Wednesday, 8 October 2014

New Labour's Legacy: The Big Class Delusion

Britain used to be a simple place, with a simple class system, where everyone knew who they were. Then in 1997 Tony Blair and New Labour came along and messed the whole thing up.
Pre-Blair you were either a) Upper-class: Royal or titled aristocracy b) Middle-class: perhaps beneficiaries of inherited wealth and almost certainly educated at a top private school or c) Working-class: state educated and the people that become tradesman, milkman, postman, market traders or cab drivers etc. When I left school in 1989 only the really clever kids went to university, the rest of us did apprenticeships or went to work for banks at the bottom to learn the trade, then worked their way up.

Then up popped Tony Blair, who, even though he was a Thatcherite Tory in everything he said and did, managed to become leader of the Labour Party. The Party that was founded by Working-class Trade Unions. Then, probably embarrassed by his own middle-classness, he decided that working-class people shouldn't be plumbers or bricklayers anymore, he decided we should all go to university, get nice office jobs and call our children Poppy or Tulip.

Tony Blair said that everyone that leaves school should go to University. The ideology in itself is hard to argue against, the reality of it is nonsense.

Blair's idea meant that Technical colleges closed down and were replaced by second rate universities, teaching young adults second rate degrees. Which meant after 4 years of drinking, partying and going on demonstrations demanding equal rights for gay badgers, thousands of people left education unemployable. Further education also became so expensive that the Labour Government had to introduce tuition fees.

Another negative to Blair's flawed project was that we are now left in the UK with a shortage of some 150,000 plumbers, electricians & engineers. These jobs now have to be filled by migrants from the EU, which pushes wages down, casualising jobs that were once well paid. We have a whole generation of school leavers that don't see these trades with the same pride as the working class once did, but as something beneath them.

Labour continued the Tory policy of financial deregulation. This led to the banks recklessly lending money to people who had no hope of paying it back, tying them into mortgages and loans that means they'll have to work until they die to pay the debt off, creating what's known as 'the working poor'. Ordinary people were buying large houses with mortgages they got by just having to show up to sign the forms, believing that owning property raised you up the social scale. Sometimes they were lent money to buy two, three or four houses.

Normal people were somehow convinced that being in lots of debt made you a successful entrepreneur.

The brilliant Labour MP, Dennis Skinner, said in the House of Commons recently "it all comes down to thing we're told has gone away - class." Most people who still consider themselves Working-class will not be voting Labour anymore, they will vote for the polar opposite: UKIP.  New Labour didn't get rid of the old class divide, they just created a class delusion.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

The London Cab Trade Must Modernise Or Die

London Taxis are voted the best in the world year after year. People who come to our Capital City from all over the planet love us. But for how much longer?

New technology in the form of smart phone Apps is coming at us like a freight train, and if as a trade we don't accept and embrace this new technology for ourselves, then I'm afraid the end is nigh!

No longer is our trade, the oldest licensed taxi trade in the world, just competing against cowboy mini-cab outfits. Ones that will send a man wearing a string vest and a baseball cap to pick you up, in a car that looks like it's been used for banger racing. A slightly smelly man who will eventually get you to where you'd like to go, providing you can tell him the way. Now we are competing against multi million pound, Private Hire businesses, that send a driver wearing a suit, driving a brand new car. People don't have to even speak to a controller any more. One tap on their iphone and it's done.

Apart from having a licensing authority in TFL that appears to go out of it's way to bring our trade down, and a Mayor that understands as much about Hackney Carriage Law as I do about being a privileged toff, our worst enemy is ourselves. Without doubt, standards are slipping.

We have three types of London cabby: the majority, like myself, who are honest, work hard, are polite to the customers, try to help with luggage whenever possible, dress smartly and keep a clean cab; you have those that see themselves as a Arthur Daley type character. That is if Arthur Daley ever decided to start shopping in Sports Direct; and thirdly you have the old dinosaur cabby that will tell you an App is no good to him because he can't use a smartphone. Although they seem to manage to watch the 4.40 at Kempton Park on one, whilst smoking a fag in the front of a 14 year old cab. I look around the cab ranks at my fellow cabbies sometimes and I despair. Not just by the way they dress, but by the way they conduct themselves in public.

So how as a trade do we fight back and compete?

Firstly, we must have an app of our own, preferably like the one coming soon that is run by cab drivers, for cab drivers. We don't need a billionaire that wants to conquer the world, just an App that the public can use to call us from a restaurant or the 24th floor of their luxury apartment block (that's a block of flats to anyone born in London). Secondly, we need to up our game, smarten up and offer top customer service.

Our tariffs are set by TFL and by Law we have to work on a meter. We can't do what some private hire firms do and charge a ridiculously low price when it's a bit quiet, and a outrageously expensive price when it's busy. Our fares stay the same whether it's a busy Friday night in July or a quiet Monday afternoon in January. So what we have to do is offer the best customer service we can.

We have two great selling points: The famous Knowledge of London, and a world renowned brand called - The Black Cab, which millions of people see as a London icon. Many industries would kill for a brand that strong. We also have Taxi ranks in many prime locations, most importantly, the rail terminals.

So instead of looking at these Apps as some sort of threat to us, we should be looking at them as an opportunity to compete in the modern world and keep the London Cab Trade about for another 300 years. If there's one thing that we can take from the Hailo debacle, is that before Russel Hall & Co. stabbed us in the back, it showed that given access to the App technology, many members of the public chose to use a black cab over all the different Private Hire ones.

Many of Britain's old, traditional industries like: mining, shipbuilding and printing had the chance to modernise but chose to fight new technology, and died. Some, like the car industry, chose to embrace change and are today thriving.

So what I say to London Cabbies is let's be like the car industry and accept change and once again become the Rolls Royce of the taxi industry.

Proud to be a Subject of Queen Elizabeth II