A tale of belt tightening and balls

We become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts.

A former colleague of mine, an ex-Fleet Street subeditor, would probably sum-up last week’s Autumn Statement thus: Ouch.

What’s worse than the worst single year for household  disposable income? The worst TWO years for household disposable incomes. Yes, that’s how the Office for Budgetary Responsibility

has changed its forecasts for the UK. The same OBR that Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng didn’t show their mini-budget to, presumably on the grounds they would be told it was c**p.

We are facing taxes at their highest point for decades, allied to swingeing cuts to public spending in some areas, and a fall.in living standards for those on middle- and highest-incomes. The front page of the paper being read by the guy on the train opposite me shrieks it out: You’ve Never Had It So Bad.

I’m not sure that’s strictly true to be honest. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say: “Many of you’ve never had it so bad.” A friend had dinner in a posh hotel in the City of London last week, and told me that there appeared to be plenty of money swilling around for top-marque wines and bottles of fizz. Those people who paid thousands to take themselves and their families to Qatar for the first England World Cup match found that money somewhere. They can’t all be ex-pats on a quick hop over from Dubai, surely?

Maybe because it’s likely to hit construction in a different way, but this time doesn’t feel quite as bad as 2008 and the recession that followed that. Yet. In 2008, construction output fell off the proverbial cliff as the taps were turned off housebuilding almost overnight. This time, things are slowing up certainly, but, according to Glenigan and the like, the major infrastructure projects are keeping things going for now, though it may be that there are fewer projects in the pipeline yet to be started, which will slow things up further down the line. We might be looking at a longer, shallower recession, rather like an elongated U, rather than a V.

This was always going to be painful. Covid needed to be paid for somehow. The help that we are giving to Ukraine  doesn’t come cheap, neither do the energy bill handouts. There is no magic money tree; somehow this all has to be funded and it seems Hunt is raiding the piggy-banks of the upper-middles to pay for it all. The Truss/Kwarteng plan to abolish the 45p tax bracket was plainly bonkers; Hunt has put the kybosh on that at least.  The pain will still be real though for a lot of people, pain that’s likely to lead to a loss of spending confidence. And that has implications for everyone in this industry.

Still, on the bright side, we have the World Cup in Qatar to enjoy. The world’s largest football tournament, taking place in a country with no footballing history, at the wrong time of year, and where the stadia are having to be air-conditioned to allow players and spectators to cope. How’s that sustainability and care for the planet policy going then FIFA? Oh. In a country where homosexuality is illegal, with a questionable human rights history and appalling treatment of migrant workers to build the colossal stadia. How’s that diversity and inclusion policy going then FIFA? Oh. In a country where alcohol, the fuel of fans, is banned apart from in corporate hospitality tents and select hotels. How’s that multi-million-pound sponsorship from Budweiser going then FIFA? Oh.

Still, there’s always It’s Coming Home to sing. Although, if by ‘It’, we mean a piece of footballing silverware, 56 years in gestation, might I gently point out that ‘It’ already came home. In July.

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Having the cojones to do what you know could have consequences, and doing it anyway.

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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