Britain’s brand: ‘this frail travelling coincidence’

It may sound like a glass-half-full definition but Frank Cotterell Boyce’s reference to this line from Philip Larkin’s The Whitsun Wedding, perfectly pinpoints the poignant curiosities of the British character that his script for the London 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony so brilliantly conveyed.

The Larkin reference is included – about 12 minutes in – in this fascinating interview for Radio 4’s ‘Broadcasting House’ in which Mr Cotterell Boyce describes the behind-the-scenes experience of what, for me at least, was the defining cultural moment of 2012 in the United Kingdom.

Mr Miliband’s big moment

Last Saturday’s blog post by the BBC’s political editor, Nick Robinson, astutely makes a connection between perception of the present Labour Party leader, Ed Miliband, and Clement Attlee.

Attlee’s legacy is formidable. Among other measures in a truly remarkable period in British government, he presided over the creation of the national health service, and established the welfare state and free secondary education. Arguably he was the finest Prime Minister of the twentieth century and the most accomplished leader the Labour Party has ever had.

All this despite – in an era where relentless rolling news wasn’t a factor – being considered to possess a pretty dull, non-media friendly, personality; hence Sir Winston Churchill’s quote, cited by Mr Robinson in his post, “an empty taxi drew up outside 10 Downing Street and Attlee got out”.

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Why reform banking when we could transform it instead?

Once upon a time – a couple of years ago in fact – I was so alarmed by the high cost of payday loans advertised by brands like QuickQuid and Wonga, that I started a small campaign called 2356percent (it’s a link to an article from the Independent, by the way, the 2356percent site is no more).

One thing led to another and, thanks to Greg Mulholland MP, an Early Day Motion, signed by about 30 MPs, was tabled in the House of Commons. Because of that campaign, I was invited to meet with Errol Damelin, the chief executive of Wonga. We had a fascinating conversation and the 2356percent campaign has been pretty much dormant since.

That’s not because Wonga persuaded me that their loans were a good thing; instead, I realised that campaigning against behaviour in a financial services ecosystem which spawns brands like Wonga is not the same as campaigning for an alternative kind of financial services industry.

I reached the conclusion that – no matter how persuasive the calls for the regulation of people like payday lenders from MPs like Stella Creasy – the financial services industry is unlikely to up its game until there’s an alternative way of doing things that really challenges the status quo.

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The case for a Chief Philosophy Officer?

I wonder whether the US and European economies would be in such a predicament today if Northern Rock or Lehman Brothers had employed a Chief Philosophy Officer?

After all, you’ll find plenty of Chief Economists dotted around the banks, trusts and fund management companies won’t you?

Had Northern Rock and Lehman boards routinely considered the moral and ethical dimensions of trading in collateralised debt obligations – or even the very existence of those instruments – alongside the economic, financial and regulatory case of doing so, would they have reached a different conclusion and made different choices?

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The Great British brand identity crisis

Symbols are significant. And few symbols carry more significance for those who encounter it than a nation’s flag. So the unveiling of the dove-inspired design by British Airways earlier this week – less than a fortnight after the launch of the Team GB athletes kit pictured above – only serves to reinforce an idea that’s been irking me about the Olympics’ effect on the UK’s brand identity: is our nation in danger of conveying the idea that we are colourless, drained of energy and drab?
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Time to cut the Facebook and Twitter clutter

Whether you’re inclined to regard Aol as a barometer of cultural trends or not, I’m pretty sure that there’s something in David Shing’s reported prediction.

Obviously, it’s worth bearing in mind that Mr Shing’s comments may well be self-serving too: it helps to be in the business of targeted content if more targeted content is what’ll win the day in an ‘attention economy’.

Nonetheless his comments should be seized on – at a reasonably contemplative pace – by people like The World Institute of Slowness; they’ve been banging on about the need for a more measured approach to human existence since 1999. (And, no, the irony’s not lost on me that I’m helping to add to the clutter referred to by Mr Shing.)

Why we shouldn’t trade Sundays for Sunday trading

When I was a kid, there was absolutely nothing to do on Sundays.

(Well OK, that’s not strictly true. As a son of the Manse, I had to attend church in the morning, but that didn’t really count as ‘doing something’; it was more like the the spiritual equivalent of having to do the washing up.)

Apart from the newsagents that opened in the mornings, and perhaps the occasional petrol station, everything else seemed to be shut.

From a kid’s perspective – and probably an adult’s too – the net effect was that Sundays were truly boring. So I ought to be whooping with joy at the prospect of the Government’s desire to suspend Sunday trading laws to allow shops and businesses to trade during the London 2012 Olympics.

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