Last week, the number of people out of work passed two million for the first time in 12 years, with workers in commercial businesses losing their jobs at the shocking rate of more than 20,000 a week. With no foreseeable end to the gloom, our recession is predicted to last longer than any other country's within the G20 group. And how did the British people take these shocking figures last Wednesday? We settled down on our sofas to watch Orangutan Diary on BBC2, Nature's Great Events on BBC1 or Grand Designs on Channel 4. There's nothing like opting for a spot of mindless escapism when the shit hits the fan, is there?
I am astonished that no one has taken to the streets to protest at the waves of unemployment hitting the Government's core voters – the middle classes. With the crisis in the construction industry and building at a standstill, it's not just labourers, bricklayers and plumbers who are feeling the crunch. Surveyors, architects, construction managers and town planners are all signing on for benefits. So are bosses of small businesses who can't get credit from their banks. So are the shop managers and salespeople whose stores have gone bust through no fault of theirs. And yet in public no one vents their anger at the Government.
Even in Russia, around a thousand people dared to protest in Vladivostok last weekend, where the recession is causing massive job losses. In France, the government's handling of the economy sparked a general strike of more than two million people in January, when 300,000 protesters marched in Paris and 200,000 in Marseille. Last Thursday, another day of strikes, saw nearly three million people participating. There were demonstrations in all the major cities – around 85,000 marched in Paris. Opinion polls show that three-quarters of the public are worried about their future.
So, why the resounding silence this side of the Channel? It's not as if we haven't taken to the streets in the past when a single issue has galvanised us out of our armchairs.
The last time was in March 1990, when up to 200,000 people marched against the poll tax (a tax only 2 per cent of us ever supported) in a demonstration in London's West End that ended in violence and with hundreds of arrests. Eight months later, Maggie Thatcher was no longer in office, and her successor, John Major, introduced the council tax, based on the value of property. Back in the Sixties, the anti-war movement had huge support among the young and the left wing – I took part in the anti-Vietnam War demonstration of 17 March 1968, when 15,000 people marched on the US Embassy in London and there were more than 200 arrests.
We've just passed the 25th anniversary of the miners' strike that brought thousands of union members on to the streets, although it divided the country because Arthur Scargill refused to hold a ballot.
In recent years, we've seen anti-capitalism protests and May Day demos, although it could be argued that many of these events have been hijacked by the radical left and a motley bunch of anarchists.
In France, there's a strong tradition of marching against social injustice – and there was in this country in October 1936, when the 200 Jarrow marchers from Tyneside walked to London to draw attention to the plight of the unemployed in their area, carrying a petition signed by 12,000 people. The Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, said he was too busy to see them, and they were given £1 each for the train home.
Gordon Brown is cleverly increasing the number of public sector workers – more than 50,000 extra over the past nine months, creating a two-tier Britain. Public workers have protected jobs and pensions, while others face an unknown future. Brown might think he's buying votes, but these jobs solve nothing: they come at a price we will all have to bear. How long will it be before, like Maggie, he faces discontent on the streets?
Show-off: Car obsession is an own goal for Gerrard
As the latest figures show that sales of new cars have slumped by 59 per cent over the past year, one casualty of the crisis facing the industry has been the axing of the British International Motor Show – due to be held in London in 2010. It was thought inappropriate when many manufacturers are laying off workers or closing production lines for extended periods. I've never understood the point of events like this – where grown men and boys shuffle past stands and leer at high-performance sports cars, not to mention the scantily-clad lovelies employed by manufacturers to act as hostesses and serve canapés and cocktails to retailers and potential customers. We might not be able to afford a new car, but problems like that don't affect the vacuous world of Premier League football players. They collect pricey gas-guzzling vehicles like WAGs accumulate handbags: £120,000-a-week Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard buys a new Range Rover every year (to go with his Bentley, Aston Martin and Ferrari) and sells his old one on the internet. If you had logged on to autotrader.co.uk last week, the latest cast-off could have been yours for just £52,900. It even had Gerrard's shirt number embroidered into the armrests. How vulgar. I know footballers aren't supposed to be role models, but it would have been nice if he'd sold the car for a charity helping needy locals in the Liverpool area, where unemployment is higher than the national average. Mind you, his wife Alex Curran sets a great example of how to cope with the recession – she only goes to the hairdresser twice a week now, and even files her own nails.
A toast to all mothers. In water
Mother's Day is just an opportunity for retailers to make us feel guilty, in my opinion – a chance for card retailers and florists to drum up business. Today there is a much more significant event – Water Day. There are more than 100 brands of bottled water available in the UK, in spite of perfectly decent water being available from a tap, and yet one in eight people worldwide don't have access to clean water at all. The charity WaterAid commissioned a survey showing that 63 per cent of us prefer to drink tap water when we eat out – meaning the message about unnecessary plastic bottles is getting through. The next step is to give the cash you would have spent on a Mother's Day gift to projects helping people less fortunate than ourselves to store and purify water in the Third World.
Fritzl's warped idea of family life
Josef Fritzl will serve his life sentence in a purpose-built psychiatric prison in Vienna, where he will share a cell, but have access to a computer, a television, a music centre and can even keep a pet. He'll have the chance to make his own tea and coffee and can attend language classes. His lawyer said: "It's not like a hotel, but he would like a prison close to home because it may be that relatives will go to see him." Really? His wife Rosemarie is divorcing him – I doubt she'll be queuing for a visitor's pass.
His daughter Elisabeth, whom he incarcerated in a cellar and raped more than 3,000 times, is facing a lifetime of therapy. I doubt she'll want to meet. The six surviving children are all having varying degrees of difficulty adjusting to their freedom, and face a struggle to preserve their privacy. So, on balance, I don't think Herr Fritzl should hold his breath for a family visit.Reuse content