Tuesday 2 June 2009

Inflation, Expenditure, And Elections.

The CEO was doing the family accounts, and muttering things that no well brought up lady would normally mention. Meanwhile, the soccer and rugger seasons having ended my eyes were now straying beyond the comics and sports pages to other stories. “At least we have had stability of prices in the last few years, and they are coming down now” I said, reading some intern’s interpretation of a Downing Street Press Release masquerading as a lead article in a quality paper.

I was hurled a baleful look, “Not in this house, and not in many others” was said through bared teeth. “But the Bank of England and the government statistics experts all say so, look at the indexes.” I claimed. “Fine,” she said, “so how is it then that in the last twelve years our service charges have nearly trebled, the council tax has more than doubled, the rail fares have doubled, the water bill and the electrical bill has more than doubled, the real food costs have doubled or more in some cases, car running costs have more than doubled, the TV License doubled, and extras here there and everywhere we didn’t have before, and as for the bank…”

I interrupted her, the CEO does not like bankers, in fact her feelings on the subject are stronger even than grandfather’s about the Kaiser, and he was a stalwart of his local Hang The Kaiser Association. “But a lot of things are cheaper, frocks for example!” Another mistake, the CEO does not wear cheap frocks that fall to bits in the first wash, and are made by slave labour. “Well, telecommunications!” She reminded me that while I get a great deal from the net and all that, we still pay a little more, and the mobile charges are far from cheap.

I tried to trump her by telling her about white goods, complex financial products, insurances, and all those lovely items of mahogany, teak, and other timbers in the furniture shops. The sofa shop’s sales are still going strong after thirty years, alright, the sofa’s smell funny and bring you out in a rash, but they are dirt cheap now. She reminded me that it is over twenty years since we bought furniture, the white goods are rare purchases, as is all the stuff marketed in the name of modern lifestyle. In any case barely any of this is made in the UK, and has depended on sterling being sound, oil being cheap, rain forests being removed and all the rest. And if I wanted to eat junk food packed with refined sugars dodgy salts and carcogenic flavourings, that was my problem, and if I started using other stuff that was in the indexes then I must be insane, or something.

She went on to remind me that the council had stopped repairing pavements and clearing out drains, had reduced refuse collections, had cut care for the old and hefted the prices, put money in Iceland, and was now charging to park on the street. We were getting much less for our money. The rail company has cut services, abandoned passenger safety, and rarely cleans its coach stock. We have to read our own electrical meters, and pay more to do so. Were we to take advantage of Direct Debit, the utility would force us to have large credit; that is giving them an interest free loan, and then quietly put the prices up so we would not really notice it on the bill. All in all we are getting much less for our money, even where prices are said to be stable.

Of course she had missed the big picture, and that is what men are for, or so the chaps in the queue at the Social Security say. “Aha, but property prices have all gone up!” As snarls of contempt go, the CEO is Premier League. “That was an inflation, we exported it Europe wide, and it helped create debts we cannot pay.” “Oh no, it was the economic growth that made us all rich and happy, our Prime Ministers have said so.” Oops, “We are less rich than we were, and a lot less happy after we have paid our bills. All the politicians have been playing the property market with our money, and with loans, from amongst others, Northern Rock, RBS, and others that we are now paying to stay open. This wasn’t growth, it was mad bad inflation.” “But all the newspapers said it was wonderful growth.” I riposted, “And now we are all doing our best to support and restore never ending fifty per cent a year property price rises.” I was on the end of a long look, “So when did you last get a present from Santa Claus?” she asked. There was no answer to that.

I tried a last throw of the dice, “At least our pensions go up.” The jeer could be heard down the street. “They go up according to the government indexes, and they hardly go up at all, and I would remind you, our savings interest has gone down a lot more than any pension has gone up.”

What did hurt my feelings was her parting comment that people like me should not be allowed to vote. Just for that I will stay at home for the elections on June 4th. That will show her.

Some of us know how to protest.

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