Visiting the UK02 April 2013
A few months ago I finally left the UK, but family circumstances required me to return. One benefit of this, if it can be called that, is that it gives me a visitor's perspective of the country. On the whole what I see does not fill me with much confidence. In the time I was abroad three retail chains (Jessops, Blockbuster Video, and Republic) have gone bust, the UK lost its AAA credit rating and the value of the pound sterling has gone down 8%. The overriding feeling of the place is a resignation to falling behind, with underlying structural issues remaining unaddressed. When I look at the people who are supposed to fix these problems, all I see is what at best can be called treating symptoms rather than causes, and at worst is counter-productive scape-goating. A few days ago I wrote about my return to Bristol, and here I give a more general overview of where the UK as a whole is going wrong.
Decline of retailWalking around a shopping mall, one thing was apparent: the trend of renting out small spaces in the middle of the concourse rather than shop units has been much expanded. It is mirrored by the tends I have in some shops of stocking side-lines (usually snacks & sweets) that are far removed from the store's core product range. In many cases it makes the place feel too cluttered, to the extent that it feels blatantly obvious that someone is trying to wring the last bit of value out of the place.
At the same time, some stores have been continually cutting back on stock, both on terms of quantity and range. The latter is most noticeable with books & DVDs, where it has gone to the extent that it is actually a waste of time going to a shop for anything that is not a top-ten recent release. This approach is a road to nowhere, as ultimately it erodes the underlying customer bases. I have to give a special mention to Maplin, as they seem to be one of the few specialist stores that has not been compromising what it stocks in-store.
One thing that stuck right in my mind when trying to buy a pen is that security measures are actually getting very intrusive. The product racks were padlocked, so I had to call a member of staff just to be able to put one into my basket. Security guards also seem to be much more prevalent. Given how many fire-sale prices I was seeing around (half price almost seems passé) my only guess is that petty theft is through the roof.
Welcome to 1984The only police I saw was a group of three armed police at Euston station, and by armed they were carrying sub-machineguns. This is intimidation of the public, pure and simple. Ever since yet another chief of police has been fired for serious misconduct, the police need to pull their act together before the image of them as overlords gets entrenched. No wonder that in some places de-facto Sharia Law has taken over.
If UK politicians actually cared about the safety of its citizens, they would have followed intelligence service advice about not invading Iraq. And after mostly de-fusing Northern Ireland Tony Bliar should have properly understood terrorist thinking by this point. Now that the military-industrial complex has got its fingers in the pie and that authorities such as councils have got the taste for abusing the powers, UK citizens are are landed with having to live under an expensive and overbearing system.
Government desperate for cashParking fees, fines for throwing stuff out on the wrong day, fines for dropping money, visa fees, congestion charging, insurance costs, HMRC looking for unpaid tax (to be fair, their review of my 2003 tax records resulted in a refund), and so on. In its desperation all levels of government are scratching around for extra cash, and guess who gets the scratches. David Cameron in India talking about the UK being open for business? Complete BS. It is bolted shut with a board nailed across the entrance, as shown by the recent 25% increase in visa renewal fees. Renewing a Tier-1 visa now costs £3,000.
Incompetence meets authoritarianismUniversal in-you-face threats of fines from organisations that themselves have a track record on screwing things up badly. Bristol city council really topped the cake by sending me both a council tax back-payment demand, and a council tax repayment cheque. What is frightening about 1980's dystopian films such as Brazil is that they do not seem that far from the UK's current trajectory. The UK has all the legislation for a police state, and when cut-backs really start to kick in, it is going to start seriously acting like one as well.
UK authorities seem to think it is acceptable to act in a generally unpleasant and threatening manner even to people who have not actually done anything wrong, with a certain policeman closing Holloway tube station "because we can" (resulting in me missing a connecting train and having to blow £110 on taxis) being a personal example. And this attitude is infecting the general population - in Horfield I could tell the bloke was having a domestic with his other half, as I was on the other side of the main road and could hear everything clearly.