inequality‘No fun to hang around 
Feelin’ that same old way….’ 


This week Big Dog has turned on Bambi with the publication of the governments food strategy, which contains proposals for an increase in the use of ‘responsibly sourced wild venison’. 

The strategy was supposed to be a ground-breaking response to recommendations from the restaurateur Henry Dimbleby, who wrote two government-commissioned reports on obesity and the environment. In these he made a number of high-profile suggestions, including the expansion of free school meals, increasing environment and welfare standards in farming, and a 30% reduction in meat and dairy consumption. 

The white paper promises much and delivers little only acknowledging issues such as rising food prices, the ‘junk food cycle‘, obesity problems, and the impact of farming on the climate emergency.  

Jim McMahon, the shadow environment secretary said;  ‘The UK is in a cost of living crisis with food prices spiralling, real wages falling, growth plummeting and taxes up. It is clear now that the government has absolutely no ambition to fix the mess they have created,’ he said. 

Big Dog has bigger fish to fry, namely keeping himself in No.10.  

How will he do that? Simples, bring out the populist playbook; by picking fights and annoying people and institutions his followers revile, and asserting it’s the will of the people.  The latter enables him to justify his actions. Everything is based on our sense of self-entitlement, British exceptionalism, and is described as ‘ground breaking’, ‘world beating’, ‘world leading’.   

‘picking fights and annoying people and institutions his followers revile, and asserting it’s the will of the people’

Populism is about ‘annoying all the right people rather than policies. The only people who see it actions as policies are the ordinary people who put the populist in power, and whom all populists secretly hate. ‘Annoying all the right people’ isn’t a programme for government. It’s just a political aesthetic, based on a paranoia that is almost nihilistic.  

The cost of living crisis is a real issue that the government seem blind to. Except when it has political mileage, such as strikes, the first of which is on the railways which expects the number of passenger services to be limited to C. 4,500 compared with 20,000 normally. 

This will ‘annoy all the right people’, which is why we are seeing the government do so little to stop it. They will use this as base to blame the unions for our economic shortcomings, and seek to further curb their power just as Thatcher did in the 1980s.   

The Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union is asking for a guarantee of no compulsory redundancies this year, no unagreed changes to terms and conditions and a pay increase that reflects the rising cost of living. 

In this columns view the rail strike will be the first of many this summer, as average wages are falling at the fastest rate for more than two decades as annual pay growth fails to keep pace with the rising cost of living despite record numbers of job vacancies and low unemployment. 

This week the Office for National Statistics said annual growth in regular pay, excluding bonuses, fell by 4.5% in April after adjusting for inflation – the biggest fall since comparable records began in 2001. 

Average total pay, including bonuses, fell by 3.7% on the month after taking account of inflation as measured by the consumer price index, in a more modest decline thanks to a boom in payouts in the finance sector. 

The really is the imperfect storm as, while incomes are falling, households are being squeezed with inflation at the highest rate since the early 1980s. 

Highlighting the uneven impact of the cost of living crisis, amid the threat of strike action on the railways and other industries amid bitter pay disputes, average pay in the public sector rose by just 1.5%, compared with 8% in the private sector. 

The next fight for the government will be the judiciary in both the UK and Europe, as protestors seek to overturn the governments policy of off-shoring asylum seekers to Rwanda. 

The first deportation flight had to be abandoned following a last minute intervention from the European court of Human Rights ‘(ECHR’). 

The cost of living crisis is a real issue that the government seem blind to

The ECHR is an international court, set up in 1959, to rule on individual or state applications alleging violations of the civil and political rights set out in the European convention on human rights. Its judgments are binding on the 46 Council of Europe member states that have ratified the convention. 

The Council of Europe is the continent’s leading human rights organisation, of which the UK is still a member, and different from the EU, the economic and political partnership, which the UK has left. 

The European convention on human rights came into effect in 1953 to ensure governments could not dehumanise and abuse individuals’ rights. Articles listed in the convention include the right to a fair trial, the right to liberty and security, and the prohibition of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. 

Despite this intervention, the government insists is only a ‘temporary setback‘, with some Conservative MPs renewing calls for the UK to withdraw from the ECHR. 

Theis a school of thought that suggest that this is just another example of ‘annoying all the right people, as a source close to government thinking told the New Statesman: ‘They never expected the flight to take off. The point of the exercise was to create dividing lines ahead of the next election, which is going to be fought, in part, on a manifesto pledge to leave the European court of human rights and repeal the Human Rights Act.’ 

