Here is the news (*Spoilers* none of it is good…)

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Isn’t it terrible? I don’t know what the world’s coming to. So many awful things happening. It makes you wonder where it’s going to end.

I hear this all the time from so many people, reacting to the daily diet of news served up.

Watch the TV news, check the news websites, read the printed newspapers and you will be greeted by a relentless, unending slew of wall-to-wall tragedy, death, destruction, mayhem and misery.

There are of course terrible things that happen – and yes, we do need to be aware of the worst events and aspects of life. But when was the last time you saw more than one item of good news in amongst the daily diet of disaster?

The policy of “if it bleeds, it leads” gives a disproportionate impression of the world that we occupy. I very often hear people saying they have “given up on watching the news” or they don’t read news sites or newspapers any more. That is a dreadful state of affairs, as the incumbent power and money merchants rely on laziness and ignorance on our part to keep them in the style that they are accustomed.

Those that keep watching include a large population of viewers and readers scared stiff into staying quiet and buying more weapons, home security – and most critically – clinging to the ones that scared them in the first place. First you frighten them, then you take their money by providing the kit and tools they believe will keep them safe. Brilliant.

Of course if you suggest that the news served up is unbalanced, the media types respond automatically with the hysterical claim that you are somehow advocating a “Soviet style censored and good news-only agenda”. Nonsense. What we’d actually appreciate is a bit of balance.

To illustrate the point, a genuine reflection of reality in a news bulletin would sound something like this:

“Good evening, here is the news. Today in Nottingham, nothing happened. Hundreds of thousands of people went about their business and nothing bad occurred. The same was true in Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh and 3,278 towns and cities around the country. In Cornwall, 99.9987% of the population also had an uneventful day, getting up, having breakfast, going to work and coming home to watch the telly. One person was badly injured in a mugging incident which left them in hospital. If you check the other news channels, that last story is the only one they will be covering…”

Of course, nobody would watch it. Because it’s boring. But that’s largely what day-to-day reality is like. Nothing much out of the ordinary happens. What did you do last Tuesday? Unless you had a special occasion, you probably can’t remember. Neither can I.

So – do we let this happen? Do we actively feed the monster of ever-more salacious bad news? Or are we victims of a closed shop of negative news cartels? It could be argued that if we didn’t watch, read or buy the media output then they’d have to change. But in reality how feasible is that?

In theory the internet should bring ever-more diverse means by which to keep ourselves informed. Unfortunately, that stretches both ways. Any idiot with an agenda can set up and propagate their own warped view of the world. And who’s got the time or inclination to sift through to find out what is true? Far easier to just flick on the news or check the news apps.

I listen to BBC Radio 4. The perception that R4 remains an objective source of information has been a little shaky, particularly during the Brexit timeline. Interestingly, I’ve read comments accusing the BBC of being biased in both directions. This period has also brought out the worst in bias from the British broadsheet newspapers too. Whereas the “quality press” of the Times, Telegraph and Guardian have never hidden their colours too deeply, the sense of balance has historically at least been nodded at. I don’t get that sense any more.

So what are we to do? Listen to Morrissey, who advises us to “Stop watching the news, because the news contrives to frighten you…’. That feels like giving up. It feels like a surrender of our rights to be kept informed.

I do believe we have an active part to play in this. If the height of our aspiration is to be titivated by Love Island and to be enthralled by X Factor or Britain’s Got Talent, then quite frankly we deserve everything we get. I’m not saying that people shouldn’t watch these shows. They bring fun, entertainment and comfort to millions. I’m saying that we shouldn’t only watch these shows.

Regular readers will know that I’m an optimist. And there are grounds for optimism. Look at Blue Planet 2. The fact that the BBC continues to put money into programming of this nature is fantastic. And the fact that an entire country was galvanised into action over plastic waste was just brilliant.

What we need are those subversive positivity merchants. The ones who infiltrate the cartels to bring the occasions victory of good news. Or bring the angle that something can be done. The kind of things you see in local newspapers, local news channels – before the more talented reporters get whisked off to the global outlets and have that positivity knocked out of them.

What can we directly do? Respond when we see it. Flood the Facebook pages, Twitter feeds and websites with appreciative noises to let them know we read the good stuff, we like the good stuff; we want to see more of the good stuff.

