Wednesday, November 26, 2008

"People of Britain, perform your national duty..."

...and go back to reckless spending sprees? No, thank you.

Not a single day goes by without a government minister or a newspaper columnist staging their mass appeal: 'people of Britain, perform your national duty and WASTE your money on a shopping spree'. Yesterday's piece on the BBC online magazine was a case in point.

So here's the lowdown. Britain's hit a nasty recession. Banks have gone from shoving credit cards up people's (and in some cases, dogs'*) arses to stopping lending altogether. And Lord Mandelson can growl for all he likes, the banks just won't lower their interest rates. Companies are going bust, sales are down and in the meantime we obsess over I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here.

If only those Brits hit the high street again and splashed their money, real or virtual, on unnecessary items, wouldn’t it all go back to normal? Wouldn’t the country's hollow economy be jumpstarted again? Except, what was that saying again…fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me…?

Remember when you maxed out your credit card because you REALLY had to own that big fuckoff plasma screen? And do you recall that sea of red letters as you defaulted on that enticing buy-now-pay-later Apropos Surround Sound hi-fi? Those trips down the high street with that piece of plastic wobbling in your wallet like an extra out of The Exorcist?

Well, that's exactly how the 'recession' grabbed us all by the family jewels in the first place. You neglect things at your own peril, but a spot-on piece by Martin Hickman published in The Independent in January 2006 ("Britons in debt to the tune of 1.13 trillion"), at the peak of the country's spending binge, showed that debit cards accounted for 37% of all retail transactions, while plastic in general (debit plus credit) were used for 63% of all UK retail spending. It couldn’t have lasted, of course, because most of it was money that didn’t exist and the then government will carry that responsibility forever. Because the Brits were happily shopping, weren’t they? Far from saving a dime, we were encouraged into the habit of using virtual money for everything, be it rounds of drinks, wisdom teeth, fake boobs or cool TopShop clothes.

Gordon Brown is looking at those good old days with extreme nostalgia. That sandcastle allowed him and Tony Blair to lecture dusty old Europe on Britain's 'dynamic' economy. Cue those typically New Labour verb-free speeches. Global finance. Electronic commerce. The forces of change. A 21st century nation. The knowledge-based economy. The wealth creators. Power to the people to make the most of what is within them.
We grew up in a culture of shopping sprees that cheer us up and provide essential fun and we ended up with £1.5 trillion of personal debt and little to show for it.

Fast forward to November 2008 and the OECD is announcing that the UK's economy will perform worse than any other major G7 country. And the unemployment is forecast to reach 8% in 2009. "The forces of change", is what Tony Blair once said.

*according to Anthony Sampson in his book 'Who Runs This Place?' (page 245), in October 2003 Fred Goodwin of Royal Bank of Scotland was summoned by the MPs' Select Committee on the Treasury and asked to explain why RBS had offered a £10,000 limit gold credit card to one "Monty Slater in Manchester who turned out to be a dog; 'he was only invited to have one', Goodwin explained".


Jukebox Review said...


Have you noticed that the recent VAT change is a bit tricky. If you want to buy some booze (wine in this case), you might think waiting until Monday will save you 2.5%.

You'd be wrong.

Look what my friendly wine man says:

"The VAT does, indeed, fall to 15% on Monday but the slippery chappy with the eyebrows has a cunning plan... he has increased the duty by £ 1.80 which leaves the price from the 1st December right where it was on the 30th of November!"

Things can be cheaper, but not booze ... that's not allowed to be cheaper. ....

thepatriot said...

Hitting the high street is not my patriotic duty. I agree.

Didier Becu said...

In France they only offer you credit cards if you are a manager or similar position. When I went to England for University I could not believe how all my fellow couremates had credit cards! Many of them did not work so they all did the shopping on the credit cards. I remember I thought it was strange. Now I see the big picture.