‘They never expected the flight to take off’

It seems so long ago that we stood outside on Thursday evening ‘clapping for the NHS’, now it’s another target of the governments angst, and by extension of their supporters. 

In a recent speech NHS England’s chief executive, Amanda Pritchard, admitted that cuts to the number of beds had gone too far, blaming difficulties in social care for hospitals being left unable to admit the growing number of seriously ill people needing care urgently and patients being left stranded in the back of ambulances outside A&E units. 

The NHS has for many years had fewer hospital beds than comparable countries, which in some respects shows how efficient it is, she added. But hospitals’ struggles shows that ‘we have passed the point at which that efficiency actually becomes inefficient’. 

The service has already set up 53 ‘virtual wards’ – in which patients are treated at home, to free up hospital beds – but those initiatives are not enough on their own, she added. 

However, the health secretary, Sajid Javid, warned that there would be ‘no sort of quick cure‘ for the increasingly acute problems facing NHS urgent and emergency care services. And he made clear that the service would have to tackle its many challenges without any fresh cash boost. 

The largest fight of the summer look set to be the UK, more specifically the government versus the EU as tensions rise over the Northern Ireland Protocol (‘the Protocol’). 

Whatever the rights and wrongs of this for Brexiters it is just another example of how straightforward, trustworthy, law abiding Brits have been hoodwinked and done down by the EU, again! 

This is the wonder of Brexit which, for the government, is a gift that keeps on giving, enabling them to have continual friction with the EU fuelling the fires of their supporters.  

As a result of the Protocol agreed by Johnson in 2019, Northern Ireland in effect stays in the single market and the EU’s customs rules are applied down the Irish Sea to avoid a border on the island of Ireland. 

Whilst Johnson has defended the new legislation tabled on Monday as a straightforward ‘bureaucratic change‘, it has caused fury in Dublin. 

The new proposal is to scrap checks for firms selling goods from Great Britain destined for Northern Ireland rather than the EU, which will be replaced by a ‘green lane’ of fewer checks for goods heading for Northern Ireland and a ‘red lane’ with existing checks for goods destined for EU countries. This is little different to proposals tabled by the European Commission for an ‘express lane’.  

More controversially, the legislation would also allow firms in Great Britain exporting to Northern Ireland to choose between meeting EU or UK standards on regulation, which are expected to increasingly diverge. 

Further measures include bringing Northern Ireland’s tax break and spending policies into line with the rest of the UK, and changing oversight of trade disputes so that they are resolved by independent arbitration rather than the European court of justice.  

Removing the role of the court of justice is out of the question’, the EU official added. ‘And in fact, it would be found illegal by the court itself, so it’s kind of pointless.’ 

Unsurprisingly relations between Dublin and London are approaching an all-time low with the Irish foreign minister, Simon Coveney stating that the plans break international law and marked ‘a particular low point‘ in Brexit. 

‘relations between Dublin and London are approaching an all-time low’

Brussels, obviously aware of the PMs 148 rebel MPs has urged Westminster to throw out the ‘illegal’ attempt by Boris Johnson to unilaterally rewrite the post-Brexit arrangements for Northern Ireland. 

The EU is looking to throw the book at us, as Maroš Šefčovič, the EU’s Brexit commissioner, said one frozen case against the UK for past breaches of the withdrawal agreement had been relaunched and two further proceedings over other undelivered treaty obligations would begin. However, the EU is holding back action over the new legislation, until it becomes law, a process that could take 18 months or longer. 

Šefčovič also suggested that the EU could suspend parts of the trade deal, and appealed to MPs and peers to stop the Johnson government from trashing the UK’s reputation and provoking a trade war. 

And, in response to suggestions that the UK could ignore ECJ rulings against it, given Johnson’s plans to rip up past agreements, he warned that Britain’s reputation was on the line, saying;  ‘Not respecting the European court of justice rulings will be just piling one breach of international law on another. Does the UK want to go in that direction? And the rule of law is something that we are discussing at every international forum these days. 

Johnson intent is clear, he cares little about Northern Ireland but he cares a great deal about himself. This is a stunt to mollify rebellious backbenchers and reassert his authority, whilst at the same time giving his electorate a scapegoat and deflecting their attention from the cost of living crisis. 

I will admit that the cost of living crisis isn’t all the governments fault, and many of the contributing factors can be explained away by Covid and the war in Ukraine.  

However, other developed economies have proved more resilient, enjoying export-driven recoveries in the wake of Covid. Whereas we still struggling with long-term structural issues that were exposed by the 2008 GFC. 

