It's shaming, I know. But within minutes of arriving at the dealership to deliver the car for a routine service, I had a Gillian Duffy moment.
Every one of the staff I encountered seemed to be east European – from the officious young men checking the cars in, to the smart young women at reception, to the driver of the shuttle car, and the seemingly dozens of staff milling around not doing anything in particular. I'm judging by their accent, their appearance – and, in the case of the forecourt attendants and the shuttle driver – by their distinctly shaky command of the English language.
As Gillian Duffy put it: "All these eastern Europeans what are coming in – where are they flocking from?" Well, I know very well where they are "flocking from" – as, probably, did she. I also know that this part of west London has a very long established Polish population, so it's natural that newcomers should gravitate there to find work. "Na Ealingu" – in answer to the question "Where do you live?" – was one of the first phrases I learnt long ago on an introductory course in Polish.
My question at the car dealership was less "Where from?" or even "Why?" but what would I think if I was a local school-leaver finding it hard to get a job. Especially what might I think if I was black or brown, seeing all these fit, tall and mostly blond foreigners being paid to do something or other indefinable just over that wall? I suppose, if I was enterprising, I might venture in and ask about a job, and just maybe someone would take a chance. Or they might ask for a CV and some qualification I didn't have, and send me on my way. Or they might, and I only speculate, refer me to the agency that supplies their staff, on terms designed to match the employer's fluctuating fortunes.
But is that a good enough explanation? Why is a major car dealer recruiting dozens of young workers who were mostly not educated in Britain? The only obvious natives, generally older, are in sales and supervisory roles. And this at a time when unemployment (though not claimants) is rising, and when, acccording to the IPPR think-tank this week, there has been a 50 per cent rise in "under-employment" – those reluctantly working in temporary or part-time jobs.
EU citizens have every right to come here, to live and to work, and mobility is an excellent thing. But to deny there is an effect on the local economy, and specifically on the jobs market, seems to fly in the face of facts. That effect may be beneficial: the car dealership may be employing many more people than it would if the jobs had to be permanent and better paid (a reason why our national productivity figures are so poor). But are there no local people up to tackling such service and driving jobs? And does competence in English count for nothing? The shuttle driver took me to a much further Tube station than I had named – which has a cost to the company in time and fuel, but not one that apparently detains it. I may be wrong. Perhaps there is a shortage of willing workers in west London. But I fear that some of them have no choice but to look wistfully, perhaps angrily, over that wall.
Taking 'Enron' to the US was asking for trouble
Despite all the enthusiasm of the London critics, I regret to say I gave the stage hit, Enron, a miss. Maybe I misjudged it, but I am allergic to British actors trying – and mostly failing – to imitate an American accent. When we're supposed to be in the American South it only gets worse. For this – to some, maybe trifling – reason, most Tennessee Williams is blighted for me here. So I wasn't altogether surprised that Enron flopped so spectacularly on Broadway. More surprising, in fact, was the confidence of promoters that the play's success here would be replicated in New York, and the condescending tone of many British post-mortems, according to which the failure only confirmed Broadway's built-in hostility to truly iconoclastic theatre.
All right, so the message from Enron might be universal; but the real Enron drama was a very American tale of financial rise, over-reach and fall. In the light of what happened next, of course, it seemed globally prophetic. But that's our take. Look at it the other way round. How do you think the West End would receive MPs' Expenses, The Musical, produced in an all-American register, with everyone looking as though they had just stepped out of Primary Colours, and an overlay of simplistic American moralism? I'm not sure London critics, or theatre-goers, for that matter, would be so keen.
We have 24-hour TV news. Why not radio?
With the latest figures showing radio-listening at record levels, let me scatter a few bouquets. First, to whoever it was at BBC Radio 4 (the departing Mark Damazer, perhaps?) who had the nous to keep the Today programme on the air until 9.45am the day after the election. And to the same channel's Broadcasting House on Sunday (a programme whose confused tone and laddish approach I generally detest) for producing a nigh-serious compendium on the stalemate.
But the days of unforeseen constitutional mayhem also identified a black hole in our star-studded broadcasting firmament. We have plenty of 24 hour news television – BBC, Sky and CNN are all available on Freeview – but no radio equivalent. Nothing like, say, France Info. Television requires you to watch. And I don't know about you, but however compulsively you followed events from the close of polls on Thursday night to this Wednesday's Dave and Nick press conference, you probably had a few other things to do.
The rolling news gap was particularly glaring over the weekend, when Radio 5 stuck to every dot and comma of its sports schedule. So a third bouquet for LBC that offered Londoners news as it happened. For the licence-funded national broadcaster, on the other hand, it seemed, the progress of coalition talks had to wait.Reuse content