In Britain, we have created a beautiful life for ourselves and our peers: waterside loft living, streets full of designer-label shops, restaurants serving fine food, luxury hotels … Alongside it, we've created a designer clothes culture. But most people who can afford to buy the merchandise don't; that job is left to the low paid, who feel they have to do something to disguise the humiliation of their poverty. There are more designer labels on a sink estate in Hackney than in ever-so-trendy Notting Hill. What's more, most of it isn't counterfeit; it has been paid for.
So the low paid return to their sink estates, in their Versace jeans couture, fill their faces with a cheap fatty fix (they can't afford Waitrose or Tesco Finest), watch Pop Idol or Celebrity Big Brother and hanker after the designer goodies that the cheesy celebrities have been given as freebies by the designers' marketing departments.
In the meantime, we carry on with our personal hedonism, buying our beautiful second homes, securing that city centre waterside loft "as an investment", and allow those less fortunate to have their identical soulless boxes in some dull suburban location miles from their jobs and miles from our luxury-filled, gated playgrounds. We rely on housing associations to provide whatever shafts of light there are.
We've created a warped society where the few kids at school who thankfully still choose to be plumbers or carpenters, or even town planners, are classed as boring and stupid. (By the way, a 22-year-old, hard-working plumber can easily earn £50,000, and up to £95,000 as their contacts grow.) Meanwhile, those wanting to be architects or designers or, God help us, journalists or media stars, fill our colleges and are churned out in numbers massively exceeding demand. You can get your house designed but not built. This skills shortage doesn't just slow down the speed at which we can build, it contributes to dangerous house price inflation.
The elite can afford to play around at the edges of the problem, sending the au pair to do a bit of recycling here, buy some organic vegetables there. But we close our eyes to the increasingly filthy streets (we're fine where we live, because the caretaker and groundsman keep the place clean and tidy). We ignore the crime and deprivation (our gated developments are perfectly safe). We ignore the decrepit or non-existent community facilities (our gyms have a lovely cafe bar). We turn a blind eye to the failing schools and outmoded hospitals (why don't they go private like us?).
We are the modern day Romans – fiddling while our cities burn.
Other countries are striving to make life better for the wider public, striving to achieve a sense of realistic national pride, not one based on deluded, jingoistic feelings of supremacy. What are we going to do about it here?
How many of you can honestly say you are happy with what you give back? How many of you give time to improving the lives of those less fortunate? How many actively campaign and participate in improving the life, facilities and environment for the wider population?
How many of you can honestly say to your kids that you have actively contributed to leaving them a better place to live in? And I don't mean a flat in Chelsea – or should I say Bristol? How many of you can't see past shareholder value, the power of one and return on capital?
Since I sold my business I have travelled a lot and looked at what our near and not-so-near neighbours are doing. Take the way that the Dutch help lower-income families onto the property ladder, for example, or the infrastructure that the Danes installed that has led to 30% of all journeys in Copenhagen being taken by bike (in London, it's less than 4%).
Or take the real and lasting commitment to green issues shown by the Germans, or the commitment to great affordable housing and landscaping by the French and the Swedes.
They are all striving to make life better for the wider public, striving to achieve a sense of realistic national pride, which isn't based on deluded, jingoistic feelings of supremacy.
They are striving to make real environmental, social and visual improvements – and are starting to succeed. All the quality of life indices that we see show this nation going down the league tables.
This is a version of a talk given at the Movers & Shakers breakfast for industry leaders last month.