning how the international finance business could remain in the private sector. There was a de facto takeover by the state in both the USA and UK as banks and insurance companies were bailed out by the government, which then became the owner and controller of several high-street brands.

But that seems to be all forgotten now. Everyone I talk to in the City seems to behave as if things are just the same as they were back in the boom years. Bonuses are being paid again – even when it’s really the government paying them. What happened?

While the City appears to be back to business as usual, the public sector is falling apart. All the talk in the past few weeks has been from politicians of all shades warning of how they will need to make cuts in future. Now the Chancellor is starting to brief ministers about what they need to do.

Everyone I talk to has discounted the Labour party winning the next election. Even Labour supporters have given up on their own party. Yet, I think it’s too soon to call a victory for the Tories. Cameron is not riding so high in the polls that an outright victory is clear-cut. Even though most people are fed up of the present government, the Tories are not generally seen as saviours. They don’t have the answers to this global financial meltdown and all the issues it is presenting now for the public sector since the recession started.

But, whoever wins in 2010 will have a huge problem to deal with. £175bn borrowed this year. Even trimming budgets here and there can probably only save 10% of that.

There will need to be radical cuts and changes in the nature of how government services are delivered. New ideas like the G-Cloud mooted by Lord Carter in the Digital Britain report are only the start. It’s about time we explored how a government structured on hundreds of years of processes can be re-engineered to deliver in the digital age. That won’t be easy, and not every citizen is a digital native, but this cash crisis is creating an environment where no ideas can be ignored.