In the meantime I’m off to read the news reports about my beloved Southend Utd’s third defeat in the first three league games of the season. I’m afraid nobody can put much of a positive spin on that one…

Your servant

MC

My passion for walking

Some of my fondest memories as a child growing up in Essex were the family outings on foot. That’s what Sundays were for. Grandparents, uncles and aunts and cousins, we’d all trek off into the woods, along the seafront or round the country lanes. We’d run on ahead, hide and jump out from the hedges, kick stones and show off how high we could leap, how strong we were climbing a tree. Looking back I wonder whether they did it to wear us kids out so we’d be quiet for the evening!

When I moved away, I kept with me that sense of freedom and curiosity that walking brings. It’s the only way to see both the big cities and the local sights wherever you are in the world. Jetting in and out, coach trips and organised tours are fine, but I’ll do that when my legs no longer carry me everywhere.

Many weekends I’d spend pounding the streets of London. Walking from park to park, then as the sun faded, enjoying the thrilling sights, smells and sounds of the nightscape. Getting off the Tube at Tower Hill then walking all along the Embankment through Westminster, up through Leicester Square and finishing at Euston. Wonderful. For contrast, getting right out of the city to really stretch my legs along the thunderous Atlantic coastline of Cornwall, feeling the salty air on my face. It’s those strenuous, bracing moments that you really feel that you are alive. Living in the moment. Stopping. Listening. Breathing in deeply and taking the time to look and relish the views.

When I had the fortune to move aboard, I kept this good habit going. My first weekend in Bangkok found me walking for 6 hours across the city (moving faster than the traffic in some quarters). A friendly construction worker saw me and cheerily offered his flask of ice cold water, seeing me caked in sweat and looking a little bedraggled.

As the months went by, I spent many happy days exploring the countryside outside of the cities. New friends, delighted that I took such an interest in their country happily took me through the fields, mountains and tiny villages. The magnificent Buddhist temples amid the dusty scrublands were grand rewards for our efforts. The sense that I was probably one of only a handful of foreigners that had sat with the families along the trail was very special.

So when it came to escaping the rat race once again back in the noughties for an early mid-life adventure, of course I went on foot. Walking from London to Moscow as part 1 would have been more than enough for most. My timing could have been better. The chilly days and nights of October/November through England, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany gave way to the frozen paths of Poland in December. What was I thinking? As ever though, the worst of conditions afforded me the best of humanity. As the kindness of strangers – inviting me into their homes, giving respite and care helped me along the way to the Kremlin. Dangerous? Yes it can be. Bu there are more good than bad people in this world.

Australia brought the end to the language barrier. Walking by now more than 25 miles per day, I was embraced by the great Aussie spirit of someone ‘having a go’. Even though they are a grand sporting nation that loves to win, the Australians I met were only too happy to support this crazy Pom taking a stroll across their south east territory. The days were dry, the landscape equally so. The long miles I spent walking the lonely highways afforded me spectacular views – and suspiciously lively grass as goodness-knows-what creatures hissed and scrambled around my ankles.

Walking all the way across the United States (LA to New York) was the biggest slice of the walk. And brought me new friends for life as well as some of the most hair raising moments. Walking along the side of the super highways with monster trucks roaring along was pretty scary, but gave the perspective of the vastness of the country. And the contrast of its living standards. You don’t get that sense from 30,000 feet in the air. As I found in the Far East, it’s always the poorest homes that provide the warmest welcomes. People seeing me on TV wanted photos with me, invited me into their homes and were genuinely enthusiastic to support me. I slept on a few couches and got ferried around from start/end positions along the way.

Walking therefore to me is a spiritual experience, as well as good exercise. It gives you time to think. It expends energy that can be either keep you awake or be used to fuel more negative thoughts. When you are putting on foot in front of the other, looking ahead and even the gentlest pace to the strident – it’s using your whole body and is great for the mind and soul. Most of my walks have been alone – and I do enjoy the solitude of a long walk alone. But walking with someone who shares your passion for adventure is great! Best of all would be a dog! But that’s rarely practical on the kind of walks I do.

I was joined by my Dad over the years for the big charity walks. He walked with me from Salisbury to London at the tail end of the global stroll, covering 200 miles with me at the age of 77. I think it’s from him that I inherited the appreciation of walking for pleasure and fulfilment.

