In The Beginning

Another way of looking at the United Kingdom mess that is Brexit …

In the Beginning was The Referendum
And then came the Assumptions

And the Assumptions were without form
And the Plan was completely without substance

And the darkness was upon the face of the Voters
And the Voters spoke amongst themselves, some saying ‘It is a crock of shit, and it stinketh.’

And others saying ‘Brexit means Brexit’.

And the people of Wales and Cornwall said ‘We have voted to leave the EU but we want to keep getting the money the EU sends us.’

And the Voters went unto their Councillors and some said
‘It is a pail of dung and none may abide the odor thereof.’

And others said ‘Brexit means Brexit’

And the Councillors went unto their Mayors and some said unto them
‘It is a container of excrement and it is very strong, such that none may abide by it.’

And others said to them ‘Brexit means Brexit’.

And the Mayors went unto their MPs and sayeth
‘It is a vessel of fertilizer, and none may abide its strength.’

And the MPs spoke among themselves, some saying to one another
‘If we do not agree to this Plan, we may lose our seats and expense accounts.’

And others saying to one another ‘Brexit means Brexit’.

‘We shall say that it will stop immigration and promote World Trade and will have no downside to it.’

And the MPs went unto the Brexit team and sayeth unto them
‘This Plan will stop immigration and payments to the EU and so will be a very powerful stimulus to the economy.’

And the Brexit Team, already believing their own lies, said to one another
‘Brexit means Brexit’.

The Brexit Team went unto the Prime Minister and sayeth unto her
‘This new Plan will stop immigration, stop payments to the EU and actively promote the growth and prosperity of this Country, allowing us to give an extra £350 million a week to the NHS.’

And the Prime Minister looked upon The Plan, and, being totally blinded by personal power, saw that it was good. And the Prime Minister, having little vocabulary, said ‘Brexit means Brexit.’

And the Plan was challenged in the Courts.

And there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth and chants of ‘Brexit means Brexit’ by those gathered who did not wish the flaws of the plan to be exposed.

And the Judges retired to consider if the Plan was legal
Although there really was no plan because none knew what Brexit was.

And through all this, shit continued to happen.
And the response of the Government to this shit was to say ‘Brexit means Brexit’.

The Majority Is The Minority

I recently saw this on social media and thought I’d share a slightly edited version it as it sums up the result of the EU Referendum perfectly …

On 23 June 2016, 52% of people who could be bothered or were eligible to vote, elected to leave the European Union. At about 6am on 24 June, Britain began a steep decline into the sort of stupidity not seen since L. Ron Hubbard decided we were descended from space lizards.

In the ensuing months since that national brainfart, the country has lost grip on its language, grace, wit and decency. Marmite has survived by the skin of its teeth and seeing as it tastes like sheep droppings that wasn’t exactly a win.

The problem with all of this began when people tried to interpret what Brexit meant. The unelected Prime Minister, Theresa May quipped “Well, why ask me?” and “Brexit means Brexit” heralding the nation’s slide into mental incompetence in defining a word by itself. So what? Teabags means teabags. It still doesn’t tell us what the tea, or the bag, consists of or its relationship with the rest of the world. Of course, May became PM after Cameron threw his toys out of his pram and had supported the Remain campaign, meaning she had no involvement with the Brexit of which she’s now in charge. This coup d’état was greeted by the public with total apathy, which is not surprising when you consider that they’ve also swallowed the claim 52% of Britain voted to leave the EU.

They didn’t! Only 71.8% of voters took part, which means the nation is amputating its EU membership on the basis of a 37% mandate. In simple terms, 17m people decided what the remaining 47m citizens were going to have to put up with for the forseeable future. It can be called a lot of things, even democracy, but it can’t be called 52% of the UK electorate. In the new post-Brexit era of being considered virtually brain dead, the British people are told that they voted for less migration, more migration, greater parliamentary sovereignty than the one we’ve already got which allows MPs to block Brexit, hard Brexit, a Royal yacht, soft Brexit, a proper job for Boris Johnson, trade deals with China, staying in the single market and leaving the single market. This is despite the fact that most can remember what the ballot paper looked like and that it didn’t have that many words on it. 

