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The anger out there

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Paul Mason | 12:03 UK time, Monday, 9 February 2009

Job CentreThere is a dangerous mismatch between what politicians are doing and what people are feeling. I've been on a road trip through the English Midlands to take the temperature of the jobs market. It's cool and cooling, but people's frustrations are going in the opposite direction.

In the first place is the bank bonus issue: it's simmering in the public consciousness, because it is seen as manifestly unfair that bankers get bailed out while ordinary businesses do not. The government's decision to launch an inquiry led by a banker, however intentioned, looks to the average person tapping the touch screen in the Job Centre like an exercise in circumlocution.

Next is the issue of migration. The "British Jobs for British Workers" issue has not gone away because of the settlement of the Lindsey Oil Refinery dispute. The militants who ran the strike are now looking at the Olympic Games venue, where there's been a reported surge in migrants registering for National Insurance numbers. But independent of what the union activists do, the issue has been placed firmly out there in the public consciousness. The LOR dispute was atypical in that any pressure on wages and resources created by East European migrants is, say economists, felt at the low end of the income scale. This, I am pretty certain based on anecdotal evidence, is where the greatest hostility to migrants is being expressed.

A third issue is politicians themselves. For the past few days I've had the chance to ask ordinary people - minicab drivers, railway passengers, youths on street corners - "what should the government do?" It's usually greeted with a guilty grin and a shrug of the shoulders indicating they don't give a fig. "The politicians can't do anything," is something I have heard spontaneously more than once. Listen carefully: people tend to talk about "the politicians" negatively in general (which is bad news for the opposition). And while a few politicians may draw satisfaction that people think they "can't do anything", I do not think these comments are meant to exonerate them.

"It can't get any worse"

There's one other bit of zeitgeist out there that I hadn't expected. A cab driver put it this way: "The people I pick up are single mums, students, people on long-term sick, pensioners... how much worse can it get for people like that? The credit crunch won't really affect them because they're already at rock bottom: it can't get any worse." And if you think about it there is a whole layer of the UK population that is cushioned from falling income by benefits. Every ticket you print out at the Job Centre points out, at the bottom, that if a job is on or around the minimum wage you will be entitled to tax credits. What I think is happening is that people at the low-wage end of the jobs market are presuming they will just get another low-paid job. This "our lives are crap already" mood is something I just don't think politicians are hearing. You could take heart from it, because it's the source of the doggedness in British people that got them through the War and the Depression. However, you would not want to get yourself on the opposite side to them in this mood.

Now these are just impressions, and the politicians normally have an even better mechanism for keeping their fingers on the pulse of mass feeling: a political party. But many senior Labour backbenchers are warning that their party has become "hollowed out". I passed through Stoke-on-Trent, where the BNP has won 29 council seats out of sixty, and the Labour Party is down to sixteen. [Update: Thanks to all those who pointed out my error regarding the number of BNP councillors in Stoke, the correct figure is nine.] A senior member of the party in the Potteries told me the party mechanisms have "collapsed"; "If you want your drains fixed you go to the BNP," they said. Meanwhile there is no bailout for the last major ceramic factory, Wedgewood, where 350 people were made redundant at one day's notice last month.

Obviously all the main political parties have vibrant and real relationships with that part of the UK population that reads the Telegraph or Guardian, or watches Newsnight. But seasoned political operators know that is not what constitutes a relationship with the masses. (I will add that both Labour and Conservatives have recently brought back seasoned political operators to frontbench positions.) So I have a hunch that the sheer scale of discontent and fractiousness in the country are being under-estimated. The latter-day substitute for parties - private focus groups - will be picking this up, but probably not as viscerally.

Labour Party problem

Finally, there is a specifically Labour Party problem. On several occasions in the past few weeks mid-ranking people inside the Labour party and trade union movement have asked me privately: "Are we finished?" Theories are circulating about whether actions in government are being taken with a view to shaping the party in opposition. For thoughts like these to cross the minds of ministers would be self-destructive - so no sensible politician can allow themselves to think that way. But outside the inner circles this is the mental conversation the Labour movement is having with itself.

On a day when the CBI is saying the credit crunch is getting worse for companies, and the CIPD is predicting three million unemployed, there is a lot of what anthropologists call "social noise" at the statistical level of reality. But around the mass emotional impact of this recession, there is "social silence", except in the tabloid newspapers and on the social networking sites.

Thus the UK political class, and much of the media, finds itself at a bit of a disadvantage. Last week I saw Chinese premier Wen Jia Bao on the TV with Gordon Brown. It occurred to me that the Chinese Communist Party, through its networks of mass surveillance, probably has a better handle on the mood of Chinese people than any politician in the UK system could have on the mood of people in Britain, given the professionalisation of politics and the hollowing out of parties.

Tomorrow I'll blog about the people I met on my journey. My report will be shown on a Newsnight special, Wednesday at 10.30pm, on the day we expect unemployment to top two million.


  • Comment number 1.

    Paul, you are just scratching the surface.

    I am appalled at the mess and the cronyism which seems to have got us here.

    We are in a state run by MPs and Lords who we thought we trusted, but now of course are just in it for the cash and allowances.

    We have a public sector pension bill we cannot pay, it is like a snowball, a ponzi scheme of the government's own making.

    Then there are the quangos...can anyone tell me why the new the Chief Exec of UK Financial Instruments is a civil servant, other than this appears to mean that he is not publicly accountable?

    I think that a quiet revolution is going on already. How long before we all start questioning why we should pay tax?
    Seems quite obvious that it is just going into banker's pockets, the black hole of the civil service, MP's second homes and quangos.

