Oliver Cross: Making money for the rich is the entire purpose of life

The Treasury has pumped billions of pounds into banks like the RBS.
The Treasury has pumped billions of pounds into banks like the RBS.
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Modern business practices, eh?

This week I did a routine, one-minute transaction at my bank and the longest part of the transaction was devoted to the teller (or customer services operative, as he was probably known) telling me that I might get a phone call asking me whether I had had a positive customer experience.

Well, considering that the experience involved me parting with £900, ‘positive’ would be putting it a bit strong, but the assistant was polite and competent, which is all you can ask of a junior or middle-ranking bank employee, although you might like to ask those higher up whether they can justify their generous bonuses, which are ultimately taken from the billions of pounds the Treasury has pumped into British banking to keep it alive when, if the free market really ruled, they would have mostly gone out of business back in 2008.

I also despair of the all-conquering financial triumphalism which says that making money for the rich (sometimes described as ‘delivering shareholder value’) is the entire purpose of life.

My bank assistant, aged in his twenties, I would guess, may have to wait an awfully long time before he can hope to have a modest paid-for family home and is probably doing his best to scrimp and save.

Meanwhile, the bank’s bosses, while taking their bonuses, have set up a spying system to keep their junior staff up to scratch.

This is an odd world, where normal people are under constant suspicion but the inventors of the PPI or the Libor scams carry on as normal. And why, when there’s a fierce campaign against benefit scroungers, has no criminal action been taken against banking fraudsters?

It’s a weird business culture which regards people pulling in big bonuses as essential to the welfare of Britain, while the people trying to do nothing more than a decent job, like my bank assistant, need to be watched closely in case they fail in their duty to further enrich the very rich.

It’s an old, old story. British workers, through decades of below-inflation, or even negative, wage rises are told everything is their fault; that they need to sign-up to ever-more insecure and unpleasant employment contracts to keep their jobs because, well, that’s the way it is.

Banks, we’ve learned, can never go bust, but workers, in order to function efficiently, need to be made constantly anxious about their futures.

One of the oddest sights in the land is the Lord Mayor of London’s annual Mansion House dinner, when the top people in the financial classes dress up in elaborate black-tie costumes, eat and drink at huge expense and smirk at each other as if austerity were only for the little people.

It could be a scene from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, but it isn’t; It’s our masters (with a sprinkling of our mistresses) in full cry and not even a little abashed at the mess they’ve made of things.

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How the internet has become the modern Ouija board

RECENTLY, well shortly before Christmas, so it doesn’t seem recent at all, I met two faces from the past in a way which would have been unlikely, or possibly impossible, before the arrival of the internet.

Four people who used to share a rather squalid student house with me and had kept in touch with each other, were browsing on Google and decided that they should try and contact me, the internet being the modern Ouija board (is there anybody there? Yes, almost everybody’s there).

So it was that I remet, in a pub, Graham and Maggie, who, after sharing the house, qualified as teachers and, when I last saw them, before the reunion, had been given a roomy council maisonette in south London on the grounds that they were ‘essential workers’. This was a long time ago, remember, and I don’t know how London teachers live now.

A little before that, I went to their wedding which I can date exactly because the chief song at the after-disco was Middle of the Road’s ground-breaking 1971 number, Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep. I also remember, or maybe misremember, that I stayed overnight with Maggie’s parents, who had a small farm near Huddersfield. The toilet was outside and across a mucky cow yard but there was an ever-burning Aga (before Agas became a badge of the upper-middle class) and lots of lovely tea.

Graham and Maggie went on to very successful teaching careers, including spells in Africa, before returning to Yorkshire. This is something I might have known had Facebook, which I use in a very sloppy way, arrived 40 years ago, but it was good to catch up.

Traditional pub which remains at the heart of community

I ENJOY anomalies, me. Like Gibraltar, coelacanths, the honours system or the Grove Inn in Leeds, which shouldn’t really be there but is.

The pub, on Back Row in the shadow (literally) of the giant Bridgewater Place wind hazard, has this week changed hands but there are apparently no plans for radical changes, which will be good news for musicians and singers, real ale drinkers and people (some of them with beards) who can’t really see the point of being bang up to date.

The pub is divided into several rooms which survived the knock-through mania of the 1970s and 80s, so that finding a quiet corner to nurse your grievances in isn’t a problem. The décor could probably do with some improvement, but really, if the music, the ale and the company are good enough, nobody notices the wallpaper.

The Grove is also a centre of communal activity and if the Government really believed in the big society, it would give its staff and customers a generous subsidy.

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