It's austerity Christmas: buy now, pay considerably more later

Adverts for short-term loans are everywhere. These companies know that people are more cash-strapped

Adverts for short-term loans are everywhere. These companies know that people are more cash-strapped than ever.

Austerity Christmas it is, then. Is it worth getting the giant inflatable Homer Simpson in a Santa suit out of the loft? Can you afford the illuminated parade of sparkly reindeer? Or, more importantly, can you afford the bills in January? And what can you do if you can't?

Those jolly companies who offer short-term loans -- with the 1000 per cent and 2000 per cent and sometimes nearly 3000 per cent APR figures not nearly as prominent as the smiling faces of the families who are HAPPY because they have CASH -- are filling up the advert breaks.

They're not dumb. Parasitic, perhaps; feasting on the misery of others, quite possibly; evil, well I wouldn't go that far -- but not dumb. They know that this year, more than many others in recent times, people are going to be feeling less festive about opening their wallets than ever before -- and they're offering the "buy now, pay much more later" solution to tide folk over.

Britain's been living on tick for a while now. With banks cheerfully whacking overdraft penalty payments onto the accounts of people who've overspent by a couple of quid, the never-never is getting more and more expensive.

But what do you do? Those of us who are fortunate enough to have paid employment are just clinging on and hoping that we're going to ride out the storm. Having been plunged into the void of joblessness earlier this year, I'm here to tell you that there are few better feelings than going back to work and feeling like you have a purpose in life again. Is it enough money to make everything all right again, though? Well, that's a different thing altogether.

This is the time of year when we're bombarded with aspirational messages that tap into our sense of entitlement. We want our lives to be like those glamorous people in adverts, swaggering from one crystal-embellished cocktail party to another; we think our children should be ignoring the mountain of presents at the foot of the John Lewis kid's bed in order to thank us for being so great, and buying them so many things.

Our leaders tell us that debt is bad, mmkay. For months, we've been lectured about how the economy is a bit like a credit card, which has been maxed out -- because we plebs are essentially thick, you see, we can't be trusted to handle concepts any more complex than the idea of a credit card -- and how everything now needs to be paid back. But how many of us are making the kind of swingeing household cuts that will see us pay everything back in a couple of years and get us back on track?

We don't mind so much if it's those nasty grasping public sector folk who are being bashed around the head and told they've got to cough up more pensions, because they were getting too much in the first place; but when it's us and our responsibility, we're not going to pay it back unless the red-topped letters start appearing.

There's a strange chasm, then, between what we're told to do by our leaders, on the one hand; and what the tempting short-term loan companies are (entirely legally) telling us on the other. Do we scrimp and save, or do we splurge now and regret it later? It could be a big, big hangover in the new year.

Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media

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Hannan Fodder: This week, Daniel Hannan gets his excuses in early

I didn't do it. 

Since Daniel Hannan, a formerly obscure MEP, has emerged as the anointed intellectual of the Brexit elite, The Staggers is charting his ascendancy...

When I started this column, there were some nay-sayers talking Britain down by doubting that I was seriously going to write about Daniel Hannan every week. Surely no one could be that obsessed with the activities of one obscure MEP? And surely no politician could say enough ludicrous things to be worthy of such an obsession?

They were wrong, on both counts. Daniel and I are as one on this: Leave and Remain, working hand in glove to deliver on our shared national mission. There’s a lesson there for my fellow Remoaners, I’m sure.

Anyway. It’s week three, and just as I was worrying what I might write this week, Dan has ridden to the rescue by writing not one but two columns making the same argument – using, indeed, many of the exact same phrases (“not a club, but a protection racket”). Like all the most effective political campaigns, Dan has a message of the week.

First up, on Monday, there was this headline, in the conservative American journal, the Washington Examiner:

“Why Brexit should work out for everyone”

And yesterday, there was his column on Conservative Home:

“We will get a good deal – because rational self-interest will overcome the Eurocrats’ fury”

The message of the two columns is straightforward: cooler heads will prevail. Britain wants an amicable separation. The EU needs Britain’s military strength and budget contributions, and both sides want to keep the single market intact.