The question posed was to leave or remain. The consequences were unknown, both sides warned of fire and brimstone if we got it wrong, and in the end many voters who were badly off felt things couldn’t possibly get any worse, so decided to smack David Cameron in the face by voting against his recommendation. The upshot of this decision, so far, is that the badly off are now worse off and Cameron is about to embark upon a multi-million pound money-spinning career that may, or may not, involve Panamanian bank accounts.Quite simply, the referendum question posed was, in hindsight, the wrong one. The ballot paper should have said: “Would you like Britain to be remain as stupid as it is now? Or would you like it to be more stupid?” Once the obnoxious Michael Gove had pushed all the experts over a metaphorical cliff of ignorance, the voters were left, by definition, with people who are not experts. Now, the buffoons running the show are driving the masses over the same cliff, insisting all the while that life will be better once they’re over the scary bit at the edge. Better? So inflation is taking off, 10,000 more people are unemployed, the price of fuel,is spiralling and the value of the pound has slumped by 15%, compared with a mere 4% during Black Wednesday in 1992. On top of all that, there are already warnings of price rises in food and clothes, meaning the less well off will be hit disproportionately hard.

Prior to the referendum, City experts bet heavily on a drop in the pound, whilst non-experts said they were “talking the country down” as opposed to knowing exactly what they were doing. In the days after the vote politicians said migration won’t be any different, the NHS is still screwed and that people shouldn’t believe what is written on the sides of buses! Unsurprisingly, a study has found 6% of Leave voters now think that was stupid, which is greater than the 4% margin of victory, whilst non-experts in favour of Brexit say people shouldn’t pay any attention to this because it’s stupid. It seems everyone concerned with Brexit should be ignored as they’re all clueless! On top of all this, the English language has been mangled to introduce a ridiculous number of clumsy lexical portmanteaux, starting with Brexit and mutating into Bremainers, Bremoaners, Brexiters and Brexiteers. It can only be a matter of time before some poor sub-editor has to squeeze BRE-HA-HA into a headline.

As a nation we decry the barrel bombing of Aleppo, and don’t stop to notice these are the people who were too sick or slow to leave, or who could not afford to pay the people traffickers. In juxtaposition, we complain about the dreadful migrant hordes who were the wealthiest, quickest and cleverest people in Aleppo who managed to get out, and say we don’t want their sort here. This makes no sense. If you insist on controlled migration of people we need and can use their skills, then it’s the people who escaped Syria that should be welcomed by the most hardened UKIPper. There are now non-dental expert MPs telling dentists to check migrants’ ages, despite dentists saying teeth don’t work like that. Also, in the past few weeks, every child of nursery school level has been asked what country they were born in. One of the nicest men in football, Gary Lineker, has been subjected to a torrent of abuse for pointing out we’re not being very nice. To compound the nastiness, George Osborne is making a mint as “a renowned economics expert” and Nigel Farage has been exported to make Donald Trump even worse.

Who benefits from a fall in the pound? Only people paid in foreign currencies such as Fromage, and certainly not the 17m who voted for Brexit. Who benefits from a slump in the City? Only mega rich traders, not those who support Brexit. Who benefits from a lack of simple mathematics and experts? People who want the majority to remain ignorant and stupid. Who benefits from Britain behaving like ignorant racists? Only ignorant racists, who think it confirms they were right all along.

Brexit was about giving the wealthy élite one in the eye, and it’s failed miserably. If only the right question had been printed on that ballot paper … things could all have been very different. This majority is most certainly the minority!

Britain In Reverse

After candidates were reduced to two contenders in the Conservative Party leadership race, the underdog Andrea Leadsom suddenly pulls out, leaving just one person to inherit the reins and become Prime Minister by default.