More recently I’ve been walking with my dear friend and vlogging partner in crime Lucas. We walked from Prague to Berlin (200+ miles) last year and are about to set off on a 700-mile trek from Berlin to London.

55 days out on the open roads of Europe. And whilst there will once again be a sense of mission about it, I’ll be sure as always to enjoy the sheer joy of simply exploring new places, one step at a time.

(You can follow this new adventure at http://www.MarkandLucas.com)

Your servant,

MC

Boris – The hour has come…

It is entirely appropriate that Boris Johnson is now the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. There is a certain inevitability, an inexorable landing, a completely logical conclusion to the sequence of events that have unfolded across the geo-political landscape over recent years.

The homogenous, identikit political actors from a deeply ‘central’ casting ensured a somnambulistic drift through the late 90s and into the noughties. Blair, Cameron, Clegg, Chirac, Kohl, Merkel, Clinton, Bush (yes, even) had ushered a series of uninspiring western managers of moderate expectation onto and off from the stage.

So what went wrong? Well, the global financial crisis, that’s what. Suddenly those financial gurus (masters of the universe indeed) were exposed as frauds, liars and charlatans.

The moment was there for the political masters, the courts, the regulators to punish and make them pay. To defend the rights of the masses who were innocent victims of the crimes and excesses of the wide boys and chancers.

So what did they do? They punished the masses. They decided the weight of the recovery must be borne by the masses. No pay rises. No promotions. It was up to the working and middle classes to bail out the criminals and negligent financial institutions. “We’re all in this together”, my arse.

Some of that may have been bearable. IF we’d known that these duplicitous liars had faced the full force of the law for what they’d done. The shameful absence of prosecutions and lack of jail time for the guilty ones created a discontent and mistrust that has festered away ever since.

Le Pen, Farage, Corbyn, Wilders, Orban, Salvini, Kurst, The True Finns, Alternative fur Deutschland,  the Vox Party – all the fringe, peripheral outsiders were now aware of the opportunity.

The complete failure of the complacent leaders to act appropriately to the outrage felt by their voters, drove them away. Taken for granted. Ignored. Downtrodden. More work for less reward. And told to be grateful to have a job and not to complain.

This coincided with the rampant take-over of the global economy by the corporate giants, who by and large run the world these days. Quaking presidents and prime ministers daren’t risk disfavour by applying fair taxation. They’ll just decamp to a more favourable location.

So it is any wonder that we feel dispossessed? And that rumbling anger that can’t seem to find a vent through the ballot box or switching jobs?

That sequence of events referred to earlier unfolded:

  • 2008 Boris Johnson was inexplicably elected Mayor of London. Maverick ringmaster of irrepressible optimism was enough this time around. And again in 2012
  • 2010 The ‘New’ Labour project was dead. They were ejected from office, but we didn’t trust the Tories enough to let them back in, so the Liberal Democrats found themselves back in government after more than a century
  • 2014 UKIP won the European Elections. Two firm fingers up at the ever-complacent European Union, as well as the British political class
  • 2015 Cameron promised an In/Out Referendum to neutralise the UKIP threat and killed the LibDems to get his majority
  • 2016 We had that referendum. And the masses delivered a shock to the world. Yes, we would actually like to leave, thanks for asking. Bye Cameron, hello Theresa May
  • 2016 Donald Trump delivers an even bigger shock – the American people decide more of the same is not what they want

Since then, the lamentable Brexit surrender by the May government left us exhausted, bored, frustrated and humiliated. Hers was not a tragic departure from Downing Street.

So we arrive here. Boris Johnson as Prime Minister. Jeremy Corbyn as Leader of the Opposition. Nigel Farage as leader of the winners of the 2019 European elections. Be honest – who saw any of that coming ten years ago?

Boris Johnson has been praised and buried over the years by his many fans and foes. Critics have begun an onslaught to criticise his ego, his self-interest, his inconsistencies, vanity and duplicity. I have to admit I am not particularly shocked by the idea that a politician has an ego, has held different views over time and has upset some people along the way.

My own view is – give the man a chance. He has set expectations sky high. If he delivers, then even his harshest critics will need to spare a few words of acknowledgment. If he fails, he will face the exit door at the polls. As he said himself, “the buck stops here”.

