Monday, 24 November 2008

Porgy & Bess at the Westminster Theatre

The crisis budget has provoked some interesting reactions on the radio this evening. As someone who holds a very dim view of the judgment of both poor Gordon and Mr Darling, it has been reassuring to hear my opinion echoed by caller after caller to the BBC. Many who work in the retail sector have commented that their margins have been so tight recently that they expect the reduction in VAT to be used to ease the pressure on the shops rather than to lower prices. Most interesting to me was the widespread appreciation that it will not put a single additional penny in Mr and Mrs Ordinary's pockets and, for that reason alone, is unlikely to act as an incentive for them to spend when they otherwise would not.

I heard only one caller praising the government and he appeared to have forgotten to take his tablets today. His contribution to the debate was to say how brilliantly poor Gordon has handled matters over the last eleven years and to list such matters as free television licences for the elderly, increased winter hand outs to help with fuel bills and other benefits which have increased in cash terms while in fact falling in real terms. He said how his local shopping centre was heaving with people today as though this means everyone is spending more. It was quite sweet to hear a true believer in magic money, a genuine old-school Labour man who thinks the government can borrow with impunity and everything will be well.

One of the final contributors was someone who works for House of Fraser and said they will be passing on the reduction in VAT to customers. Their position is a very clever piece of marketing, he said they will hand customers the saving when they get to the till. I am not quite sure how this will work because the prices they display on the shelves must be accurate to prevent them risking prosecution, but it is a nice idea that people might be enticed into House of Fraser by being told they will receive a discount at the till. Being handed a shiny new ten pence piece when purchasing something for £4.70 so as to reflect the new price of £4.60 will soon take the gloss off the move, but in the meantime they will no doubt be able to drag a few more people in through the doors. Last week we had Marks & Spencer holding a one day special sale with 20% off everything, this week we will have House of Fraser reducing prices by just over 2%; I know which I would find more attractive.

Listening to Mr Darling this afternoon I was reminded of Porgy & Bess and the lyrics of perhaps the best known song from that opera. Porgy, a crippled beggar, wins the girl and sings "I got plenty of nothing and nothing's plenty for me". He wins the girl in rather odd circumstances. She is a prostitute and her pimp goes on the run after killing a man, she refused to flee with him and only Porgy is prepared to give the old tart a shoulder to cry on. She lived high on the hog while punters were aplenty then the liar and cheat who used her for years lets his instincts run free and has to scarper for the hills for fear of the hangman's noose. She realises her former comforts were fleeting and ephemeral, built on empty promises and the hope that her trade will sustain her for ever. She is left with nothing and finds a natural ally in a man who also has nothing. Poor Gordon the pimp's reign of spendthriftery gave false hope to Bess the economy. Now she is being tended by the crippled beggar of a Chancellor.

Plenty of nothing. Ira Gershwin cannot have imagined his lyrics would be so apt for the UK economy more than seventy years after he wrote them.

Incidentally, the pimp returns and Porgy kills him. He is arrested and while incarcerated Bess runs off with Sportin' Life, a man who knows a lot about cocaine. Did Gershwin predict the next Chancellor of the Exchequer?

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