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“Told you so.”

When I was nine, Nigel broke my train set. Because he was four years older than I, when he said “I broke it, so I know how to fix it”, I agreed. Last week, 60 or more years on, I came across the train set in the attic, still broken, still unfixed.

Before the banking and economic disasters of 2008, a very small number of economists, financial journalists and politicians warned us that we were heading for the rocks, that our financial institutions and markets were in danger of collapse, and that our economies were not sustainable. The majority, in thrall to the fantasy fairy tales of the Washington Consensus, mocked them, assuring us that all was well. “We have said goodbye to Boom & Bust!”

Then the Big Collapse, the inevitable slide into recession and worst. Were the bankers, economists and politicians who got it wrong in any way abashed?

Well apparently not. Instead of donning sack-cloth and ashes, and showering us with their remorse, they rushed forward to present themselves as our saviours. “We broke it,” they said, “so we are the ones who know how to fix it.” Fools that we are, we left them in charge, to get on with it.

So, six years on, how have they done?

Not very well.

Learning nothing from the lessons of the Great Depression, they now applied most of the remedies that failed then, and – surprise, surprise – they have failed again. Instead of spending their way out of trouble, creating growth that would fund the cost of borrowing for recovery; they opted for austerity and contraction, created an even more uneven playing field than before. Rising unemployment, low or no growth, cruel cut-backs, and victimisation of the poor and weak. Probably most offensive of all, the further enrichment of the already over rich, many of whom helped get us into this mess (The Davos Crowd) and also some members of the criminal classes of the former Soviet countries, the Middle East and the Asian tigers. Lots of talk about “trickle down”, but very little trickling down. These are just a few of the adverse symptoms of the austerity merchants solution.

But surely there’s an up side? Yes, some growth, in some places. Some recovery, in some places. But it’s very little, and very patchy. Importantly, for most of us there is no feel good factor.

The recent elections across the EU, European Parliament and municipal, have produced an interesting, and chilling, popular verdict on how the “Economy Breaker-Fixers” have performed. Austerity and recession always trigger off the anxiety, stress and fear that requires us to identify a class, some ‘other’, who we can blame for our current pain. It’s the politicians sticking their noses in the trough; it’s the greedy foreign bankers (never our own?); it’s the EU, the immigrants, the Romanians.

So it’s no surprise that extreme far right, and extreme far left, parties are doing well; just too, too predictable. It is no surprise that over 30% of British people today admit to being racially prejudiced; just too, too predictable. It is no surprise that a number of xenophobic and racist party leaders in the European Union are going around today, smirking. It was just too, too predictable.

Not just predictable, but predicted. When the EU countries opted for extreme austerity, the same very small number of economists, financial journalists and politicians who warned us of financial collapse before 2008, warned us that this would happen if we took the path we did. And it did!

Today, I guess, they have earned the right to say: “Told you so!”

Another route to take

This posting is novel for me. It is an attempt to post to the blog by writing myself an email. If I have set everything up correctly, this should appear in the blog’s timeline within 15 minutes of my sending it (at 10:18, on Friday morning, 23rd May.) Oh, the joys of technology!

P.S. It worked, but only after I sorted out an incorrect security setting.  Hrumph! As I said, the joys of technology. But once you get it correctly configured, the Post By Email plugin works like a dream.

Margaret Thatcher, My Part in her Downfall

I do not know why, but last night I woke up thinking of Mrs Thatcher, a sometime Prime Minister of Britain. What followed was a quite disturbing hour of memories, ended finally by sleep.

I am not an admirer of the lady. I never have been. She is one of the few people I know of, who seemed to me to have no redeeming qualities. (There, interest declared!) At her death, she was praised for her great intelligence, but I never saw it. I often wondered how a failed chemist, a failed tax lawyer, could be anything but a failed leader. I thought her a rather pedestrian thinker, who would seize on an idea or policy; then, without really understanding it, or the wider and long-term implications of apply it as national policy, bully those around her to bring it to fruition. The sad outcome of this is the unequal, unhappy and selfish society that Britain is today.

But I seem to be in a very small minority on this. It was deeply shaming to see how many people of the centre and centre-left, who should know better, rushed to be seen at St Paul’s her send off, praising her to the last.

I never met her, but was at some risk of doing so once. It was in 1985, October, at the Frankfurt Book Fair. I had started a small software company producing educational programs and had taken a few shelves on a shared stand, under the general auspices of the British Council. Business had been bad. No, disastrous; and my hope was to sell some overseas rights, and publishers seemed a likely market (they weren’t.)

On the evening of the second day, as we were packing away, a man from the British Council came up and said that Mrs T. was to visit the Fair the next day, and the plan was to bring her down our corridor so that she could see for herself the entrepreneurial spirit at work among small British publishers. “You must be in early tomorrow, in your best bib and tucker, your stands spick and span.” Yes, he spoke like that.

A sleepless night followed. My life was hard enough at the time. Having the Iron Lady, whom I disliked so much, arrive on my stand was too much. The friends who shared the stand with me were as reluctant to entertain the lady as I. However, they had been through all this before, at many trade fairs, and reassured me that she would not stop with us.

But I did not believe them and spent the night planning how I would avoid her if she, plus entourage, plus press, plus fair organisers plus British Council Man, landed up on Stand B217, Hall 4.2, Messegelände, Frankfurt. The ingenious ploys were various and very elaborate. But as I played each of them out in my mind, each crumbled into nightmarish fantasy.

The morning of day three on Stand B217, was a hell of tiredness, anxiety, fear and loathing. British Council Man came by every thirty minutes to make sure we were still spick ‘n’ span, bringing us news of the great lady’s progress. The minutes took hours to pass, and any activity at either end of the corridor set off another sickening round of sweaty fear.

Alan Clarke claimed that Mrs T. was sexually alluring, and some I knew agreed with him. I could never understand it. But neither can I understand how dislike for a person and their politics, which is normal and rational, could turn into the sickening feelings I had on that day. It takes, I guess, a certain charisma to produce such strong reactions in another person.

In the end she never came down our row of little stalls. The British Council, ever vigilant not to offend a pay-master, took her instead where the respectable, large British publishers hung out. You know, the houses owned by safe people like Robert Maxwell, Rupert Murdock, et al. But well away from sweaty, possibly socialist, oiks such as the small independents.

Which is ironic because Mrs T. was supposed to be the champion of the small businessman and of their businesses; of the sorts of people who risked failure to start small enterprises and grow them.

Hello world!


Hey spammers. Don’t post comments about how you can help me improve footfall because I know you cannot. Go bother some other poor sucker, because here you will be ignored and thrown in the rubbish bin!

For real people, I have been away for a couple of weeks, and will start blogging in earnest next week; but only if I can think of something interesting to say.