It’s up to the new Prime Minister to demonstrate there is substance along with the style, that there are plans to underpin the vision and achievable milestones to match the rhetoric.

He may be similarly torpedoed by Brexit and the arithmetic of parliament. And he’ll have precious little honeymoon period. But I must admit the change of pace, tone and energy is very welcome. The turgid, depressing May premiership has been swept away in an instant.

Boris won’t thank me for the comparison, but it’s like when Tony Blair entered Downing Street after the dying days of the dismal Major years. He brought energy, a fresh approach, a young family and a real step change in public life. What happened next is another story, but the change was welcome.

Whilst we British do love a good moan, we do respond best to a message of hope and confidence. And despite our hopes being dashed so many times over the years by politicians of all shades, it is to our credit as a nation that we will always get ready to believe again and work our socks off to make things happen.

Boris – you have lifted the nation’s eyes to what could be. You have a huge responsibility to back this up with action and deeds that will set us on a better course than we have known for a very long time. I hope you succeed.

But I hope even more that you approach this monumental task in earnest.

Theresa May – sadly, nothing has changed

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I did feel a pang of sympathy for Theresa May as her voice broke at the end of her short speech outside Number 10 on Friday.

Many have commented that she saved her tears for herself, rather than Grenfell or various other poor souls affected by tragedy or misfortune. I don’t buy that. Firstly we have no idea what her personal, private reaction to those events was. Secondly if she’d been seen weeping in public frequently, they would have criticised her for that too.

She is that kind of politician. Where the Queen is often said to have never put a foot wrong, Theresa May doesn’t seem to have ever put a foot right. Whatever the opposite of the Midas touch is, she has it.

She would have been hopelessly out of her depth as Prime Minster in the best of times. To be landed with the top job in this ferocious Brexit atmosphere was like asking a Sunday soccer official to referee the World Cup final.

She made some dreadful mistakes. The general election of 2017 was the biggest. She squandered her inherited majority and set herself on the back foot for the rest of her time in office. She was secretive, negotiating over the heads of her delegated ministers and officials. She had no alternative gear, no common touch. Her sense of duty and standards would have been virtues in another age, but her attempts to plug every hole, bridge every gap and bring everyone into line were always doomed to fail.

Theresa May is not a bad person. She just wasn’t a very good prime minister. Just how well the next person shines will show how much was down to her and how much down to the job at this febrile time.

It’s also inescapable how the focus was often made on the fact that she was a woman. Great strides have been made in our society in my lifetime. And the atmosphere is certainly different since our first female prime minister was elected, 40 years ago this month.

But anyone believing that the battles over prejudice towards women, non-white or those from less privileged backgrounds are over, is delusional. Look at the front page photo and headlines comparing Theresa May’s legs with Nicola Sturgeon’s on their first official meeting. This – in 2016!

That patriarchal structure remains. The opportunities available to those of the white, middle class and upwards, male talent pool remain the most glistening cherries in the bowl. Rather like the fashionable posters proclaiming dedication to mental health and the environment, so many organisations provide window dressing with no actual content inside.

‘Positive discrimination’ ‘all women lists’ ‘selection quotas’ are still the grown-up equivalent of free school meals vouchers. Visible measures of tokenism that burn inside the ‘lucky candidates’ who get the unwanted attention of official leg-ups. Please – don’t provide ladders. Just genuinely flatten that playing field!

Anyway – back to Theresa May. She must have had the best night’s sleep for a very long time last night. And she will get to have a swansong, welcoming President Trump on his state visit (saving her successor that awkward gig) as well as the D-Day commemorations. If you begrudge her those last few moments in the final spotlight, then you show how much you truly understand the meanness of spirit she has been accused of.

She will go down as a footnote prime minister. Her odd attempt to affiliate herself with the Cameron-Osborne years which she’d previously wanted to distance herself from was an unworthy move by someone trying to carve out a better legacy.

But her tears showed how much it had meant to her. She tried and failed. And she knew that she had failed. The vicar’s daughter torn betwixt her ambition and her rectitude fell between the two stools, achieving neither. She could have pre-recorded the message and released it. But she stepped out and in a rare moment of openness let the world see there was a beating heart in the ‘Maybot’. Too little and alas, much too late.