  • Comment number 2.


    An excellent piece, if only to illustrate that the only people that can afford to take cabs these days are bankers, politicians and benefit claimants!

    For too long we have allowed ourselves to be ruled by an inept nannying Government, completely out of touch with their electorate, who have failed to be brought to account due to a similarly out of touch and inept opposition.

    However, I'm surprised if you are including Peter Mandleson among your "seasoned political operators" who "know what consitutes a relationship with the masses" - it is hard to imagine a politician more removed from his traditional constituency.

  • Comment number 3.

    Thanks, Paul, for getting out here in the real world. More of this type of reporting is needed.

    Politically we are in very dangerous waters now and I see absolutely no sign that the government is even aware of it as they dash off pointless but nice sounding initiatives.

    You are right about the Labour Party. I have a number of old friends who have been stalwarts but are now just gutted. It started with the Iraq war and went on from there.

    The sentiment you express that there is a body within the population that feel they are at the bottom and it cannot get worse suggests to me that you are getting it right. I have noticed the same.

    This proves the assertion that the benefit system has failed, as rather than being a humane safety net it has become a hammock.

    I also have reservations about the Minimum Wage as to an awful lot of people it has also become the Maximum Wage.

    Things have been allowed to go wrong badly by this government. It is not all Brown's fault as the other fellow was a bit to elevated as well to notice what was really going on.

    I have never supported Labour but the prospect of that party going down the tubes permanently is rather frightening as who will take their place?

  • Comment number 4.

    For the first time in my life I have joined a political party - the conservatives.

    I've never really been that bothered although I have always voted conservative but now there are too many issues that are directly linked to this governement that I have not only joined but donated.

    So, I have been motivated to becom more engaged but not because of what I think th politicians can do but what they are so obviously not doing.

  • Comment number 5.

    Lest we forget our ultimate rulers - the mob!

  • Comment number 6.

    Large cross sections of the population are indeed simmering. Different issues have brought them to this point. The false justification of the Iraq War. The increasing rigidity in employment relationships. The constant threat of penalties when completing routine tasks. So it's no wonder there's a sense of betrayal when those who've professed wisdom and overuled objection now appear to go unpunished for their failures.

  • Comment number 7.

    NOT FINISHED TILL THE FAT GEEZER CROAKS. (Sorry - best I could do.)

    " . . . Labour party and trade union movement have asked me privately: "Are we finished?"

    As I post ad nauseam: to replace one Westminster party-political sub-set with another WPPSS is not and end, just a nuanced transition. Politicians are at least twice removed from our lives; ALL OF THEM.

    The pool needs draining, scouring and re-filling with the water of integrity, in which all but the finest drown.

    Until the whole Westminster ethos and charade is 'finished' we are stuffed.

  • Comment number 8.

    Well done for getting out there and asking. Readers of this blog can get a feel for a large swathe of public opinion (and scare their pants off) by visiting media discussion boards that they normally wouldn't be seen dead in, such as on the Virgin Media site. Contributions may frequently be illiterate, but it's clear enough who they'll be voting for.

  • Comment number 9.


    I am on to you NEMO. Just remember you have an unlicensed nucular (sic) reactor on that sub. I can have the HSE on you at the drop of a depthcharge.

  • Comment number 10.

    I think you meant the BNP has nine seats on Stoke council, not 29 ? 29 would be seriously alarming ...

  • Comment number 11.

    Thank you Paul, another excellent post. And thank goodness that someone at the BBC has gone outside of the London media bubble and actually asked people their opinions.

    24 hour news, 24 hour politics and the logorrhoea in the broadsheet newspapers all create lots of noise but seem to obscure what most of the country thinks and feels.

    Just before the abdication crisis broke in 1936, Ramsay MacDonald asked the members of his cabinet to go back to their constituencies, to go into clubs and pubs and talk to ordinary people and find out what they thought. I rather think that MacDonald had a closer feel for the mood of the country than anyone in the present government/banks/quangocracy.

  • Comment number 12.

    Just a point on a side issue hinted at above.

    Why isn't it possible to save an iconic company like Wedgwood, founded by the Grandfather of Charles Darwin by the way, but there is plenty of money for banks?

    Many people in the Midlands feel that they just don't count and that iconic manufacturers are left to wither and die whilst there seems plenty of money for some.

    Whatever the bankers and the chattering classes might believe in Westminster the next election will be won and lost in places like Birmingham, Stoke on Trent and the other large cities in the East & West Midlands.

    If you didn't realise how bad things are just read the following which was front page of today's Birmingham Post.

  • Comment number 13.

    I am probably thinking right outside the box, but in the event of the government having to nationalize all the banks perhaps we have the opportunity to create a brand new sustainable stakeholder economy. The creation of a Citizens Income could overcome the current state benefits stigma, and would replace the complication of all current benefits including the Old Age Pension.

    The object of the exercise would be to give every person ( over 21 or ten years legal residence ) in the country 100,000 quid in a national savings account which paid say 10% interest. This would equate to a " citizens income " and people would be able to be employed to increase this as they pleased. Income tax could be 50% after the first 5000 but it would be possible to allow tax relief on the purchase of your own home. Children could also attract tax relief, 7500 for the first, 5000 for the second but only 2500 for the third and extra children.

    There would also need to be a maximum income, say 10 times the citizens income, anything above that would be subject to 100% tax. However some tax relief could be given for every full time person directly employed.

    The object of the exercise would be to achieve maximum income via saving throughout life up to retirement. Obviously people in high paid jobs could retire earlier ( after having paid in full for their house ). Perhaps they could continue to work part time as consultants in their chosen field.