It was generally assumed that no successor to Prime Minister David Cameron would be in place before September 2016 at the earliest but now everything has changed and Theresa May has moved into 10 Downing Street as the country’s second female premier. It is far too early to comment upon what she may or may not achieve in the coming months, but her track record is not encouraging and she comes across in a similar dogmatic fashion to the late Margaret Thatcher. Some people will remember that Thatcher ‘was not for turning’ when it came to policy decisions although she is famous for doing a complete u-turn on the issue of the Community Charge or Poll Tax as it was more readily known. In the same vein, May has already stated that ‘Brexit means Brexit’ so it would appear that she is determined to bring the UK out of the European Union despite having campaigned for the country to remain a member.

There is little doubt that Theresa May is a strong character, and in that respect, may be beneficial to the party that she leads. One cannot help drawing comparisons with Thatcher despite the fact that it’s 26 years since she was toppled from her position. May comes across as very determined, at times fixated, on the issues at hand. She has spent the last six years as Home Secretary with a focus on immigration and the controversial streamlining of the country’s police forces. Now, as unelected leader, she has rejected an early election, despite being extremely vociferous in demanding one when Gordon Brown took over from his predecessor, Tony Blair. The last three weeks since the referendum have been a rollercoaster and the electorate seem more divided than ever so it remains to be seen how accepting they will be of a new Prime Minister who was not only on the losing side in the referendum, but won the job without a contest to validate her ascent.

So what can the country expect from Theresa May? She has promised to build a “better Britain” and to make the UK’s exit from the EU a “success” whatever that means in common parlance. Her leadership bid was based on the need for “strong, proven leadership”, a “positive vision” for the country’s future, and the ability to unite both her party and the country. She has stated that she has a vision of a country that works not for the privileged few, but for everyone, and people are going to be given more control over their lives, thereby building a better Britain. It’s rather ironic, then, that once Brexit is all done and dusted, an important control of one’s life will have been removed … namely the ability to live and work almost anywhere within Europe!

 

The daughter of a priest, May is driven by high moral standards as evidenced by her attacks on police corruption, demanding an inquiry into institutional child abuse, and overruling civil service advice. In her leadership campaign speeches, she implied a moralistic approach to economic policy, outlining plans to curb executive pay and put consumers and workers on corporate boards. Given the reputation of the Tory party to line the pockets of the rich at the expense of the poor in society, this approach remains to be seen. As the well known proverb states, a leopard can’t change its spots.

Irrespective of what she may or may not achieve, it seems highly likely that the UK will be under Tory rule for the next four years under the terms of the Fixed Period governments. With so much uncertainty and doubt following the referendum result, it is inconceivable that the country will make much progress but more likely be in reverse. For all its faults, the EU is forward-thinking, progressive and beneficial to its members, albeit more favourable to some than others, but that is the nature of different economies. The UK has been a strong player within the EU in over 40 years of membership, and so much has been achieved through active participation and dialogue with neighbouring countries. It now faces considerable isolation and an economic battle to try and regain favour in the wider world. This is likely to take many years, way beyond the foreseeable tenure of Therea May. How much she can achieve in the next four years remains to be seen.

Political Turmoil

Following Brexit, the United Kingdom is now in crisis …

It has taken but a few days for political turmoil to erupt within the UK following the referendum decision to leave the European Union. Formal arrangements to quit under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty have not yet begun but the political and financial implications of the vote are already being felt. The Prime Minister has effectively abdicated from any responsibility to move things forward by stating that the procedure should be undertaken by his successor, who won’t be in place until early September 2016. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, who had vehemently stated that an emergency budget would be needed in the event of a vote to leave, has also backtracked and is leaving any decision to a potential new Chancellor.

On the other side of the political fence, the leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, is facing a mass revolt within his ranks. Unprecedented numbers have resigned their shadow cabinet posts in protest at the way Corbyn conducted his campaign to remain in the EU. It is claimed that insufficient party supporters were rallied and that he took a soft approach to EU membership, emphasising the need for change rather than the existing accrued benefits. Now the deputy leader of the party is calling for his resignation.