There will be time enough to speculate about the next PM and the coming weeks promise much for the Westminster watchers. The European election results due out tonight will provide a steer for the direction of our politics generally, along with our friends on the continent.

And I’ll no doubt have one or two things to say along the way…

Your servant,

MC

[PS – my personal experience of Theresa May was actually a bright memory. She kindly sent my Dad a 90th birthday greeting last year. Of course she didn’t sit and type it herself, but it was personalised to him and hand signed. Thanks for that TM]

The Great Brexit Betrayal

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I voted to leave the European Union. To some, that will immediately identify me as nasty, narrow-minded, racist, knuckle-dragging thicko, gullible, easily-led by simple-answers-to-hard-questions, nostalgia freak and little Englander. 

I am none of those things. But hey – if lazy stereotyping is your bag, then go enjoy yourself.

Two of my nearest and dearest friends voted Remain. And we are all still near and dear friends. A couple of main reasons for this:

  1. It would be dumb to fall out with your besties over a cross in a box on a piece of paper
  2. I understand and accept they voted with consideration and sincerity of what they thought was the best thing for the future of our country. And they know and accept that I did the same.

They don’t question my liberality and I don’t question their patriotism. We had some passionate discussions at the time of the referendum. We disagreed and to a point still do, but that’s the point of exercising your democratic right and civic duty. Everyone gets an equal vote. And nobody is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ – it is the majority that carries the day.

There were several whoppers told on both sides. I don’t think anyone could claim with a straight face that it was an entirely fact-based national conversation. But that’s all in the past. The referendum was called, held and the result announced. 52/48 in favour of leaving.

The debacle that has followed over the last almost-three years is a testament to our political class. I recall a Newsthump spoof headline that Theresa May was aiming for a Brexit deal that pleased absolutely nobody. You have to feel for satirists as real life reaches beyond their wildest parody.

The ongoing conflict between both sides (and indeed splinters within each side) means the social fractures are as bitter as ever. I don’t know if this genuinely goes through the lanes, valleys and streets of the nation. Maybe it’s the media and shouty voices that continue to regurgitate the arguments and divisions, whilst great swathes of the country have moved on and are frankly bored. One of the clever types within May’s circle planted the line that ‘the British people just want us to get on with it’ in that perennial politician’s plump for the popular parlance.

As a Leave voter, the blizzard of statistics showing how remaining within the EU would have financial benefits for the foreseeable future are noted. These do not change my mind. Not many of my fellow Leave voters. Not because we are dumb. Nor that we have a deathwish for the British economy. It’s because for us, this was never simply a financial/trade decision.

This was also an emotional decision. Alan Johnson, former Labour minister and prominent Remain campaigner said, “We never had an answer for ‘Take Back Control’ – it was a powerful message”. Well put. And we can be played the financial/trade case forever – like the friends warning expectant parents about the mountainous cost of a child – and it will bounce off.

Note – ‘also’ an emotional one. Not exclusively. We know that there will be disruption. There will be stock market and currency turbulence. Why? Not because of Brexit. Because of uncertainty. Markets and currencies will always swoop and soar on the basis of uncertainty, followed by the new norm. The real world of personal, social, community and business activities will adapt, adjust, update and carry on after we leave the EU.

If the slow, firstly quiet now very loud campaign to reverse Brexit – with the complicity of a Prime Minister of such incompetence that the EU could not have asked for a better stooge – wins the day, what then?

If this happens – if the United Kingdom does not leave the EU – then what is the point in ever voting again? If there is only one acceptable result – if that pre-determined result is achieved by duplicity, mendacity and basically the vested interests riding rough-shot over the verdict of the populace – how can we have faith in our supposedly democratic process again?

It does appear that the United Kingdom has been brought to heel. Not by its masters in Brussels (for masters they are). It’s by a Vichy parliament that has been only too willing to do its bidding. And I fear that once the people realise they have been robbed of their ability to express themselves via the ballot box, other options will gain credence. I abhor violence and will only ever advocate peaceful protest. But it’s not beyond anyone’s imagination that civil unrest could follow.

I know how fiendishly difficult all this is. The Leave voices who said it would be “the easiest deal in history” were pretty wide of the mark. The concerns about the peace process on the island of Ireland are genuine and deeply held. And whilst I do believe that prosperity will come our way once outside the EU, I do not imagine this will be quick or without risk.

