“The general public look a bit like a herd of cows being pushed closer and closer to the abattoir, starting to hear noises they don’t much like the sound of.”
This was the rather grim metaphor drawn yesterday at the British Property Federation’s (BPF) annual conference in Westminster by panellist Ben Page, chief executive of research group Ipsos Mori. He is, of course, referring to the slow realisation rippling across the country that reducing our deficit is going to mean severe cuts. And severe pain. Something that he says the majority of the general public are only just becoming fully aware of, despite the reams of press coverage over the past few months warning people that exactly what is happening now was, well, going to happen.
Apart from the fact, as Page pointed out, that politicians and journalists are two of the least trusted groups of people in the country which could explain, in part, why everyone else has been blindly ignoring both, the reality is that many people don’t want to believe it. In the words of Simon Mawer, “The speed of the human mind is remarkable. So is its inability to face the obvious.” And if the obvious is a slaughter house, looking the other way is a prefferable alternative to most.
The problem with that though is that it is clearly not a sustainable approach to the problem. The time has come to face up to the situation. And things do, at last, seem to be sinking in. People in pubs and at dinner parties are increasingly talking about “a return to the 70s” and “the end of British life as we know it”. In a strange way that’s got to be good news, right? They say the first step on the road to recovery is acceptance?
But that road is a long one. Especially for property and construction. Page’s fellow panellist, former journalist George Pascoe-Watson said yesterday that he has it on good authority that the politicians who have now moved into the treasury are not hugely sympathetic when it comes to the plight of the property industry and that it needs to be “on guard”. He added we are likely to see capital gains tax on the rise and that it would just be “one of those things we will have to swallow.”
But then some positive news. Times may be tough. And they may be about to get tougher but initial doom monger Page ended the panel discussion on a less depressing note. “Since the 1970’s, despite ups and downs, recessions and booms 70% of the British public has been happy with their standard of living. That figure barely changes. And it won’t change this time. It’s good the government are softening us up ahead of the main bulk of the cuts, but I don’t actually think it’ll be as bad as we’re all expecting in the end.”
He makes an interesting point as the historical data appears to show that, whatever is thrown at us, the good old British stiff upper lip conquers all and generally we’re happy with our lot.
Still, an abattoir is an abattoir and I can’t see a stampede any time soon.