    To prevent depreciation on consumer goods there would be no credit allowed on any product not capable of ( with maintenance ) lasting 30 years.

    Inheritance tax would be 100% on cash savings but all property including business equipment and land could be tax free.

    This policy could make it worth voting for the working class, although I expect that the stock market parasites would object so no chance of their puppets like Brown doing it.

  • Comment number 14.

    Excellent blog Paul, glad to see that a political journalist has left London! Things must be bad.

    I am 28 yrs old and come from a working class family in Cheshire, my parents and grandparents voted Labour all their lives.

    Growing up i was told to get an education and i was the first in my family to go to University. Unfortunatly i couldnt finish my course because i couldnt afford the tuition fees so i left after my 2nd year. I have good GCSE's and A Levels...the result of all this education is that i am now a delivery driver and earn no more than £200 per week.

    My girlfriend and i work hard long hours and we are both intelligent people with qualifications but we cannot get a job that pays. Companies and business are not willing to train all want experienced employes. We have no disposable income all our money goes on bills and living costs.

    We are the underclass. Not on benefit no where near the middle class. Totally unrepresented.

    Constrast this life we live and the world we see on the TV. Polititians awarding themselves pay rises, pension increases, Lords taking bribes, bankers taking bonuses for bankrupting the country. We live in different worlds. Politicians are the bankers the bankers are the polititians they are all the same. Tories or Labour they are all the same.

    The political class in this country are the whores or business. They say jump, polititians say "how much?"

    My girlfriend and i are now putting all our efforts into leaving Britain for a modern forward thinking country where people get a fair go - Australia. I know 3 of my friends have moved out there in the last couple of years, i know of at least 2 more couples we know that are planning to do the same.

    My parents are fully behind us, my mother who still works and is 65 yrs old is begging us to go because in her words "there is nothing for young people in this country"

    Imagine how she feels Mr Brown a life long Labour voter begging her children to leave the country.

    Bye Bye Britain.

  • Comment number 15.

    Id like to see the term "scrounger" used to describe management in banks that have been bailed out ie "bank scroungers cost taxpayer billions"

  • Comment number 16.

    Message 13 brossen99

    Keep thinking outside the box, these are the sort of ideas we need to see.

    I don't agree with all of it but the basic idea is pretty good.

  • Comment number 17.

    I have a hunch your hunch is right. I can only comment on the area I live in where there are no major redundancies yet! That's not to say we don't have problems, shops and small businesses are closing and people are losing their jobs and homes - people are worried, very worried indeed. They believe what they are hearing from the Government are platitudes and soundbites with no substance - even the staunch Labour supporters I know have expressed the opinion that this Government are out of touch and floundering. There have been many jokes doing the rounds about GB and the Government, people are no longer seeing the funny side - things are getting very serious.

  • Comment number 18.

    3 million unemployed and 40 million 'robbed' savers - this could be an infectious brew.

    The goldfish bowl of Westminster has not been so out of touch since the Gordon Riots (not strictly a good comparison as there is no Papists Act 1778 to revolt against) but the idea that the political class can do what it pleases without reference to the public is surely apt. I doubt if the West Surrey's and the Honourable Artillery Company would today fire on, and kill 285, an army of rioting grannies brandishing their building society passbooks - screaming 'Gordon Brown the robber baron' and pelting the House of Commons with walking stick ferrules. (The British version of chucking their shoes at him.)

    Let us hope for our safety and the safety of the Country that the 'blog watchers' (Yes you in Downing Street - wake up pay attention!) inside the goldfish bowl pick up the vibes and impress upon those who wish to remain in power till past the summer that they must appease the masses, not just with cake, but real genuine policy changes like putting interest rates up!

  • Comment number 19.

    Thanks paul, my faith in journalism generally gets a momentary boost every time you post.

    I tend to align myself with #1 legal blog, who maybe slightly ahead of the curve in terms of public sentiment but not by much.

    I think journalists in general and politicians in extremis are way behind the curve of public sentiment.

    If the mid ranking labour member had asked me if they were finnished my answer woudl be an unequivocal yes. There best chance was missed by gordon in the summer...thank goodness. Now every month that goes by the scale of thier defeat will intensify. I would not be surprised if they emerge as the third part when all this is over.

    The Conservatives will probably win by default, not becuase they capture the publics imagination but because ..well..there is no viable alternative nationally. I would expect the BNP may get afew seats as well depending on the timing of the election.

    Slightly begrudgingly I would say the nations best chance is for David Camerons conservaties to accelerate their re-invention of themselves.

    They need to ditch the label of the party of the well healed quickly and re-invent themselves on a platform of good old fashioned effectiveness, morality, sustainability and non ratial national pride.

    They need to recruit MP's from a sector of the population that is currently alienated to all political parties, not from their traditional upper class areas.

    I am not sure how they can reach out to those people with their front bench at the moment but a few key appointments may be all it will need. I like David Cameron, there is a certain freshness and honesty about him, but alone and with those whom surround him it may be enough to win the elction but it will not be enough to get the nation fully behind them, which is what will really be needed in the next few years.

    I would prefer that something completely new and fresh could come along to challenge th incumbents, but as a pragmatist I think the suggestion above is the next best thing and may provide a reasonable outcome.


  • Comment number 20.

    Well done Paul for actually getting out and speaking to the people.

    There is so much wrong with our society now I wouldn't know where to begin and I was a lifelong Labour voter.