My wish for 2019 is that we leave the EU. As per the referendum result. And not forgetting this will be in line with the manifesto pledges of both Conservative and Labour parties in the general election of 2017.

I also wish to hear less from the sanctimonious ones that present their opinions as facts, the hysterical accusers (“Oh, so you’re happy for millions of people to lose their jobs…etc”) and the pity-smile merchants who simply don’t understand why everyone doesn’t agree with them.

I’d also like to think that people who comment will actually read this blog, before launching into keyboard warrior mode – but that might be a wish too far…

Bring on the Spring!

The death of customer service

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“The customer is always right”. How quaint. I’m not sure it was ever sincere, but it did at least point to the idea that service and product providers had an awareness of the source of their prosperity.

There are two principles that make this real:

  • The accessibility of the person giving the service – can you actually talk to them?
  • The individuality of the service provided – do they listen and respond to what you actually want?

Let’s talk about accessibility. Can you actually talk to someone? Well in these days of online 24/7 “service” there is of course no need to talk to anyone. You can find answers to most questions on our website. Which means we can employ fewer people, which cuts costs and boosts profits. As long as enough people stay with it, we’ll keep reducing the chances of ever having to actually deal with you.

OK – those pesky people that still want to talk to someone. We’ll give them a telephone number. And dozens of options. Press [1] for this, press [2] for that, press [3] for the other and press [4] for a myriad of yet more options. They actually pay people to create “decision trees” that cover almost every eventuality to send callers through to pre-recorded ‘answers’. I say almost, because even the greediest company has to leave that final option for the determined person that had held on for 20 minutes plus – to finally speak with someone.

And who do they get? Some sap thousands of miles away. Sitting with a script at a cost of 20% of their UK counterpart. It’s easy to justify in cost terms, which overrides any consideration of the customer experience, as well as passing the burden of complaints over to the offshore workers to get it in the ear.

The public sector isn’t much better. I went as usual to Charles Dickens Festival in Rochester recently. I had my change ready for the car park. This of course is because they replaced staff many years ago with machines to take your money and issue tickets. Well – they discovered that you still have to pay someone a wage to go and empty the machines. So instead, you now have to register for the app and pay online.

Fine for me, as I punched in the details. But the bewildered look on the faces of senior citizens who stood with their coins next to the three ‘out of service’ ticket machines spoke volumes. Intriguingly enough, Medway Council were still able to employ wardens to issue penalty notices…

The point is – put as much distance as you can between you and your customers. If you can, remove the accessibility altogether. Make is so hard for them to contact you, that they just give up. And if you are a sole provider of a service and they can’t go anywhere else, well you’ve got it made. As long as the numbers stack up with profit, that’s all you need.

Next – individuality of service. If accessibility has loosened the ties, then this is where customer service has been completely killed off. We are in fact, not customers. We are consumers. We are to be plugged into a churning mush of outputs that are designed to meet our lowest expectations and be grateful.

The consumer is expected to adapt their taste and wishes to what is on offer. Not what they want. One sadly silly instance I recall was watching a Burger King ad in America. A very macho voice was growling You’re the boss, You’re in charge – because you could choose whether to have onions in your burger. I felt so empowered.

The rigidity of service and products – and the accompany script for the staff to use to sell them – charts the course of decision-making to what the company wants you to buy. It is never about what you may actually want. Some might say t’was ever thus. But I’m not so sure.

I hear people nervously working in sales continually using the word ‘obviously’. Listen out next time you go to buy something. It’s a pejorative word that is designed to shut down any dissent. When they say ‘obviously’ they mean that this is not open for discussion. I will not offer any variation. I have my script and I am sticking to it. You will not win. You will take what you are offered and be grateful. Obviously.

When I call people out on this, their eyes narrow. They look at me as a blatant trouble maker. How dare I challenge their right to sell me what they want me to buy instead of what I actually want. Their training has taught them how to manage sales and ‘difficult’ customers and they become very tetchy if I do not play along. Good. I’m spending my money and I expect some individual consideration.

So – what’s to be done? Shall we lie down and accept the inevitable victory of the providers versus the brow-beaten consumers? Or shall we make a fight of it and score the occasional victory ourselves?