Once a new leader of the Conservative Party is elected, the country will, once again, be led by an unelected Prime Minister. This could easily lead to an impromptu general election later in the year, undoubtedly resulting in yet more political instability and uncertainty. To say the least, the referendum has opened a huge can of worms!

With regards to the referendum result, only 71.8% of the eligible voting population cast their vote. This means that Brexit with 52% of the vote actually only have the support of 37.34% of the people which is hardly a resounding mandate to leave. The largest demographic of the population supporting the leave campaign were over fifty years of age and many will have twenty years or less to endure the aftermath. At the opposite end of the demographic spectrum, the younger generation had a high majority vote to remain in the EU, seeing it as their future but that direction has now been paved by their elders.

The financial markets have tumbled with billions of pounds wiped off the value of blue chip companies. The pound sterling has lost value against leading currencies such as the US dollar and the Euro and trading in the shares of two leading banks was suspended on 27 June following heavy losses on the London Stock Exchange. Some companies are already announcing reductions in staff and the possible relocation of operations to other European countries. So much for the Brexit claim that the UK can stand alone. It is blatantly obvious why so many people are blatantly angry at the referendum result. After all, why should an aging population effectively decide the future of their country?

Whilst the benefit of hindsight is a wonderful thing, much of what has happened since last Thursday’s devastating result was predicted by the former deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, when addressing his Liberal Democrats Party Conference in October 2014 …

“What are we fighting against? Imagine again what it will be like in 2020, but this time with the Conservatives in government on their own. Britain, diminished and divided after a botched attempt to renegotiate our relationship with Europe and a vote to withdraw from the European Union. Companies pulling out of the UK, left, right and centre, the markets losing confidence, hiking up our borrowing costs and halting the recovery in its tracks. Workers fearing for their jobs, not just because the companies they work for are plunged into uncertainty but because their bosses can fire them at will, no questions asked. The young and the working poor hit time and time again as George Osborne takes his axe to the welfare budget with no regard for the impact on people’s lives. Schools run in the interests of profit for shareholders rather than the life chances of their pupils. A Home Oofice state snooping on your emails and social media. Opportunity reserved for a few at the top and everyone else told to make do with what they’ve got. A Tory party leadership in hock to their right wing, desperately running after and pandering to UKIP’s ugly nationalism. A Prime Minister trapped between being a poor man’s Margaret Thatcher and a rich man’s Nigel Farage. “Compassionate Conservatism” just a sound bite from a bygone age.”

It is eerie that so much of this has come true and long before the year 2020. About the only thing Nick Clegg didn’t foresee was the unexpected resignation of David Cameron and the likelihood that Osborne won’t be Chancellor for much longer! He was right about overseas investors taking fright, money flowing out of the country, the credit rating being slashed, and that the Brexit team have no plans as to how to resolve any of the issues on which they campaigned.

Some people are calling for calm and reconciliation amidst the warring factions but with political turmoil at the helm, this is unlikely to happen any time soon. What we do need is respect for other people’s views but reconciliation will only happen when everyone is seen as equal and can enter into free dialogue about their fears, hopes and aspirations. At the moment, British society appears more divided than I’ve ever experienced in my lifetime. Racism is sadly resurrecting itself and there is the ever-increasing danger of right wing extremism dominating our political map. I’m one of very many people who hope that the referendum result will be annulled and that the voices of many who voted Leave, and now regret that decision, will be heard. Whatever happens in the near future, there is little doubt that United Kingdom society is dangerously fragmented and on the precipice of a very high mountain so one can only pray for a peaceful solution.

The Deed Is Done

A majority of British people have voted for the UK to leave the European Union …

In what had become a very close fought battle of claims and counter claims, the potential result on the day of voting was anyone’s guess. Several polls had put the Leave or Brexit campaign ahead but on the eve of the referendum, another poll had stated that the Remain camp was a few percentage points ahead. For me, waking up on Friday morning to the news that Brexit had won, was both sad and disconcerting.

