The true cost of business at any price

Never mind the planet, there are air miles to run up and cars to drive faster. Something for the junior brides to reminisce about one day, then...

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Of all the New Year resolutions filed in newspaper columns during the first week of January by assorted savants, politicians and celebrities, by far the most depressing came courtesy of the row of commercial titans lined up by The Independent's business pages on New Year's Day. What was grim about them was their assumption that practically any stratagem is worth pursuing if it makes a profit, that short-term gain is always preferable to long-term deliberation, and that it doesn't really matter with whom you do business so long as business is done.

And so Willie Walsh, chief executive of the BA-owning International Airlines Group, wanted some new airports and the abolition of Air Passenger Duty ("This tax punishes hard-working families, destroys jobs and damages prospects for our economic recovery"). One can hardly blame Mr Walsh for voting for his party, so to speak – after all, a defence procurement manufacturer's most fervent wish is, presumably, for a war to break out somewhere. What really irked, on the other hand, was that this delight in the prospect of yet more polluted airspace was accompanied by the usual sucking up to China.

In contrast to our own timid procrastinating over another runway at Heathrow, the Chinese are investing $13bn on a new Beijing airport, with nine runways and planned capacity for 80 million passengers by 2030. It was vital, Mr Walsh insisted, that we make the visa system easier for Chinese visitors, for fear of their new-found wealth going elsewhere. A similar note was struck by John Redwood MP, who chairs Evercore Pan-Asset's capital management's investment committee. "Let's ask for a supercharged Chinese economy so the world's motor is back in gear," he enthused, while anticipating a New Year in which "the French and Germans feel the UK's pain".

Gosh, what a wonderful place China must be with its $13bn airport and its nine new runways, and how dreadful it is that we can't emulate its sturdy industrialists. Meanwhile, here are a couple of questions for messrs Walsh and Redwood. What do they think about the absence of anything resembling a democratic political system in this brave new world? What do they think about the routine suppression of human rights and the imprisonment of political activists and artists who happen not to agree with the foxy old tyrants of the Chinese politburo? False distinctions, no doubt, but faced with Mr Walsh's wide-eyed expedience, one can't help making them.


Almost as depressing as messrs Walsh and Redwood's New Year resolutions was the reaction of the motoring organisations to the spread of 20mph speed zones. According to reports, millions more motorists are facing lower speed limits and the extension of traffic-calming areas that already operate in such cities as Liverpool, Bristol and York. The zones are increasingly popular – more than 60 per cent of the population is apparently in favour of them – and especially valued in residential suburbs and near schools. But the news was all too much for Keith Peat, a former traffic policeman who acts as spokesman for the Alliance of British Drivers. According to Mr Peat, "20mph zones will be counterproductive and create more accidents. What you'll get is drivers driving to the speedometer. It is safer that drivers drive to what they're seeing outside the car and not to what the speed needle is saying."

I feel rather sorry for Mr Peat. It must be dreadfully disillusioning to know that numbers of the people you represent care less about the safety of pedestrians than their liberty to accelerate when they feel like it.

I used to think that the worst job in the world must be spokesperson for British American Tobacco, but Mr Peat's job description – defending the indefensible with a semblance of plausibility – looks as if it might be more awful still. Perhaps he would like to join me at 8 o'clock one morning on Norwich's Newmarket Road so we can watch what are presumably his members all gleefully speeding up when the traffic signs tell them to slow down as, here and there across the pedestrian crossings, schoolchildren scatter like frightened fowl.


It was a good week for old men bent on marrying young women. Pictures of the 65-year-old Rolling Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood hitching himself to the 34-year-old Sally Humphreys were all over the cover of Hello!, while from America came heartening news that the 86-year-old Playboy founder Hugh Hefner had finally exchanged vows with his 26-year-old "runaway bride", Crystal Harris, who had broken off an engagement to Mr Hefner in 2011.

You can't help feeling that each of the ladies in question is due for a fairly long widowhood, and that the generational net has been cast uncomfortably wide. Anthony Powell (born 1905) recorded in his journal the existence of an elderly aunt whose much older husband had, according to his obituaries, been "first up the ladder at Badajoz", a battle in the Peninsular War as long ago as 1812.

No doubt some time in the 2070s, Mrs Hefner will be telling admiring friends that her late husband printed the first magazine centrefolds of naked women back in 1953, but somehow it doesn't have quite the same ring.

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