Britain – the angry country

Returning to Britain after two weeks on a trip to Australia, New Zealand and Singapore, I was struck by how the some of the stories making the headlines were the same as when  I left.

Controversy still raged over the alleged racist remarks made by John Terry, the former captain of the England football team. Bankers were still being criticised for their behaviour in the past (too liberal and reckless) and present (too stingy with their loans and overpaid considering their role in the economic crisis).

I have the impression that there is almost a culture of the witch-hunt now in Britain. The media seems like a pack of hounds racing after the latest victim. There is a sense of self-righteousness among the commentators which is unattractive (as well as undeserved). It is reminiscent of bullying the weakest in playground or a hen being selected to be pecked at.

I have to admit that I have written articles in the past that have been a part of this culture. I have written some ‘Mr Angry’ articles for mid-market newspapers in my time. But on this occasion I felt the sense of pack-attack without even picking up a newspaper. It came from BBC radio programmes.

It was the presenters – and their editors – who continually came back to these subjects. The presenters took it as read that the bankers were responsible for all Britain’s economic problems. It is remarkable that having talked so much on this subject – one that that has been around so long that – that they have so little sophistication in their knowledge of it. It is not my speciality but even I know that the Clinton administration had a part to play in it through its encouragement of lending to those who could not afford to repay. I am aware that there was a Basle agreement some years ago which encouraged banks to have lower capital in relation to assets. This made them less safe. But these things are never mentioned. The presenters think the whole issue is decided and agreed. It is all the bankers’ fault (with perhaps a little blame for the Labour government when talking to a Labour politician).

There is a presumption, too, that the presenters would never themselves have been so silly or so reckless, let alone so greedy. There is no acknowledgement that they are being wise after the event and that hardly anyone noticed or warned about what was going on. There was an atmosphere of optimism in which people acted in a way which seems reckless with hindsight but whose recklessness was not so obvious to people at the time.

And when the banks are criticised now for not lending more, there is also no apparent realisation that the government is now pushing banks to hold more capital in relation to assets which severely constrains their lending. The banks are stingy largely because the government is making them so. But no. The presenters talk as though the bankers were stingy by some strange perversion with no possible explanation except their evil nature.  In short, the public conversation on BBC radio lacks information, sophistication and balance. The presenters refer to public anger, not perhaps realising how much of the anger has been inflamed by their own unrelenting and unbalanced coverage.

The urge to be so angry is, in itself, an interesting phenomenon. The BBC,  confident of its own moral and intellectual superiority, is dismissive of the anger and sensationalism in mid and low-end press. Yet it does not see that its own agenda is just or bad or – as it seems to me, coming afresh to it – even worse.

“I detect anger” is the irritating thing that a psychotherapist might say. But yes, there is anger.  And a culture of complaint. Where does it come from? Is it a keen desire to convince oneself that one is right and that anything wrong with the world must be someone else’s fault and must be severely punished?

  1. President Clinton contributed to the current financial crisis
  2. Nick Clegg and yet more political claptrap about the banks
  3. We need quantitative easing
  4. A different view of who is to blame
  5. If you get cancer, it is better to live in France, Switzerland or probably any advanced country rather than Britain
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2 Responses to Britain – the angry country

  1. I’m old enough to remember the first credit cards arriving in the UK from America, followed quickly by our own. The advertising slogan for one of these, for me, sums up what has happened over the last 40 years or so: it was “Takes the waiting out of wanting”.
    In those days, to get a mortgage one went to a Building Society of which there were hundreds – mostly locally based and thus knew the local housing market and the businesses in the area. Before they were kind enough (well, they tended to be rather paternalistic organisations) to lend you (never) more than 90% of the purchase price and never more than three times your pay. It helped enormously if you had been a regular saver with them for several years. You would also have to produce a letter of confirmation of your salary from your employer. Interestingly, the interest you paid was, if I remember correctly, about 0.25% higher than the interest you were paid as a saver. The emphasis was that if you wanted something, you saved for it. I believe the credit card boom changed all that. It is this attitude that “I can have it all now” – “…because I’m worth it…” that has ultimately lead us into the belief that we can borrow our way to prosperity. The banks are no more culpable than we are.

  2. Lindsay says:

    Here in NZ a British-born talkhost lately observed on the subject of ‘pommy whingers’,” We Brits gave you rugby and you outdid us at it; we gave you cricket and you outdid us; and we gave you whining and you are now beating us at it.”

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