When I say that the British have vetoed the EU, I’m not being entirely correct. Almost all of England and Wales, excluding London, declared a majority exit vote, but the people of Scotland and Northern Ireland supported remaining in the EU. The country may be known as the United Kingdom but, in reality, it is more divided than ever. Not so long ago, Scotland held a referendum on independence but this was narrowly defeated by its population on the basis of unity. However, now that the same voters have endorsed membership of the EU, it has been announced that a second referendum on possible independence could be held in an attempt for Scotland to rejoin the EU as a separate country. As people will know, Northern Ireland comprises six annexed counties bordering the Republic of Ireland which is, itself, a member of the European Union. With a history of political unrest over the last hundred years, there is a distinct possibility that the two parts of Ireland could once again become one, particularly if being part of the EU is more important to Northern Ireland than to a fragmented United Kingdom.

Previous blogs on the subject have mentioned how the campaign was based largely upon lies and deceit, neither of which are surprising given that it was a political infight. However, whilst claims made by the Remain side were largely endorsed by facts and figures, the Brexit side made sweeping statements, some of which were emblazoned on a campaign bus. One such statement referred to the assumed amount that EU membership cost with a promise that those funds would be redirected to National Health care. It comes as no surprise that such claims are now being vehemently denied by the Brexit victors, clearly illustrating that they have achieved victory by prominent deceit.

Judging by the comments on news and social media, I think the ramifications of the referendum result will be in the headlines for some time to come. The UK has already faced two casualties … the stock market has made unprecedented losses, wiping out billions of pounds in a day and far exceeding EU membership costs, and prime minister David Cameron has resigned, although he will stay in his position until this October. In the event of a Brexit victory, it was almost certain that Cameron would stand down as he put his political career on the line by holding the referendum. He used the promise of the referendum to curry votes in the 2015 General Election and now everything has backfired!

Here are a few of the Brexit claims that won over many voters and the reality of the situation.

  • Nigel Farage effectively promised £350m for the NHS but after the result, appeared on national television countering the claim.
  • Immigration from across the EU was apparently getting out of hand, notably from former Eastern bloc countries. Actually, the crisis stems from war-torn Syria in the Middle East.
  • Foreigners have apparently stolen British jobs. However, without the presence of foreign companies like BMW and Toyota, there would be no jobs. This could soon be the reality as these companies only set up operations in the UK because it was part of the EU. Also, the NHS would be grossly understaffed were it not for immigrants.
  • The Single Market will continue. This is highly unlikely in the long term unless the UK makes a considerable financial contribution. It has been stated that the UK is 60% self sufficient in respect of food requirements. That’s all very well but the remaining 40% will have to be imported, almost certainly at greater cost than currently.
  • People will still enjoy freedom of movement. That is one of the major benefits of EU integration so it’s likely to be withdrawn once the EU exit is finalised. This could have a serious impact upon young people wanting to study in mainland Europe as well as restrict their future employment prospects.

To the diehard supporters of greater Union within Europe, the impending withdrawal by the UK is akin to a divorce or death of a loved one. The country in which I was born is fast becoming unrecognisable with an influx of right wing extremism, increased racism despite more recent levels of acceptance, more xenophobia and division, and power-hungry, super-rich politicians only out for themselves. In truth, I’m no longer proud to say that I’m British and would be quite happy to divorce myself from the country. As an immigrant in another country, I appreciate the acceptance and warmth offered to me, and the attempts local people make to make one feel at home within the community.

By all accounts, the ‘vision’ of the Brexit team is to restore Britain to its old colonial powers, going it alone and swallowing up anything that gets in its way. The likes of Boris Johnson and Nigel Fromage are sadly delusional as the world has moved on. Through the unity of Europe, people have not only enjoyed seventy years of peace but also helped free former oppressed Eastern bloc countries so that their people can now enjoy a life of freedom. The UK will be stepping back at least fifty years in terms of trade once the exit takes effect and the population will undoubtedly face higher costs of living and taxation. The final referendum result was 51.9% in favour of leaving and 48.1% to remain. Demographic statistics show that the vast majority of people under the age of fifty opted to remain but it was the older voters in majority who supported Brexit. This in itself is tragic as they won’t really experience the long term effects that being outside the EU will bring. It’s the younger generation who will pay the price for what I consider has been a selfish vote.

