On What We Face In 2019

As the clock ticks towards 2019, you would hardly expect me to get to the end of 2018 without an opinion.
We are where we are we are for two possible reasons. An outbreak of drivelling incompetence by the idiots in charge who by misfortune, a stupid miscalculation or sheer ineptitude led us to a precipice beyond which lies the most awful disaster imaginable. Thanks, Dave. I am not sure I blame you that much. I am trying to be kind.
Or something much darker. We know there were malign and unknown forces driving us towards a Brexit vote. Money paid in the shadows, forces moving on social media funded by special interest groups… In the developing world we would call this corruption.
What do they want, as the outcome of this chaos? Some want a Libertarian, turbo-capitalist, Singapore-style offshore dystopia. Business does what it wants, with no curbs or regulation. No employment rights, no maternity leave, no sick pay…
I know these people, or some of them, and they genuinely believe this is the best thing for our economy. They are not evil, they are just deluded. In the same way that the Communists in the 1920s or the fascists in the 1930s thoughts their ideals would lead to the perfect society. I am tempted to quote Yeats. You know, the worst are full of a passionate intensity.
They think if business is allowed to do what it wishes, we will all be better off. A rising tide lifts all boats. God help us all. This is where we stand as we enter 2019. This is the task we all face in 2019. The New Fascism, with as ever a different face. It always has a different face. As Brecht wrote of Hitler, “the bitch that bore him is in heat again”.
(As a rider, look at the reviews of a book called Lab Rats, by Dan Lyons, for a view of where the workplace is going today. You do not want to go there.)


On What Is Wrong With The High Street

Or why we need less stuff.
Figures just released today for Saturday suggest that footfall numbers, the number of people visiting the high street and local shopping malls, fell by 7.3 per cent over the same Saturday last year.
This is a staggering statistic. If, say, passenger numbers on the various UK rail franchises fell by as much, the regional rail operators would be bust.
This number is worth considering because it says a lot about our society and the way we are going. Bear with me.
These numbers are heavily studied because of the importance of Christmas trade to the retail industry and the people it employs.
The weather was awful, which keeps people at home. But earlier indicators, in the form of profit earnings from Bonmarche, the clothing retailer, and others were not good.
Let’s consider the following factors.
One, there has been no single electronic gadget to drive one-off Xmas sales. No new Xbox, no DVD players, no new generation of kit. Not for ten years or so. Blu-Ray, UHD, do you have them? Would you throw away your current IPhone for a new iteration? You don’t need it, and you can’t be persuaded you need it.
Two, there is the fall in the sale of IP on the high street and on online retailers such as Amazon. Netflix, Spotify, streaming – you no longer have to own it, or buy DVDs or CDs in physical form, and young consumers do not. For one reason, their homes are too small. Go into an HMV store. Not exactly packed, is it?
Three, the rise of cheap throwaway fashion, T-shirts for £2, dresses for £10 – whatever you think about where they are sourced from, the margins for retailers such as Primark and TopShop are wafer thin and in a hostile trading environment can easily disappear. Even disregarding competition online from Boohoo.com et al.
Four, retailers are generally subject to what are called upwards only rental reviews, which mean their rents can only get higher, whatever happens to sales – that 7.3 per cent downwards lurch, say? It won’t be reflected in rental costs. Most retailers go bust in January, when the Christmas cash is in and the first quarter rents are due.
Five, Brexit. People are inclined to spend less in times of uncertainty. Brexiters would probably blame Project Fear. Remainers would probably suggest the referendum has raised uncertainties over the future course of the UK economy that are already having an effect on consumer confidence and spending, reported GDP figures, and so on. It doesn’t really matter which.
Eventually, we will have to accept that we need to buy less. We have enough stuff and do not need to be persuaded to buy more. Perhaps a large chunk of the high street needs to be turned over to other uses. Perhaps, as in earlier times, people could even live there. A radical thought, but I suspect in ten or twenty years time it might not seem so radical.