    The working class have definately been ignored. We have been sold the mantra by the Labour party over the years, 'if you don't do this that or the other the Tories will get in' but as far as I am concerned there is no difference between the two.

    I was far better off personally under the Tories. I now earn less than I did 19 years ago. If I was on my own I could work a 40hour week and still be entitled to benefits. I have two jobs, on my second income after tax I earn just over £4ph. Other people who I work with who have families are all in receipt of some benefit or other despite working hard for 40 hours a week. This cannot be right.

    I think great swathes of people have just given up you seen no matter who gets in no one is rooting for them. The working class are constantly portrayed in the press as lazy, on benefits, not as good as their european counterparts etc. This is just not true there are alot of hard working people out there doing their bit and paying taxes.

    Everything is controlled now, freedom of speech has been lost and the long arm of the state is gripping so hard that it is squeezing any meaningful life out of people.

    We are too exhausted from the daily drudge to participate and when we go to the doctor to complain of tiredness they put us on prozac. You have to conform you see.

    Thank you finished rant off to bed.

  • Comment number 21.

    One thing to keep in mind in relation to bonuses, is that the perceived problem (ie that they reward short term risk taking not long term growth), is wholly the result of current government tax policy.

    Consider the following alternatives. Firstly, company X pays its employee a cash bonus of GBP100,000. In this case, the bonus forms part of gross pay one month, and is taxed via PAYE. So the employee receives GBP100,000 gross, pays GBP41,000 tax/NIC, and ends up with a net GBP59,000.

    Now consider what happens if the employer gives the employee shares worth GBP100,000, but with a clause that they cannot be sold for some specified period, eg 3 years. In this case, the employee receives no immediate cash payment but, as far as the Revenue is concerned, they've still received remuneration of GBP100,000. So the employee now has an immediate GBP41,000 tax/NIC bill and no cash to pay it.

    In this situation the employer will either pay the tax on the employee's behalf, or (more likely in the current economic situation) lend the employee the money (probably interest free) to meet the tax bill. However, this makes the long term share incentive scheme more expensive for the employer. If they do nothing for the employee, then the scheme is hugely unattractive to the employee (they are left GBP 41,000 out of pocket for three years).

    Paying large cash bonuses to reward performance that, as we've seen recently, can reverse very suddenly, is clearly dumb. But then so is a tax system that encourages firms to adopt this structure. Of course, what drove the government's thinking until recently was getting in lots of tax to pay for all the shiny new public sector "improvements", whilst maintaining the myth that this could be paid for without increasing taxation. Just consider the tax on non-received remuneration as another stealth tax. And remember, that these bonuses that Brown is now apparently so angry about, he was very happy to share them 59/41 with the recipients while he was Chancellor.

    I'm afraid this is just another sickening display of hypocrisy from Brown and Co. If he was worried about excessive risk taking and the impact of remuneration structures on it, he's had plenty of time to fiddle with the tax system to encourage a better way of paying people. Incidentally, the FSA has had the power for years to consider remuneration structures' impact on financial firms' risk taking. Might be an idea to ask them why they never used the powers. I think you'll keep coming back to all the lovely income tax Gordon was getting from these bonuses, not to mention the Corporation Tax paid by City firms (25% of all such tax receipts). And we won't even think about the stamp duty on expensive house purchases made from these bonuses, or the VAT from recipients' excessive lifestyles.

    This problem begins and ends with Brown's need for ever more tax, and the City's seeming ability to pay ever more. Now, however, the illusion has hit home with a vengeance. But let's make sure we focus blame on where it is deserved, namely the government that failed to utilise the regulations that it had already put in place to control this kind of thing. Financial services firms, and their staff, simply played the system the way they've been encouraged to do so. Brown is in no position to moan about it now, I'm afraid.

  • Comment number 22.

    further to #18

    A better slogan for the building society passbook wavers as they march on the citadel - "Gordon Brown stole my Savings" or even "David Cameron where's my Cash" (for use after the election!)

    Entirely non-partisan as you can see....

    The rage will continue until the needs of the unemployed and the OAPs are met and no part can ignore them. Remember that are 7 times as many savers as borrowers and they have lots of time on their hands to organise!

  • Comment number 23.

    I think Paul's comments above on "British jobs" and also on the perception of politicians are very interesting. I actually live in Ireland (though I'm British). I think you'd find empathy with the "all politicians are useless" attitude, but a very different one towards foreign workers.

    People in Britain may not be aware that 10% of Ireland's population consists of foreigners, the vast majority of whom have moved here in the last 10 years of the "Celtic Tiger". It is estimated that about 100,000 (or 2.5% of the entire State's population) is Polish. Yet there is no sense of "Irish jobs for Irish workers" breaking out as a mantra. In fact, I was at a conference on Friday where one of the key focuses of discussion was what Ireland had to do to attract more skilled talent from overseas in order to develop further high skill jobs for the local (which is not the same as indigenous) population in the future.

    However, the consensus about all politicians is that they're useless. Although, as expected, the main government party is doing very badly in opinion polls, and will probably suffer large council and Euro Parliament losses in June, there is not really any great sense of identifying with the main opposition parties. it will be interesting to see if Sinn Fein can benefit from this, in a similar way to fringe (but far right) parties in the UK. Certainly, I think there would be a similarity at local level in some parts of Ireland to the comments Paul Mason heard in Stoke. I think mainstream party officials here would acknowledge that, certainly in less advantaged areas, if you want your drains fixing, you call Sinn Fein.