Long live Europe!

Decision Time

The date of the EU referendum in the United Kingdom dawns. If you’re reading this after 23 June 2016, then it’s all over …

The last few weeks have been awash with claims and counter claims on both sides of the argument. It must be said that scaremongering tactics have been employed by both camps, although most claims made by the Brexit group cannot be substantiated. At least the Remain group have statistics at their fingertips, even if these are sometimes manipulated in order to get their point across.

On Thursday 16 June, the country was shocked almost to the core by the assassination of a Member of Parliament representing a constituency in the north of England. Jo Cox had only been elected in May 2015, but from the outset, she campaigned tirelessly for tolerance and acceptance. In particular, she had strong views regarding immigration and made the astute point that, within her constituency at least, immigrants shared far more in common with the British than they were different. It also appears that people from many different races and backgrounds lived very much in harmony within her constituency as testimonials following her tragic death have illustrated. As a matter of respect at this very sad time, all campaigning in relation to the referendum was cancelled for three days.

Whilst facts have yet to be proven, there is evidence that the person now arrested for the atrocity voiced extreme right wing, nationalist views. In many respects, this is similar to the way the campaign has emerged as it has divided the country with statements of racism and hatred. In the event of a Brexit victory, the UK will undoubtedly see the far right secure more authority and power with a possible upsurgence of racism and fascism. These are underlying traits of the main players in the Leave camp. Only a few short years ago, Boris Johnson was singing the praises of a single market and the benefits that EU membership has brought to the UK. Now he is the lead campaigner for Brexit, so why?

The cynical side of me would say the short answer is power! Despite his weak denials, it is well documented that he is a Conservative Party leader in waiting, and it may be that his patience is running out. He is very much a control freak, ably demonstrated by his tenure as mayor of London. He is bereft of compassion towards immigrants, irrespective of circumstance, despite the fact that he, himself, is a direct descendant of an immigrant. Most of the Brexit argument centres on immigration and EU funding, and the overall attitude is one of selfishness and blame … the country’s problems are the result of immigrants, refugees and anyone but themselves. The truth of the matter is that the vast majority of immigrants set up their own businesses and are a far less burden on the state than many native Brits who try and claim as much as possible without wanting to work. I actually know people who possess far more expensive electronic gadgets than me as their benefits manage to provide ‘surplus’ income, which should never be the case.

Another concern by Brexit is the drain on our National Health Service. This is basically a ‘free-to-all’ facility meaning that anyone who moves to the country can reap the benefits. That open access really does need to change and people entering the country need to contribute to the system for a minimum period of time prior to receiving free health care. However, people supporting Brexit need to look very closely at the NHS. Without immigrants, staff would be drastically reduced, meaning a rapid decline in the quality of care received. The root cause of the problems in the NHS is bureaucracy and top-heavy, highly paid administrators. I’ve lost count of how many times the NHS has reinvented itself in recent years. All this costs money … funds that could be directed to healthcare. Also, unless it’s a critical requirement, NHS resources should not be used for cosmetic surgery and people who make themselves ill through drug abuse, smoking and alcoholism should have to pay a premium for their respite care.

The country has been a member of the EU for well over forty years which, for the majority of people, is half a lifetime. If one tries to look back to the time before we joined the EU, we were anything but a ‘great’ nation. Our motor industry was in rapid decline, costly imports were often exceeding exports, industrial pollution was high, and it was the time of the Cold War and the iron curtain. Fast forward a few decades and we enjoy some of the cleanest beaches in Europe, drive low pollution, fuel-efficient motor vehicles, have restricted working hours, enjoy longer paid holidays, and are free to travel throughout most of Europe without visas and currency restrictions. Above all else, we enjoy peace and cooperation between other European nations instead of the warmongering of yesteryear. These things have only been achieved because of greater unity and dialogue.

