Lord ‘Stuart’ Rose made some interesting comments about the collapse of Philip Green’s Arcadia group of companies, which I think represent an accurate reflection of Broken Britain today. Rose, who was the former chair of Arcadia, said breaking up the retail empire, which includes Topshop, Burton and Dorothy Perkins, is “the only way” forward as it faces collapse. Rose said he did not want to “demonise” Sir Philip Green, but said the controversial businessman had “not moved from an analogue world to a digital world fast enough”, blaming that on a likely lack of investment over 10 or 15 years. It was what he said next that disturbed me most.
“Sadly what will happen is people will come and pick over the carcass,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, adding that there were “some tastier bits of the carcass” – such as Topshop – and “some less tasty bits of the carcass”. I just hope that someone will pick up some of the pieces, that some jobs are salvageable.”
I do not condemn Rose personally for his choice of words. He was probably right. Vultures will be forming above this “carcass” to see if there is anything left from which they can make a profit. And I take him at his word that he genuinely hopes that “some jobs are salvageable.” Because my fear is they won’t be.
13,000 people could lose their jobs if Arcadia goes to the wall. 13,000 ordinary working people who are set to lose their jobs at a time when unemployment is on the rise. 13,000 people who have bills to pay and bread to put on the table. 13,000 people whose lives are set to be ruined. And Lord Rose says, matter of factly, that “people will come and pick over the carcass.” That, my friends, is how the upper classes regard the lower orders. As working people fear for their present, never mind their future, their supposed betters work out the best way of making a fast buck. And that’s without a huge deficit in the Arcadia pension fund, officially £350million, but suspected to be three times that. Take away people’s present and remove their futures too.
Rose added Arcadia teetering on the brink of collapse was just one aspect of a “sector-wide malaise that’s been accelerated by the problems with Covid”. 20,000 shops could close and 250,000 retail jobs would be lost. “If we don’t get back to normality we’re going to have more than 2.5m people unemployed, we’re going to have really difficult times on the high street, and that is a real, real problem.” Yes it is, and it’s a real problem for 250,000 workers who would become unemployed just when the chancer – sorry chancellor – of the exchequer Rishi Sunak is making cuts to Universal Credit.
Sunak, who was once the rising star of the Tory party when he was handing out free money, will soon see his star fade and possibly die when the cold reality of the economic disaster to come hits home. “Our health emergency is not yet over and our economic emergency has only just begun,” were his exact words. And now we see the future unfolding before our very eyes. It’s a carcass, the vultures are circling and Sunak repeats, ad infinitum, that he “cannot save every job”. He says something like 2.5 million will be unemployed by next year, but with a hard or no deal Brexit to come, the continued drag of COVID-19 and, of course, unexpected events, such as a bad winter, increased deaths from seasonal flu, a major terrorist incident or natural disasters, some suggest unemployment could exceed 4m.
Rose, for all I know, may not be the bad guy in all this. He used the “carcass” analogy to describe the real world in which we live, a world in which workers are entirely expendable as long as slugs like Philip Green can continue to live in luxury when his former employees queue at the local food bank. It’s not just Green who should be “demonised”: it’s the system. The trouble is we keep voting for it.