I was asked to film a polemic for the This Week programme to go on the BBC tonight but it has been subsequently dropped because of Boris Johnson’s announcement that he will now not stand for PM. Even though it does have some of the content from the EU referendum blog that we published last Sunday we think it’s worth publishing as it does build on things somewhat. Anyhow here’s the transcript. Please excuse the grammar and unfinished bits. I wrote it to provide guidance and prompts for my pieces to camera rather than as an exact “script.”
Like many, a week on from the EU referendum vote I am still trying to make sense of what has happened. The pain is still acute so life experience tells me that this is much more serious than anything else I have experienced in my life.
From the sixties onwards we have seen British creativity through music, youth culture, art, film, TV and design gradually build a new identity for Britain, thankfully becoming more important in the eyes of new generations than royalty, pomp and circumstance. The creative industries which I am proud to be part of has helped Britain be regarded as an outward thinking, modern, creative, progressive and diverse place. This has been amazing for inward investment and visitor numbers. The UK has just voted itself backwards and the brand damage will have far reaching repercussions. We may just be the most laughed at and hated nation now, taking over that mantle from a Trump-infused America.
When 17 million or so vote for something than there has to be a myriad of reasons. But one screams out to me more than any small pockets of racism or larger pockets of jingoism – inequality, and a resulting decline life chances that can result in a sense of hopelessness and in this case a protest vote. Martin Luther King said: “A riot is the language of the unheard”. We have just witnessed a form of a “riot of the unheard.”
When my wife and business partner Gerardine and I came to London as teenagers at the end of the 70s everything seemed possible. Gerardine had left school at 15 to get an office job to earn money to buy records and buy fabric to make clothes to go clubbing in. I was planning to be the first in my family to go to University after being given a leg up by Blackburn Council who had paid for me to go to the local grammar school because of my family’s poor financial status and my educational performance.
We were part of an optimistic generation secure in the knowledge that as long as you worked hard then the likelihood was that you would do better than your parents and make them proud.
Our home towns of Burnley and Blackburn were exciting vibrant places. We could go out and watch David Bowie, the Sex Pistols and every cool band under the sun. Our town centres were full of cool clubs (Gerardine and I met at one of the seminal Northern Soul nights in Burnley).
There were jobs.
For Gerardine’s Dad Ken it was making snooker tables at Riley’s in Padiham. For Gerardine’s Mum Pat it was car parts, for her eldest sister it was the textile industry. For my Mum’s husband it was working in an ICI plastics factory in Blackburn. The textile industry was still strong and we were welcoming Asian textile experts into the town. But Gerardine and I had a bit of wanderlust and had heard that in “that there London” there were more clubs to dance in and more bands to see.
The story of us starting on Camden Market for a rent of £6 a day and at Kensington Market for £10 a week has been well documented. There we few barriers to anyone having a go, the streets were paved with gold if you were prepared to roll your sleeves up. We created our first brand Red or Dead without a bank or parental support opening shops across the UK in secondary locations at rents of £50 or so a week.
It was a blast, but also serious in that we created employment for hundreds of young people.
It was the same for so many of our contemporaries, having an idea, starting businesses without having to have financial support and decent old Victorian and Edwardian terraced homes for £25,000.
But in the last three decades things have changed. Many towns outside of the major cities have not experienced growth and prosperity, many have gone into decline. The clubs and bars have closed; the big stars don’t visit these towns anymore.
Inequality has hit so hard that for many that optimism that Gerardine, I and most of our contemporaries grew up with has been replaced with hopelessness.
The income of the top 1% of the UK is over £270,000 a year, the bottom 90% under £26,500. The average wage of a FTS 100 CEO is over £4 million. CEOs get 300 times the wages of their lower ranked staff. In the late 70s it was 20 to 30 times.
There is nothing wrong with being rewarded for success and job creation but there is a balance and do people really need super yachts and the like?
The city “Fat Cat” stories, the stories of Philip Green treating his then 13 year old son to a £5 million pound party featuring Beyonce and then celebrating his own birthday by flying guests to an island and paying vast sums for Rod Stewart and Tom Jones to perform, sticks in the throat of many.
It hurts people’s self-worth when business owners that have their staff on debilitating temporary contracts and fine their staff for being 15 minutes late pay the footballers at the football clubs they own £100,000 a week.
Only last week, news broke of one of Britain’s major house builders paying its senior executives £600 million in bonuses in one year whilst we have an acute housing crisis in the country.
Where is the evidence of the trickle down of wealth that many politicians and economists believe happens?
Offshore tax havens and tax avoidance by those that can afford to give back are stories that have never been far away from headline news over the past few years.
As a business owner, in the past I have fallen into the trap of following accountant’s advice to legally reduce tax bills. But I recognised that even legal tax reduction can be morally wrong.
The UK is hovering around the second most unequal country in the developed world, second only to the US (and way behind most of the EU) and the time bomb has just gone off. Since 1977 the equality gap has got wider at just about the same pace. No government has been able to arrest something that, by human nature is bound to cause unease, jealousy and in the case of what we have just witnesses nihilism.
My hunch is that enough people have used last week’s vote to voice their disillusionment about their “lot” rather than use their vote to consider the implications of an EU exit, and that this is what has pushed the country into a very dangerous place.
It is probably no surprise that people who are being left behind or left looking from afar at a capital city that just appears to be immune to any of their day to day problems and is a place where all this unfairness takes place, start to grasp at straws and start to believe that migration is to blame.
Sadly what has just happened threatens to hurt Generation Less that is already empirically worse off than recent generations. When youth unemployment is soaring, when a university education doesn’t “pay” as it used to do, when the chances of owning a home before you are 40 are slim and when affordable rental housing is in such short supply this vote that will surely make things worse must be like a kick in the teeth to the young generation. No wonder we hear of so much inter-generational discord in families since last week’s vote.
It is very easy for many of us who are secure and can’t get really hurt by whatever economic woes come this countries way, to sit back. But if we are to do what all human beings should aim to do and leave this place a better place for the next generation then we can’t just sit back, let the inequalities continue and see what happens next.
And we must start by making sure that the madness of the last week doesn’t isolate us from many of the EU countries that are handing inequality better than us.