    Finally, as is well known, the referendum on the Lisbon Treaty here last year was won by the "No" campaign. Opinion polls now show a large majority in favour of the "Yes" campaign. People realise that without the EU, Ireland would have "done an Iceland". Suddenly, acdemic discussions about neutrality and abortion have given way to an understanding that we need the EU more than it needs us.

    Finally, finally, I see the Swiss voted in a referendum over the weekend to extend their following of EU employment rules, and allow in Bulgarians and Romanians as EU citizens. I'd suggest that Brown's "British jobs for British workers" is actually out of step with most of Europe. Looking from the outside, let me say that the Little Englander mentality never looks good, and it never looks worse than it did at the Total refinery.

  • Comment number 24.

    What you're forgetting Paul is that the further down you go, the less likely you are to vote. Only about a million votes actually count - those floating voters in the affluent swing seats.

    That a racist party has, in the minds of many, replaced Labour as a force for working people is a tragedy. But I feel that the New Labour elite would rather have a racist party than a radical one as an opposition.

    There's an aspect to BNP support which interests me - that of the "proxy consciousness" of those who vote for them out of protest at existing conditions.

    When at the next election it is a clear choice between a Labour Party unable to carry out Tory policies because of public, union, and backbench and a revived Tory party that will do so effortlessly, the priorities might be changed somewhat.

    If more people are forced by circumstances to protest their worsening living standards, the kinds of demands arising out of this are not likely to be informed by racist sentiments - witness the repudiation of the fascists by the strikers at Lindsay and elsewhere.

    The response will be "where's our bailout?". The other part of the Wedgewood business was Waterford Crystal in Ireland - sacked workers there have occupied the visitors centre and are demanding nationalisation if no new private owner can be found. There hasn't been a similar response here - not yet, anyway. But as it becomes clear that jobs are scarce, the response like that of the Lindsay strikers, will be militant.

  • Comment number 25.

    1) Re the Olympic site and foreign workers: 200 Romanians were quietly sacked when the wildcat strikes were rolling, even though Romanians are not even supposed to be working here at this point.

    This shows that concern about foreign workers is justified because it is completely out of control.

    We need EU liberalisations to be properly clarified, as they never have been. The secrecy is a pretty good indication that they are there for thebenefit of vested interests.

    We also need to dicsuss the options around this, including drastic options for drastic times.

    There are for instance six directives on public procurement, forcing UK govt contracts to be offered to EU firms.

    Obviously EU firms get contracts if they have cheaper labour forces. Not only is UK govt money then spent with overseas firms, but they bring own workers in too. Is this the best deal for the UK?

    Reciprocal investment opportunities for UK (based) investment corporations rarely mean job opportunities overseas for UK workers, even if they did want to get on their proverbial bike.

    If workers are cheaper there, they will be hired there, or brought onto the job from third countries.

    So we need a rethink. But we can't do that while the whole EU commitment is deliberately lost in the fog, with the media failing to clarify it. People need the information.

    2) I am also wondering who you think is the 'seasoned political operator' on the Lab front bench, and also doubting your judgement if you mean Mandelson

    3) The Labour Party could actually save itself if it wanted to. It would involve dropping the leadership that has shown itself to be incapable of change, and obviously, a priori, mean getting rid of dirty little Mandelson - the demise of Judge Jeffreys comes to mind.

    It would mean recognising and addressing people's real concerns, and grasping hte magnitude of policy change that is needed.

    The current so-called 'Left' of the Labour Party is as remote as New Labour frontmen, just banging on about BNP, and similarly evading the real issues - so no good looking there.

    But the reason that the Labour Party could reinvent itself if it was capable of being honest (??), is because people do not want a right turn at this point. But they do want a left turn.

  • Comment number 26.

    As usual, Paul, your blog looks at the real face of the country in crisis. Well done-please don't stop!

    Jericoa-the 'other' blog has locked me out-I'm not ignoring you all, I just keep getting access denied!

    Hope to blog there again soon.


  • Comment number 27.

    the people are starting to wake up to the futility of their lives in a consumer driven, debt ridden society where however hard you work you are really treading water. real wealth is owned by a small elite,who are bleeding the rest of us dry. we are forced to pay outrageous prices just for a decent roof over our heads.pensions that are worthless. we work in dehumanizing environments on a barely livable wage. we daily watch the machinations of a corrupt political and corporate establishment and feel enough is enough, soon the volcano will blow!!!.

  • Comment number 28.

    I am surprised that there are not more bankers trying to protect themselves against the obvious coming storm of popular opinion.

    If I were a high profile recipient of bailout and bonus I'd be giving the bonus back and be thankful I get to keep my job!

    Jericoa I (Jambo) am in the same boat as Tigs despite e-mailing the address and following the blog, figured you guys had better peeps to talk to.

  • Comment number 29.

    re JayPee28pbr

    Interesting reading. Half my family are Irish and they have a totally different take on the foreign worker issue to you.

    Their jobs have been taken, their identity lost. Thats why the constitution received a no vote.

  • Comment number 30.

    26, Tigerjayj :
    Check via BobRocket

  • Comment number 31.


    if you ask people how they are feeling they might 'unload' on you?

    we have had enough descriptions of the situation? the question is how flexible and quick can we be in thinking?

    the way out is to look for industry with growth potential like a feed in tariff that has proven to create 100,000s of jobs and generate billions in income. Yet for political reasons [nuclear?] the govt refuse to do it. So when politics gets in the way of economic escape routes then those 'locking' the country into that politics tends to get swept away?

    once it begins to sink that a handful of people have brought the uk to its knees for a generation and that the financially illiterate governing political class are complicit in that then we might see some more 'feelings'?

    why is there no all party economic group? This is the time everyone has to row on the oars?