I am an optimist. I see hope where others often see none. Personally, I do as much business as I can with small companies. Those that know their livelihood really does depend on that person walking back through the door again. Those who know they have to fight to gain a customer and keep them. Being local helps. Both from the point of view of accessibility (see above) but also that you will knock on their door if you are not completely happy.

For some things, we have no alternative than to use the big corporates, or public service providers. That my friends is where we must fight the good fight for those occasional victories. There is a distinct joy in finding a rebel in the big chain, corporate or council who with a nod and a wink, will bend or ignore the script to give a great service.

On which note, there may be some life in customer service yet. And as a customer, I’m usually right…

[PS – I’m no Luddite. The genius of the internet and the devices that bring it to us are awesome! Like everything, it’s how you choose to use it that matters…]

Leadership Vacancy – Brexit Britain

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The United Kingdom standing at the brink. A weak prime minister no longer in control of events, trying desperately to keep cabinet, party and country together.

A maverick leader-in-waiting – popular among many, but distrusted by colleagues and with too colourful a past to be considered a statesman, let alone the nation’s next leader. His overarching ambition not at all disguised by the public bluster and populist tone. Could the nation gamble its future on this damaged, suspect character? Is this who we really should turn to in our hour of need?

I’m referring of course to the events of 1940, when the establishment decided that they could no longer prop up Neville Chamberlain. They needed a safe pair of hands to manage the decline and inevitable surrender to Nazi Germany. Lord Halifax was lined up – the rest is blood, sweat, tears, our finest hour and all that.

Is this too extreme a parallel for the modern Brexit drama? Well Theresa May is playing the hapless Chamberlain role to perfection. She has brilliantly captured his show of nonplussed oblivion to the parlous chaos exploding all around.

Boris of course fits the maverick leader-in-waiting to a ‘t’. His abortive attempt to seize the crown following Cameron’s departure does not seem to have killed his chance. In fairness, he has spent most of his public life defying political gravity, so this is not too surprising.

In these uncertain times, conventional wisdom, along with the political rule book has long been abandoned.

We are seeing perhaps a natural reaction against the homogenisation of politics in the 90s/00s where they really did look the same and sound the same.  Human nature abhors the vacuous, so the ground was ready for a polarisation. Just quite how polarised we couldn’t have foreseen.

How shall we categorise them? Well on one side we have the earnest, idealistic we-need-to-stick-together-come-what-may gang. Idealism is not a dirty word in my book, although the occasional smug, supercilious brand of liberalism is unwelcome. Keep the compassion and concern for social justice and the natural environment. Just drop the lecturing and belief that yours is the only wisdom.

On the other are those who have often felt overlooked, ignored and taken for granted. Patriotic, direct and old fashioned. Again, old fashioned is not a dirty phrase in my book, although using it to justify racism or other divisive attitudes is despicable. Pride without prejudice, a strong work ethic and conviction of self reliance is great. Just drop the lecturing and belief that yours is the only wisdom.

Orchestrating these large groups of people is a split traditional media, jostling with an unrelenting torrent of social media echo chambers. Politicians conspire and compete to alternately fan the flames or turn the tides. There is very little middle ground.

There is of course, another maverick leader waiting in the wings. A lifelong eurosceptic, who is desperate to get us out of the EU so that he can enact his agenda for social reform and industrial restructuring. Another one mistrusted by his own party, captive of his own supporters who do not share his view. Step forward, Jeremy Corbyn.

He owes his position as leader of the Labour party to an illiberal task force that has provided momentum in both leadership elections. His young supporters trust Uncle Jeremy to fight to keep them in the EU, despite his wish for the opposite. And his MPs despise him for leading a Thatcher-esque peasant’s revolt. Not to mention the millions of Labour voters demanding their vote to leave the EU be honoured.

One way or another, things will need to come to a head soon. Brexit is scheduled to happen on 29th March 2019. Is the time right for the UK to turn once again to a maverick to lead us into the next chapter of our history?

Theresa May’s fate will soon be sealed one way or another. The House of Commons will deliver its verdict on her efforts. If she should fall, the Conservative party will need to decide whether to look for another dull patsy to face off the almost inevitable general election. Or to turn with great reluctance as they did in 1940, to a genuine star – and strap themselves in for a racy ride to victory or oblivion.

Boris vs Jezza? If that’s the battle for 2019, then we’d all better strap ourselves in…