I have made a rather depressing discovery. The London commentariat’s default horizon appears to be the M25, and the north of England might as well be a remote province of Kyrgyzstan for all most of them seem to care.
Also, there isn’t much unanimity amongst columnists on any subject you care to mention. Polar opposites have become the order of the day, especially on the two biggest issues confronting us – Brexit and climate change. Everyone is either an ultra believer or an ultra non-believer. In the UK’s bleak political landscape this summer there are no shades of grey. Everything is presented as black or white.
I put this down to the three years of mental brutalisation we have all had to endure through daily exposure to the B word. People I know who once didn’t really give a fig about politics have developed strong opinions. They have been radicalised on their sofas as they watched TV news or discussions on Question Time. Yet much of what they now hear politicians say is so obviously dross, and I suspect many people are now quite expert at telling lies from truth. My inbuilt bullshitometer goes crazy every time I put on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme and listen to interviews with people like David Davis and Barry Gardiner.
It would help if we each had one of those electric monks that featured in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy author Douglas Adams’ first Dirk Gently novel. For those who haven’t read it, his monk is a really clever labour-saving device that is capable of believing things on our behalf to save us the onerous task of believing all the increasingly bonkers facts the world constantly asks us to accept. Unfortunately, I can’t find an electric monk to believe politicians’ lies for me. In desperation I even searched Ebay but all I could find was a book on electrical transformers by someone called Gordon Monk.
So I simply cannot believe – to give you a recent non-Brexit example – the UK unemployment rate is an accurate indicator of the nation’s health. In the first quarter of this year, we’re told, there were 32.7 million people in work and the number of jobless figure fell to 1.34 million, or 3.9 per cent of the population, the lowest level since 1971. A total of 473,000 more people were in work compared with the beginning of 2018.
Sure enough, these figures were trotted out by our soon-to-be-ex prime minister Theresa May in the House of Commons. But they are based on a redefinition of how unemployment is calculated, which disguises the true rate. According to the Office for National Statistics about 25 per cent of all working-age people (defined as between 16 and 64) are without jobs, or 8.83 million people. In other words, the unemployment rate is four times higher than we are told.
Then factor in the roughly 800,000 workers currently on zero-hours contracts, a figure that seems to be going up 100,000 a year. Most of these are in the north, where one in four workers are paid less than the real living wage as a result. So Theresa, run that by me again about Britain having an economy that works for everyone. I don’t think even an electric monk would believe you.