Simon English: Is it really all Going South? Please try to cheer up a bit, chaps
Outlook Larry Elliott and Dan Atkinson are good blokes and terrific journalists. Their latest joint venture, Going South*, is as punchy and readable as close watchers of their efforts have come to expect. But there comes a point, by about page six actually, where the reader is inclined to say this: cheer up chaps, it might never happen.
Their starting belief is that the British economy is totally and utterly ruined. That everything is going to the dogs, apart from the things that already have. That the past was better. Way better. The sun shone every day back in 1976. Every day.
Britain's economy is tumbling down the league, we are Everton or Aston Villa at best (is that so awful?). And the book assumes that if other economies are doing well, we must do badly.
Surely it is possible that the world will get richer, as it has done since, like, forever, but that developing economies (the clue is in the name) may do so faster than us. Why would this be a disaster?
It's "fortunate", the authors concede, that the UK has its own currency and sets its own interest rates. Except wait, no, that's not fortune at all. That's intentional policy-setting. That the idiots in charge may have made the odd good call is not a possibility they entertain.
Even good things about the UK economy are deemed to be an accident. "There are sectors of the global economy, pharmaceuticals and aerospace in particular, where Britain more than holds its own," they concede.
The BBC, the army and some universities are ok too, somehow. London is a world-class city. But it won't last.
And we are useless at sport, being "routinely upstaged" in cricket, rugby and tennis. Erm, the cricket team is the best in the world actually chaps.
We can't afford anything, our pensions are worthless. And food is expensive. (It depends what and where you eat chaps.)
At times, these otherwise charming fellows sound like grumpy old men who are made unhappy on the occasions when they are forced to leave their own houses. There are too many people on the streets, apparently, trying to sell you phone cards and give you charity leaflets.
"The pavements are clear in well-ordered first world cities," they moan. The pavements are clear in repressed police states too, and sometimes it seems that's where they would prefer to live. Britain is just too unruly.
None of this grumpiness should prevent you from buying the book. They've an eye for a gag and for a telling number.
In 1980, they note, the chief executive of Barclays was paid £87,000 a year. In 2010 he got £4.3m.
Plainly, they are correct that this can't be right. On the other hand, we are all better off now than we were in 1980. And when Mr Elliott and Mr Atkinson finally, sadly, retire, we all will be again.
* 'Going South, Why Britain Will Have a Third World Economy by 2014'
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