Readers will already know my views and why Brexit is not the solution to the problems within the EU. Whilst EU immigration might reduce, it is a fair assumption that there will be an influx of immigrants from other countries as intimated by Brexit. Currently, there are many Eastern European migrants in the country doing work that no British person is prepared to do, so only the British are to blame. Ultimately, migration does need to be curbed but this can only be achieved from within the EU. The Prime Minister has already secured agreement that EU migrants will not qualify for any state benefits upon immediate arrival. This means that they will either have to be self sufficient or have sponsors to fund them in the qualifying period. Official figures show that EU migrants have contributed £20bn more to the UK economy since 2001 than they have received in benefits.

Without entering into a long endorsement, it is difficult to précis the numerous benefits of EU membership. From virtually across the globe, the overall consensus of opinion is that the UK is far better in the EU. Prominent businessmen, financial experts and foreign state leaders all highlight the potential downfall of the country in the event of a Leave vote. The economy would be in tatters and recession would hit hard, probably far worse than the recent period of austerity. Change can only come from within, and as the Prime Minister has stated, “we are stronger, safer, and better off in”. If you’re an undecided voter, I urge you to think twice before voting for Brexit and the unknown; look at all the benefits you’ve enjoyed over the years as part of the EU … economic stability, human rights, clean air, the greater safety of being part of a union, and above all, peace!

Please vote to Remain in the European Union

How The Mighty Are Falling

The continuing demise of UK household names …

Looking at many of the traditional High Streets or main shopping areas of British towns will reveal numerous empty shop units struggling to find occupants. This is due, in some ways, to the ever-increasing business taxes demanded by local authorities. Taxes have reached such epidemic proportions that many smaller businesses have been forced to close as they became unprofitable. Councils are so short-sighted that they fail to see that a lower income received from occupied premises is better than no income from vacant shop units! Another major contributing factor for the number of empty shops is the long term dominance of retail conglomerates who have either forced small traders out of business or simply swallowed them up.

The buoyant trading decades of the 70s and 80s provided the shopper with real choice as well as convenience. There were traditional small food supermarkets, butchers, bakers and even candlestick makers! Amidst these were traditional ironmongers, china shops, privately-owned chemists, local tea rooms, haberdashery outlets and a variety of clothing chains. Of course, the major shopping centres also boasted departmental stores, Marks & Spencer, Debenhams and Woolworth to name but a few. Some of these big names still remain but one will struggle to find the variety of shops of yesteryear in a typical town centre. Even some large departmental eg Woolworth and quality furniture eg Maples stores have disappeared into the ether.

A lack of variety undoubtedly means a lack of choice and competitiveness. Sadly, this is the price paid for capitalism where strong players have the clout to squash smaller fry. Contrary to the belief that big is best, it has long been recognised that many big businesses are highly impersonal, lack flexibility, and take the customer for granted. As such, people are voting with their feet and household names such as Tesco and Marks & Spencer are struggling. In simple terms, they have lost their way after stampeding through the last two decades. M&S have regularly declared declining fashion sales, year on year, primarily because they have tried to emulate other more trendy clothes retailers without success. They need to go back to their roots, listen to their customers, and get back to offering well-made quality clothing. The company proudly displayed in-store banners in the 1980s which stated that ‘over 90% of goods were British made’. I doubt if even 5% of what they now sell is sourced in the UK. A trip around any M&S store will reveal considerable tat, especially in the fashion and homeward departments. Ironically, their only long term successes are their food halls and Simply Food outlets.