  • Comment number 32.

    The politicians just don't get it, do they?

    They're as guilty as the bankers for crafting and sustaining the monetary and regulatory frameworks that unleashed the bankers' greed. Between them, the two groups have connived to perform at best incompetently and at worst like dishonest, self-serving rogues.

    The anger of our political masters with bankers is as nothing compared with the incandescent rage of ordinary people like me. We're about to endure at least 10 years of austerity, if we're lucky. Many businesses and indivduals will be ruined.

    Meantime, the bankers will live off their immoral earnings of the past decade and the politicians will live off their gilded expense accounts and gold-plated pensions.

    Since our democratic and political processes are now collapsing as fast as our economy, I wonder how long it will be before it gets to this in the UK?

  • Comment number 33.

    they should be worried. the people are at last waking up. even if you are still asleep mr moderator

  • Comment number 34.

    I too have been thinking outside the box. I decided some time ago that my taxes were being squandered all over the place and that I no longer wanted to be part of "the system".

    I have downsized as far as possible and live as cheaply as possible. I no longer work but receive nothing from the state. If I do need to work again I will make sure I don't earn over the tax threshold in any particular year.

    I received a very good education and am putting it to good use by this kind of lateral thinking. If you free up your time in this way it is possible to live a lot more cheaply. My goal would be to generate enough energy from renewables that "they" pay me instead of the other way around!

    For years I slaved as a single parent with very low income and always worked in order to look after my family but I was in effect doing 2 jobs. In spite of a good education I was unable to have a "career" as I always felt my childrens' needs came first. There was no-one else to help with the caring. So instead I worked in a succession of lower paid jobs in a variety of industries/public sector/charity jobs. In effect I "nosed around" in a lot of different work settings. I rapidly became disillusioned with the world of work where it seemed to me that those with the least talent and integrity are the ones who do the best.

    The rot set in completely with the election of TB in 1997. There is absolutely no understanding of the more hand to mouth existence of most people in the country. When you live an "expense account" existence how can there be? New Labour was nothing more than an elaborate con and the arch perpetrator has so far got off scot-free.

  • Comment number 35.

    ....nothing much is going to happen in the way of change until the working man gets angry....

    The chattering classes (yeah i guess that's me too) have an appetite to seek out the information, the news, and the analysis, but most people don't feel inclined -and why should they 'til it starts to affect them.

    The problem is that it has to get pretty bad and pretty serious damage has had to have been done before the working man reacts. That's not a judgement, it is just the way of things.

    So in a sense your piece tells of good news, in the sense that the sleeping giant might be awakening.

    As an earlier poster inferred ....... the politicians, the bankers, the lawyers, the regulators, the whole bl**dy lot of them, only ever hold power because the mob hasn't yet bothered to remove them.

    This may be a mob that realises their jobs are no longer safe, their savings are moribund, their pensions evaporating, their taxes are increasing and their children have no future. That seems a worthwhile list to get reasonably animated about.

    More power to you Paul, and more power to a thoughful and diligent mob.


  • Comment number 36.

    Great - they said that Gaza elected Hamas because the previous government couldn't achieve the ordinary municipal duties expected of it - and now in the UK similarly the BNP are seen as the 'rescuers' of the common man.

    It'll end it tears, the last economic crisis ended in the Nazi party and WW2. I'm not looking forward to the next 10 years.

  • Comment number 37.


    An excellent blog, as usual. It is refreshing to see an analysis which steps outside the Westminster goldfish bowl and looks at what is happening in the real world. That real world is looking pretty grim - and pretty angry - even at this comparatively early stage in the economic crunch.

    Not even in government is there a unanimous view of the severity of the outlook - is this the R word or the D word?; and is Ed right, or Alistair? So I will offer my own assessment, and pose a question.

    My assessment is that we are on the brink of a huge slump, and quite possibly of a domestic economic catastrophe. My question: quite how bad is it going to get in 'the real world', and on the streets, if the economy is indeed poised to get far, far worse?

  • Comment number 38.

    Thanks for this Paul. Looking forward to the piece on Wed. Looks like Ed Balls' might have already had a sneak preview of the employment figures.

    This is really starting to look like it has the makings of something big on a 'history of nations' scale.

    If what Ed Balls said is correct, the immediate implication as pointed out by Andrew Neal on his blog is 70% male unemployment in some areas.

    Once this has crystallized, and in the absence of any external agent to focus blame on, it's difficult to even give an educated guess as to where it will all lead to. The pressure will escape somewhere, but it is hard to see where at the moment.

    The LOR dispute will I think turn out to be an interesting footnote. There simply aren't enough EU workers over here for the issue to have long-term momentum. And we are already seeing East European economic migrants moving in the opposite direction.

    At the moment the politicians are on thin ice. They tried to play on public misconceptions to pin the blame for the banking fiasco on short selling and failed.

    The TSC 'grilling' today was also bad for them. They got an unreserved apology from the bankers for the headlines. Headlines for one day, which nobody will remember tomorrow when the unemployment figures come out.

    And in 3 months, when the next set of unemployment figures come out and the bankers are civil servants, who is left to point the finger at?

    Politicians have alienated the population as much as bankers, but are far more visible, and with those holding power voted for by only 22% of the electorate.

    People remember 12 months ago they said there would be no recession, people remember no more boom and bust, best placed Western economy etc. People do not remember any strong voices of opposition to the policies that have at least contributed if not primarily caused the dire state society may soon find itself in.

