Sunday, 18 December 2011

Shops, snow and sticky backed plastic.

Philip Larkin famously described Christmas as a ‘slathering Niagara of nonsense’, as it rumbles towards us yet again the politicians have skipped town, for twenty five days if you please, and so the news has been rather thin of late. Thin, but not without its points of interest:


This week Mary Portas, the absurdly self titled ‘Queen of Shops’ published her long awaited report on the state of the British high street. As expected it made for gloomy reading and also proved again why such exercises are almost always flawed.

Her recommendations for reviving the high street are sound, lower business rates, less punitive parking fees; more small businesses and fewer soulless chain stores, they are also, sadly, all too predictable. Frankly you could have gone into any saloon bar in the country bought a few of the regulars a drink and gathered the same opinions for a fraction of the cost of retaining Ms Portas.

The whole thing seems painfully like the sort of silliness New Labour used to delight in, identifying a problem it couldn’t (or wouldn’t) solve, get a ‘celebrity to write a report about it and then kick the whole thing into the long grass. It has to be said the Portas, someone who cuts a rather alarming figure rather like one of Dr Who’s more chilling adversaries, has played her part in this pantomime perfectly, trotting around Camden Market with David Cameron and generally filling her lungs with the oxygen of publicity. She even managed to sound sincere about wanting to rescue the nation’s high streets; you’d never think the company she runs also does publicity for mall monster Westfield.

As for the poor old high street I don’t see its revival happening any time soon. Online retailing is hoovering up more customers by the day and George Osborne’s cuts are holding councils back from giving small businesses the breaks they so desperately need. Another celebrity physician has swept into the ward to make her diagnosis, but the poor old patient is no closer to being cured.


Unlike his toothsome predecessor but one Prime Minister David Cameron does do god and at an event in Oxford this week to mark the four hundredth anniversary of the King James Bible he made a speech telling us so.

He went further by enjoining everyone else to do god too as an antidote to the UK’s ‘moral decline.’ I am not a believer but I am willing to admit that Christianity, and other faiths, have many good points; what they don’t have though is a monopoly on goodness and to suggest they do is foolish.

This, as Richard Dawkins writes in the New Statesman this week, is something that David Cameron and his colleagues know all too well, however they also seem to subscribe to the patronising view that faith is somehow ‘good’ for the proles, mostly because it keeps them in their place.

That people are able to worship freely is one of the benchmarks against which we test our democracy, but religion and politics should be kept separate. The alternative to this is the sort of hypocrisy where candidates for office trundle about the landscape thumping pulpits and making saying things they don’t mean to credulous audiences that will be visited upon American voters when the primaries get into full swing next month.


It’s snowed again, hardly a surprising occurrence in December but it always seems to catch we Brits out. This time round though there have, to date anyway, been no repeats of the media hand wringing about mounting chaos, this time last year the Daily Mail was all but predicting national extinction at the hands of a few snowflakes.

Whatever could be different this time round, have councils bought in more grit, are heating bills lower, has our national infrastructure gone through a renaissance that has somehow slipped under my personal radar? Nope, don’t think so. Do you think then the reticence of our, mostly, right wing press on this issue has something to do with any ‘snow chaos’ being this time the result of Boy George’s failed economic policies rather than ‘Labour profligacy’; or am I just being cynical?


Blue Peter, required viewing when I was a boy, is on its last legs, the BBC haven’t cancelled the show but by shifting it into digital limbo with a repeat later in the week means it could soon go the way of Crackerjack and the Clangers.

Despite not usually being a fan of nostalgia this makes me feel quite sad. Even when I watched the programme back in the late seventies it seemed like a theme park version of a safe fifties Britain where everyone had good manners and knew their place; there was always honey for tea and nothing bad ever happened. That, I suppose, was the programme’s charm and I’m sure later attempts to make it more ‘relevant’ have mostly spoiled things; it will still be a shame to see it go though.

Quite where fans of nostalgic nonsense will go for their weekly fix now I don’t know. Perhaps they will have to take to watching Midsomer Murders or reading Michael Gove’s ever sillier ‘visions’ for how our schools should be run.

No comments:

Post a Comment