The Con Home piece makes the further argument that it’s only the Eurocrats who want to be hardline about this. National governments – who have to answer to actual electorates – will be more willing to negotiate.

And so, for all the bluster now, Theresa May and Donald Tusk will be skipping through a meadow, arm in arm, before the year is out.

Before we go any further, I have a confession: I found myself nodding along with some of this. Yes, of course it’s in nobody’s interests to create unnecessary enmity between Britain and the continent. Of course no one will want to crash the economy. Of course.

I’ve been told by friends on the centre-right that Hannan has a compelling, faintly hypnotic quality when he speaks and, in retrospect, this brief moment of finding myself half-agreeing with him scares the living shit out of me. So from this point on, I’d like everyone to keep an eye on me in case I start going weird, and to give me a sharp whack round the back of the head if you ever catch me starting a tweet with the word, “Friends-”.

Anyway. Shortly after reading things, reality began to dawn for me in a way it apparently hasn’t for Daniel Hannan, and I began cataloguing the ways in which his argument is stupid.

Problem number one: Remarkably for a man who’s been in the European Parliament for nearly two decades, he’s misunderstood the EU. He notes that “deeper integration can be more like a religious dogma than a political creed”, but entirely misses the reason for this. For many Europeans, especially those from countries which didn’t have as much fun in the Second World War as Britain did, the EU, for all its myriad flaws, is something to which they feel an emotional attachment: not their country, but not something entirely separate from it either.

Consequently, it’s neither a club, nor a “protection racket”: it’s more akin to a family. A rational and sensible Brexit will be difficult for the exact same reasons that so few divorcing couples rationally agree not to bother wasting money on lawyers: because the very act of leaving feels like a betrayal.

Or, to put it more concisely, courtesy of Buzzfeed’s Marie Le Conte:

Problem number two: even if everyone was to negotiate purely in terms of rational interest, our interests are not the same. The over-riding goal of German policy for decades has been to hold the EU together, even if that creates other problems. (Exhibit A: Greece.) So there’s at least a chance that the German leadership will genuinely see deterring more departures as more important than mutual prosperity or a good relationship with Britain.

And France, whose presidential candidates are lining up to give Britain a kicking, is mysteriously not mentioned anywhere in either of Daniel’s columns, presumably because doing so would undermine his argument.

So – the list of priorities Hannan describes may look rational from a British perspective. Unfortunately, though, the people on the other side of the negotiating table won’t have a British perspective.

Problem number three is this line from the Con Home piece:

“Might it truly be more interested in deterring states from leaving than in promoting the welfare of its peoples? If so, there surely can be no further doubt that we were right to opt out.”

If there any rhetorical technique more skin-crawlingly horrible, than, “Your response to my behaviour justifies my behaviour”?

I could go on, about how there’s no reason to think that Daniel’s relatively gentle vision of Brexit is shared by Nigel Farage, UKIP, or a significant number of those who voted Leave. Or about the polls which show that, far from the EU’s response to the referendum pushing more European nations towards the door, support for the union has actually spiked since the referendum – that Britain has become not a beacon of hope but a cautionary tale.

But I’m running out of words, and there’ll be other chances to explore such things. So instead I’m going to end on this:

Hannan’s argument – that only an irrational Europe would not deliver a good Brexit – is remarkably, parodically self-serving. It allows him to believe that, if Brexit goes horribly wrong, well, it must all be the fault of those inflexible Eurocrats, mustn’t it? It can’t possibly be because Brexit was a bad idea in the first place, or because liberal Leavers used nasty, populist ones to achieve their goals.

Read today, there are elements of Hannan’s columns that are compelling, even persuasive. From the perspective of 2020, I fear, they might simply read like one long explanation of why nothing that has happened since will have been his fault.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.