Although there are about seven major food retailers, the largest by far is Tesco, having become the biggest retailer in the UK and second in the world! The company has back pedalled on several occasions in the last two years or so, launching new discount initiatives and employing various marketing tactics. Much of this has alienated their core customers who, rightly, have been deceived by many of their so-called offers and non-transparent fluctuating prices. The old trickery of new packaging has been used to reduce the weight of countless products, undoubtedly, used by other companies too, but overall instability within Tesco has made the company a prime target. Without trying too hard, Tesco have successfully alienated suppliers, communities and customers alike … finally, it is payback time as suppliers and customers are beginning to dictate terms. It must be asked just how much longer their dominance will last as they continue to lose market share.

Another institution on the brink is the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). Anyone who has had the misfortune to watch television abroad will appreciate the sheer professionalism and quality of the BBC, making it the undesputable best broadcaster in the world. A key factor in its overall quality is the lack of advertising which intrudes into programmes on all other channels. On mainstream channels such as ITV and Channel 4, the advertising breaks are regulated, but tune into any of the non-terrestrial channels and you’ll see adverts pop up every few minutes. That is much like most television in mainland Europe, not to mention the United States where it’s not unknown for a commercial break immediately prior to the end programme credits. The BBC is, of course, funded by a licence fee, the price of which has been frozen for about 4 years. There are many critics of this fee due to its cost, but currently it works out at just over £12 a month. This currently provides seven television channels, countless radio stations, and the best online presence of any broadcasting institution. Many of these critics are happy to pay Sky in excess of £50 a month for an array of repeat channels, most of which they will never watch!

So what is contributing to the decline of the BBC? Sadly, there are an increasing number of people who refuse to pay the licence fee, thereby depriving the BBC of much needed income. It is these same people who criticise the broadcaster for lacklustre programming, but in reality they are a contributory cause. If the BBC is to continue being funded in this way, I would suggest the fee is collected as part of any tax liability, meaning that everyone eligible will pay their share. Secondly, the broadcaster is very wasteful with the money entrusted to them. It has become a top-heavy, mis-managed bureaucracy with constant infighting and awash with scandal since the revelations of the late Jimmy Savile. Not only are some of its management grossly overpaid, but they also pay select celebrities stupid money in order to compete with the opposition. A situation has now arisen whereby big names are seen as far more important than talent meaning that only about half their annual budget is actually spent on programmes.

The schedules are full of repeats plus repeats of repeats! It is acknowledged that with the extra channels, it is impossible to fill all the time with new and original programming. It has just been agreed in principle that the youth-orientated BBC3 channel will be closed down and the service made online only. However, they are going to extend the broadcasting hours of the dedicated children’s channels when kids ought to be encouraged to do more practical things rather than watching television! Personally, I think the BBC has missed an opportunity … namely to have a dedicated sports channel and one for showing repeats of classic programmes. This would then keep BBC1 for mainstream entertainment and drama, whilst BBC2 would revert to its original remit of offering alternative and slightly more risqué programming.

In recent years, there has been a constant dumbing down of both content and presentation. Their news output is so biased, politically correct and lacking depth or coverage. The once alternative News Channel now emulates the style of news coverage on BBC1 and scheduled bulletins are simulcast. I fail to see why this is so as the amount of money saved must be marginal. We now see fewer drama productions and innovative documentaries as reality tv is rapidly taking over the BBC. I’m writing this whilst watching the BBC coverage of tennis from Wimbledon. This has always been essential viewing since my childhood and according to their onscreen promotions, the tournament this year can be enjoyed across all media formats. Sadly, this has also proved that bigger is not necessarily better. They must be antagonising countless viewers by switching matches midway from either one channel to another, via the red button facility or online. This never happened a few years ago unless transmission on one channel was coming to an end. Yet more dumbing down …

It is difficult to imagine that the BBC will exist in its present format in 20 years’ time but quite what the future holds is open to debate. As with the likes of Tesco and M&S, the broadcaster needs to return to its core roots and most importantly, listen to their customers ie the viewers! So many large institutions are in danger of imploding which could well signify their permanent demise if they continue to operate as arrogant bureaucracies. Other companies employing similar management tactics should take note!