Rather than trigger an economic rethink as promised by the then shadow chancellor, George Osborne, we continued the model of growth fuelled by rising levels of consumer debt driven by rising house prices and huge regional inequalities between the south-east and the rest of the country. 

In addition, his spending cuts impacted the least affluent areas, undermining their potential to attract investment. Post-2008 our recovery  was pedestrian; average GDP growth in the decade following was a full percentage point lower than it was in the run-up to the year, and our productivity which had been second in the G7 fell to second bottom. Again, growth was driven by consumer spending and resurgent house prices.  

Brexit, especially a hard Brexit, was even more damaging.  

Figures prepared by the Centre for European Reform show that by the end of last year, the economy was 5%, or £31 billion, smaller than it would have been if the UK had not left the single market and customs union.  

Even media publications that supported Brexit are now recognising the impact of it; in the Daily Telegraph, Jeremy Warner wrote that Brexit was meant to be a ‘new beginning for the Tory party but by making trade with Europe more difficult and costly it has so far only added to the country’s travails’.  

The government appears blind to the cost-of-living crisis, but then policy isn’t their thing, they prefer picking fights rather than solving problems.  

In addition, there appears to be no industrial strategy, no plan to boost growth outside London and the south-east, no alternative ideas for exporters in the wake of Brexit.  

‘no industrial strategy, no plan to boost growth outside London and the south-east, no alternative ideas for exporters’

The PM and chancellor cannot even agree on the fundamentals of what the government’s approach should be, and a joint speech they were due to give has been postponed. The OECD has criticised the chancellor for his fiscal policy, which allowing for the multibillion-pound package of support announced last month, will still cause the economy to contract at a time when stimulus is required. 

In an attempt to create ‘right-to-buy II’, Johnson proposes expanding the idea to include housing association tenants, despite this commentators continue to view the UK housing market as dysfunctional,. 

However, in Johnson’s eyes our housing market isn’t dysfunctional. For homeowners the trend line for prices points northwards, giving the illusion of wealth, and prosperity which is sufficient for many voters. The rest he can lie to and create the illusion that they one day will be property owners to. Oh, sorry he did! It was called ‘levelling-up’, truly ground breaking.   

‘Everything is simply depressing, chaos abounds’

Everything is simply depressing, chaos abounds, the government is simply evil, caring only for its own self-imposed problems. 

I struggled to reach a conclusion, and was saved this morning when I read an article in the Guardian about the England football team that is a metaphor for us as a nation. 

But then this is England, where it is necessary to manage not just the team but also the vast freighted load of English insularity, English expectation. The founding identity of the England football team rests on one basic misconception, that the default option is for England to win. And that, if this is not happening, then there is a problem to solve, because something is fundamentally wrong with the universe. 

…..the state of England right now, an unhappy, graceless place, the Violet Beauregarde(1) of post-imperial lands, stuffed purple with entitlement, wailing for its golden ticket.’ 

‘This is England 
What we’re supposed to die for 
This is England 
And we’re never gonna cry no more’ 


  1. Violet Beauregarde is one of five children who enters Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. 

FUBAR entered my lexicon after watching Saving Private Ryan, and has there ever been a more apt description of where we find ourselves? I’m not even going to try to embellish Philip’s note:

‘Like his contemporaries, Johnson has surrounded himself with incompetent sycophants, each seemingly worse than the last. It’s really surprising the Tory’s have managed to find so many incompetents at one time.

As I wrote, it was a struggle to find a conclusion, and the metaphor with the England team is owed to the excellent Barney Ronay in the Guardian.  He’s correct, everything is built around the assumption of British exceptionalism, we are the best, we will win. Small wonder we still celebrate ‘two-world wars, and a world cup’. Whilst we sing about it others are getting on doing it.

Lyrically, we start with the Stooges iconic ‘No Fun’, because it just isn’t. How can you have fun when everything around is collapsing? Ironically, it’s the last song the Sex Pistols ever played together, at the end of their January 1978 gig at San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom. Near the end, a clearly fed-up Rotten melts down, saying; ‘There’s no fun in being alone, This is no fun. It is no fun at all’. He signs-off with ‘Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?’ He then drops the microphone and walks offstage.

I know how he feels! We finish with the Clash and ‘This is England’, which is the problem! Enjoy it if you can.



Philip Gilbert 2Philip Gilbert is a city-based corporate financier, and former investment banker.

Philip is a great believer in meritocracy, and in the belief that if you want something enough you can make it happen. These beliefs were formed in his formative years, of the late 1970s and 80s

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