    A Sunday Times piece on Lords cash for legislation, a tabloid splash on expenses, a random incident of police brutality. In 6 months time any story like this could kick things off in a very unpredictable direction.

  • Comment number 39.

    How long the anger will be contained?

    If as explain by Mr. Tilson (, the next phase of the “financial crisis” is just starting. At the view of this analysis and accuracy verified, I do understand why the banks are not lending.

  • Comment number 40.

    ''The problem is that it has to get pretty bad and pretty serious damage has had to have been done before the working man reacts. That's not a judgement, it is just the way of things.''

    I think that is even more the case now than historically.


    ''in the absence of any external agent to focus blame on, it's difficult to even give an educated guess as to where it will all lead to. The pressure will escape somewhere, but it is hard to see where at the moment''

    Combine those elements together, mix in the general fragmentation and individualism of society and it looks like huge damage will be done before a correction takes a coherent shape.

    There is no unifying focus and we have been collectively 'nannied' for so long we are not used to organised demonstration and action as we once were (remember poll tax and Greenham common).

    We will probably go much deeper into the depression than we otherwise would because of that. As a result we will probably come out the other side with something more radical than we otherwise would in terms of a new way of running things.

    The sooner the 'chattering classes' stop chattering and start focusing and lobbying the sooner a coherent focus will emerge. It is our responsibility to do that.

    I keep trying but getting a message out there seems like wading through treacle at the moment.


  • Comment number 41.

    I don't think it is just this government. It is the whole way we live our lives.

    Our democracy is run by the rich, for the rich. The value of a rich man and a rich company is more than the general public. The general public no longer matter.

    The great and the good, the politicians and the coporaptions will spin their way around to covering up anything and everything.

    Meanwhile, the rent needs paying, the kids are hungry and when they've finally gone to bed, rather than worrying about the 'lecy bill (what is the point when nothing changes, there will always be another bill for me to fret over) I might as well pull up and pass out in front of some mindnumbing show.

    Not as if anyone will tell the truth, spell it out clearly and honestly, listen to me or actually change anything. At the end of the day it won't be fixed. They'll just pretend. They are all just a bunch of Smart Alec's, the lot of them, all lining their pockets anyway.

    Might as well go for the 'chewing gum for the brain' TV then!

  • Comment number 42.

    Paul, as an ex-HBOS manager I can confirm the report on the culture at HBOS is spot-on!

  • Comment number 43.

    After 20-odd years of very active membership, together with several mates, I resigned from the Labour Party back in 2001. There has been nothing since to tempt me to return. Especially after the death of Robin Cook. Sure, I have a great affection for people like Paul Flynn and Bob Marshall-A. Even, living in Wales, for Rhodri Morgan. But I don't see the point of the Labour Party any more. It is illiberal, ridiculously pro-BIG business and a travesty of democracy. behind a smokescreen of "modernisation", Blair abolished the core values, but kept the block vote because he and Lord Voldemort were control freaks. Brown is no different. Worst of all, they got it wrong - on the economy and on Iraq. An unprincipled success might get votes, but this lot are totally washed up.

    Let the Labour Party die. Something will arise in it's place. It could even be the lib-Dems if they make uncle Vince the leader.

  • Comment number 44.


    It's fascinating to observe the increasingly surreal posturings and actions of the top-of-the-greasy-pole-folk.

    "Bags of front, chaps, and keep walking. With any luck we can tuck a few more quid away and get those directorships and Quango jobs sorted before the election. There's bugger all anyone can to do us till then".

    Serious discussion of a remedy in the context of the current political and financial regime is clearly a waste of time.

    There is nothing but more incompetence and corruption from the totally discredited gang of spivs and crooks masquerading as a government. Nor, on past showing, much different from the opposition.

    Even more depressing is the fact that there appears to be no individual or party around which a prospective alternative government might coalesce.

    And you can forget the idea of the government being forced out by mass demonstrations and civil disobedience. It's just not our style. And we're not going to stop paying taxes.

    Fortunately, a radical remedy that will not involve disorder - and would be likely to enjoy the widest possible support DOES exist.

    Constitutionally, the monarch may suspend Parliament and dismiss unsatisfactory ministers. A brief period of rule by Order in Council would enable an election in which I believe a large number of independents would stand.

  • Comment number 45.

    Paul....'praise be to you!'

    I've laid into you in the past about the reporting of the banksters/GB/FSA/BoE.....but all power to you for getting 'your hands dirty' (I didn't want to use that phrase) and getting amongst the real people ... but you [and the rest of us] know what I mean). Thank you for just getting outside of the M25!

    Stay close to the real people and you will truely feel the anger from them about the current economic situation. The extremists will thrive on the growing discontent...and no normal person will want that. A pint or two in the local pub will keep you informed.

    I was very concerned today by the speeches from Obama and Geithner today about the hard times coming in the US. I think thay are simply preparing the ground for really bad times ahead..... and Balls' remarks, re the forthcoming Depression, weren't very reassuring either. It's all getting a bit scary now.

    We are relying on you.

    Good luck!

  • Comment number 46.

    I'd recommend an article written by Matthew Lynn on Bloomberg today. I'd put him in the Paul Mason category for challenging what has been the status quo until recently.

    Anyway, his article today suggests we'll see big falls in the pay of people in banking etc (50% he estimates). He's got some interesting historical stats to back it up. He asks whether banking is to the "noughties", what the typewriter industry was to the 1980, or the horse and carriage industry of 100 years ago, or UK coal mining in the 1980s, ie suffering huge overcapacity and ripe for downsizing with the consequent impact on earnings.

