Perhaps it's a longer-term effect of what are being called the "summer riots" – as though they're now a regular feature of the calendar. But I detect a slight sense that it's OK to lash out, or at least a bit more OK than it was.
Market banter can be a good indicator of a grassroots mood. I used to visit markets in Washington DC when I was based there, seeking relief from the stultifying conformity everywhere else. And at a market in south-east London last week I heard dark talk among traders of how the next generation wouldn't be able to run stalls like these for fear of theft and attack.
You could counter that it is the nature of market people to be gloomy – and they had some pretty politically incorrect ideas about where things had gone wrong. If you were shocked by Gillian Duffy's conversation with Gordon Brown, then market talk is probably not for you. Turn up your iPod and walk on by. But that doesn't necessarily mean they're not on to something.
Just about to leave, I glimpsed two men squaring up to each other and a fist flying, before a – hitherto invisible – police officer rushed in, tackled one of them and pinned him to the ground. Five more officers appeared and, with the man still on the ground, but now handcuffed, enacted a strange little ritual: one of them took out of his pocket what appeared to be a bright blue plastic bag, but turned out to be gloves. After passing them around and putting them on, the police got the man up and took him off.
At which point, the traders' non-conformist spirit returned to the fore. Several of them ran after the tackling policeman and challenged him about the degree of force used on a man who had just been "provoked" after lying, as they said, "harmlessly drunk under a bench the whole morning". Having rather assumed from the way he was apprehended that the "drunk" must have been a dangerous criminal, I found it hard not to agree with them.
But this wasn't all. The very same day, in the west London district of Fulham – where poverty gives way to conspicuous wealth within the distance of a zebra crossing – a young-ish man took the next seat on the bus and proceeded with a long phone conversation during which he talked about setting up a "flashy" website and about how "I find I'm earning far more not working". Still speaking, he tried to leave the bus by the front door and, when the driver demurred, made to hit him. His fist slammed instead against the toughened glass of the cab, and he finally left, swearing, by the correct door.
It's not only Blair who's raking it in
Tony Blair has come in for much stick recently on account of the pecuniary rewards he is reaping out of office. But it's not just Blair. Pretty much the whole of his Iraq and Afghanistan coterie are raking it in after well-timed moves to the private sector. And we're not talking risky entrepreneurship here. We're talking consultancies, directorships and salaried employment, on top of – presumably – gilt-edged pensions.
I took a look at this after listening to Sir John Scarlett (former head of MI6, now senior adviser to the investment company Morgan Stanley) discussing "Security and intelligence challenges as seen from inside and outside government". He spoke at the foreign affairs think-tank Chatham House, under its famous confidentiality rule, so I can't tell you what he said. But he's far from alone in making the move he has made. Many of his contemporaries have also caught the former public service/business gravy train.
Sir Richard Dearlove (Sir John's predecessor at MI6) became adviser to the Monitor Group private equity company as well as – more conventionally – head of a Cambridge college. Jonathan Powell (ex-Foreign Office and Tony Blair's Downing Street chief of staff), went to Morgan Stanley as senior managing director of investment banking. Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles (former ambassador in Afghanistan) is now international business development director for BAE Systems. There is no space to mention any more.
It's reasonable to argue that, with everyone living longer, there's invaluable experience here that should not go to waste. But it seems so routine now for very senior public-sector employees to take such lucrative post-retirement jobs that it might be worth asking (1) whether these opportunities should not somehow be factored into their salaries and pensions, so they are less of a cost to the public purse, and (2) whether it would not be more honest for Britain to switch to the US system, where senior people move in and out of government employment according to who is in power. And there could be a double bonus here. If government and business were better informed about each other as a matter of course, they might have less need to pay the retired luminaries to find out how the other half works.
Don't try to 'customise' those French hotels, SVP
Upsetting news from the Accor chain of mid-market French hotels. The new boss, Denis Hennequin, wants to move from a "mass-produced" to a "boutique" model. Maybe he's right that the market has graduated from boring standardisation to style geared more closely to location. But as a long-time fan, whose idea of going upmarket is a Novotel rather than an Ibis, and a Mercure is really pushing the boat out, I'm happy the way things are. I don't want too much local character. I want everything, from the hot water to the wi-fi, to work; lighting to read by and power points you can plug your phone into without moving the bed first. With decent coffee and wine and a bar where you are served courteously even if you are alone, these havens of internationalised Frenchness are exactly what you need to recover from the harsher reality of Marrakesh, Mumbai or Moscow lying beyond the front hall.Reuse content