Sunday, 21 December 2008

Christmas on the Credit Crunch.

The festive season is upon us again, and, if the newspaper editorials are to be believed, it is going to be a rather grim affair this year. An impression only reinforced by the ‘helpful’, in their view of things, advice on how to celebrate the season on a budget being dished out by the BBC on what feels like an hourly basis.

As the old song put it, there may be trouble ahead, quite serious trouble since unemployment levels and government borrowing have both been on the rise since the autumn.

Anyone wandering the streets of an average British city would be hard pressed though to find any specific signs of impending doom. There are no fewer houses decorated with lights to look like cut price versions of Las Vegas than there were last year, although now homeowners are more likely to switch the lights off when they go to bed rather than leave them burning all night long. Whether that is a consequence of higher electricity prices or year round lecturing on environmental issues changing public behaviour is anybody’s guess.

In the high street the shops are full although their windows are uniformly papered over with large SALE signs this isn’t, perhaps, such a gloomy time at which to be a consumer. For the first time in recorded history the great British customer is being treated like something other than a nuisance by retailers who until recently would have referred to him or her as ‘footfall’, mostly because they are desperate to have the customer’s feet fall through the door of their shop rather than their competitors.

There is a definite feeling that change is imminent, Christmas and with it everyday life from this year onwards may well be less about aggressively aspirational consumption and more about valuing the things you already have, and that may not be such a bad thing.

For all its manifest faults Britain is still a remarkable country. It is blessed with countryside of unparalleled beauty, which since the exchange rate is pricing more and more Britons out of foreign travel we might be persuaded to visit and, more importantly, value far more than we have previously. The British people have a residual stoicism about the slings and arrows thrown at them by outrageous fortune that has been masked, but not entirely erased, by the ‘where there’s blame there’s a claim’ culture that has been to the fore in recent years, as times get tougher expect it to make a comeback.

We have one other and precious thing for which we should be thankful, Britain is and will always, I hope remain, a free country. Journalists and angry men in saloon bars can call the government a pack of fools without fearing arrest, while the jury remains out as to whether Gordon Brown can revive the economy in the same way he revived his political fortunes over the past few months, but if he should prove not to be up to the job the public will be at liberty to vote him out of office, something people in far too many other nations can only dream about doing to their leaders.

The good news, and boy do we need some of that just at the moment, is that bad times like good ones do not last forever. Whatever the coming year may have to offer in the way of shocks and scares one thing remains certain, for all that the credit crunch has knocked it down somewhat Britain is anything but out of the game.

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