    If he's right, and I suspect he certainly isn't too far wrong, then it has big implications for the UK, in particular the government's tax take. It would be interesting to get the Treasury view on this. My rough calcs suggest a 2.5-3% drop in tax receipts in perpetuity resulting from the decline of the UK's biggest industry. That's a lot of public sector cuts.

    Full article is at:

    Then click on "Bankers Are About to Take a 50 Percent Pay Cut"

  • Comment number 47.

    What a pleasant surprise to see a BBC journalist attempting to talk to ordinary folk!

    Hmm talking to a taxi driver...Reminds me of his BBC colleagues in the 80's covering the Solidarity movement and filing their reports. Firstly a visit to the communist party headquarters to get the official view, then a visit to Gdansk to talk to the opposition, and finally a quick taxi ride to get the view of the man in the street.

    The taxi driver as man of the people! Only a journalist would even listen to what a taxi driver had to say!

    One other thing. Things in Stoke are indeed extremely grim. Like many parts of forgotten Britain it did not greatly benefit from the so called boom years and was still shedding jobs at an alarming rate whilst in the more fortunate areas the privileged middle classes and cynical opportunity hoarders prospered - and this in a city described as the only city in the UK with a rural wage economy. However there are only 9 BNP councillors in Stoke and not 29 as Paul states. Obviously this is nine too many but I would have thought a serious journalist would have checked his "facts" a little more carefully..... perhaps this information also came from the taxi driver!

  • Comment number 48.

    Well done for getting out of London and talking to working-class (blue-collar) people in unfashionable towns like Stoke. You are of course just doing your job well, so the fact that so many of us feel the need to thank you just shows how disconnected we all feel that different parts of the country have become.

    Many of us have been suggesting to R Peston that he should also hit the road to get some non-Fat Cat stories, but he probably never reads comments on his blog.

    Terms like 'political class', 'chattering class' etc say it all. The politics of disempowerment are being redefined and the current Masters of the Universe (political branch) are just beginning to notice. The bank CEOs will of course never notice. Their bubble is double-glazed and surrounded by a high fence!

    Politicians, always being more concerned with their self-preservation than anything else now furiously seek scapegoats and ways to blunt public anger. Hence the announcement of an Independent Inquiry into bank bonuses (a sham and smokescreen IMO, and a clear attempt to shut the public up by throwing them a scrap or two) and the current bread and circuses of the Treasury Select Committee.

    Sadly for the politicians (both Labour and Tory), events have reached a point where people are unlikely to be so easily satisfied. Memories of WMDs are fresh in our minds, as are the constant stories of MPs expense claims etc. It all adds up. Despite all the claims to the contrary, ordinary working-class folk are actually getting a worse deal now than before New Labour came to power, if that's possible. I don't know if there's much Blitz spirit around nowadays to be honest, and most people who have lost out over the past decade or so have become sullen and deeply cynical about anything to do with authority. Quite right to, as they've seen the middle class use the system to gain an even larger slice of the pie, be it access to the best schools or whatever. And the better-educated, middle class types (like me I suppose) are also increasingly cynical about politicians, banks, regulators, tax-evading corporations etc.

    As others have noted, if we look back we should now be able to see some crucial points in recent UK history where things went badly wrong. It might seem that we had survived the awfulness of Thatcherism and even gained some benefits, but the poison of 'light touch' (ie no) regulation, free market drivers, greed etc were put in place. With Labour desperate to get back into power by the mid 90s they adopted a Blairite mantra that built on Tory and US neo-con beliefs to further dismantle regulatory checks etc. It has inexorably led to where we are today.

    Cynicism, loss of trust and confidence, negativity etc will make the economic downturn worse. We need to develop a national strategy quickly and it needs to be a transparent and inclusive process, as Obama is attempting in the US.

    The first thing that needs to happen is that we the people need to see/hear some real apologies and resignations and fast.

    That needs to be followed by the govt inviting the LibDems and Tories to join them in an emergency govt of National Unity. They might refuse, but it needs to be honestly attempted. If a GNU can't be formed then a GE should take place this spring.

    The govt (resulting from a GE or GNU deal) then needs to roll out a national debate to inform a Nat'l Economic Recovery programme for the coming 5 years.

    All this has been left rather late in the day but if we are in for 'the worst crisis in 100 years that will dominate events for the coming decade' (copyright Ed Balls) then it would seem to be essential that a mandate is gained for the extreme actions required

    Who knows, perhaps the announcement that Sir James Crosby has just resigned from the FSA is a sign of a 'green shoot' of responsibility finally being taken in high places ......... I hope so

  • Comment number 49.

    The underclass' lives are already crap - but now working class' lives are begining to follow suite and being unemployed they to now have time to read the guardian and telegraph aswell as the tabloids (while watching sky/bbc/cnn news and surfing the internet blogging and you tubing) then watch newsnight most nights becuase they can't afford to go to the pub.

    If the masses continue to get wind of the law makers benfiting from the laws that they make at the masses expense - IT WILL ALL BEGIN TO UNRAVEL!

    ? perhaps it is time for a change, a change that the elites might well lose control of. The elites have overestimated themselves and underestimated the working class' not to mention the abandoned underclass the most savvy of us all (I WOULD LIKE TO SEE A BANKER SURVIVE ON BENEFITS ON A COUNCIL ESTATE). They continue to insult intelligence with soundbytes, lies, ridicule, false hope and outright selfish greed.

    I pray and preach for peace and hold tight in my faith that things will not get as bad as one could well predict.

  • Comment number 50.

    What would happen perhaps half a million people refused to pay their mortgages?


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