Faceless businessmen. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice screengrab
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"I’ve never bought tights in my life": The Apprentice blog series 10, episode 12

Lord Sugar’s rather laboured hunt for a new business partner finally finishes.

WARNING: This blog is for people watching The Apprentice. Contains spoilers!

Read the episode 11 blog here.
 

At last. Like birds released, we can spread our wings and fly jubilantly away from this cage of glass and steel that has imprisoned us for 12 weeks. Away from the fiercely ironed blouses and hostile pocket handkerchiefs that is the uniform of its inmates. Away from the cruel icy-eyebrowed gaze of its guards, Karren and Nick. Far, far away from the judge (and Supreme Court judge, of course), jury and executioner, Lord Sugar.

For it is the final. To those reading who have stuck with the series throughout, congratulations, and thanks for giving it 110 per cent. To those who had long ago given up but deigned to watch the final, yer a bladdy disgrace. A bladdy disgrace. But probably have more friends than I do.

 
 
 
 

In an emotional last ever early morning wake-up call, Mark in his serious boxers picks up the banana phone one final time to be told to travel to a random London location in 20 minutes.

He and Bianca – who take separate taxis for some reason, so it may be worth scrutinising the green credentials of their respective businesses if they ever come to fruition – bomb down to the Bloomsbury Ballroom. This is because it has the supremely vague appeal of being a “leading venue for high-profile events”.

“You’ll be pleased to know that I’ve arranged some help,” says Lord Sugar, with a look of a man jollily announcing someone’s death sentence, as a motley procession of some of the series’ past most irritating candidates file in. Felipe grins. Bianca and Mark look queasier than they did at six in the morning.

They pick their teams, with Mark’s furiously clenching nemesis Daniel, pintsized brute James and petrifying lipstick enthusiast Sarah last to be chosen, and go off to launch their businesses.

Sarah is last to be chosen. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice screengrab

“Sarah, welcome aboard, we need some beauty,” says Mark, as the equality of the sexes becomes but a footnote in the history of a world dominated by faceless digital marketing men.

Bianca briefs her team on the importance of selling hosiery in different skin tones for £35 each, while Daniel works very hard at setting his face in a confused scowl and making sure everyone knows he is a MAN and knows NOTHING about tights. “I’ve personally not worn tights,” he growls anxiously to camera, doing a good impression of someone who protests too much, “in fact, I’ve never bought tights in my life”.

And it soon looks like women won’t be buying them either. Well, not Bianca’s ones anyway. Her market research – a room full of businesswomen with legs of all different hues – shows very strongly that her aim for the “luxury market” (ie. ripping people off) is misjudged. They wouldn’t buy such expensive tights. “It’s important that people know the truth about this,” cries Lauren, her concern about getting a ladder extending to the whole of humanity.

Access deniered. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice screengrab

Meanwhile, Mark is putting together his dull digital something-or-other plan to do the same thing as those marketing people who hassle companies about making their online presence more “impactful”, but even more intensely. Face-to-face hassling.

It’s called “Climb Online”, and the promo video features builders and dentists scaling a climbing wall talking unconvincingly about how much they love people pitching to them about having their companies appear higher up in Google searches.

Then it’s time for the pitches, in which “an audience of experts” fills a cavernous function room to look menacingly at the candidate in question, and act as Lord Sugar’s gaggle of sycophants at the after-party, when they gather around what looks like garden furniture, drinking warm wine and discussing things like how “lots of people would buy tights in different colours” and “lots of people are doing the internets these days”.

Unsuitable entertainment. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice screengrab

Bianca gives a slick, solid performance, and the audience of experts coo and purr. Mark, stricken with stage-fright, is rather hesitant at first, clearing his throat in what ominously sounds like it will be a repeat of the disastrous pitchto Tesco he croaked and choked through a couple of weeks ago.

But he gets over it and delivers a passable, if staid, presentation. The only thing that jazzes it up is Solomon and James’ idea of having men in blue and orange lycra Morph suits climbing and falling in an interpretative dance to open the event. It’s everything that is wrong with the modern age: onesies and meaningless digital marketing strategies. But afterwards, the audience of “online giants”, who are disappointingly average height, sing Mark’s praises to Lord Sugar.

We end, as we always do, in the boardroom. There’s time for one final unnecessary sexist comment (Nick on seeing a real-life woman wearing tights: “Mr Hewer had minor palpitations”), one final mangled metaphor (Sir Alan: “singing the song for high quality, you make a rod for your back”), and one final firing. Bianca goes, and Mark wins the investment, as Lord Sugar decides, “the devil in me says the service industry”. Ooh, you devil you.

Putting the Mark in marketing. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice

I've been blogging The Apprentice each week. This is the last instalment. Read my blog on the previous episode here. Click here to read the whole series. 

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

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Leader: The unresolved Eurozone crisis

The continent that once aspired to be a rival superpower to the US is now a byword for decline, and ethnic nationalism and right-wing populism are thriving.

The eurozone crisis was never resolved. It was merely conveniently forgotten. The vote for Brexit, the terrible war in Syria and Donald Trump’s election as US president all distracted from the single currency’s woes. Yet its contradictions endure, a permanent threat to continental European stability and the future cohesion of the European Union.

The resignation of the Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi, following defeat in a constitutional referendum on 4 December, was the moment at which some believed that Europe would be overwhelmed. Among the champions of the No campaign were the anti-euro Five Star Movement (which has led in some recent opinion polls) and the separatist Lega Nord. Opponents of the EU, such as Nigel Farage, hailed the result as a rejection of the single currency.

An Italian exit, if not unthinkable, is far from inevitable, however. The No campaign comprised not only Eurosceptics but pro-Europeans such as the former prime minister Mario Monti and members of Mr Renzi’s liberal-centrist Democratic Party. Few voters treated the referendum as a judgement on the monetary union.

To achieve withdrawal from the euro, the populist Five Star Movement would need first to form a government (no easy task under Italy’s complex multiparty system), then amend the constitution to allow a public vote on Italy’s membership of the currency. Opinion polls continue to show a majority opposed to the return of the lira.

But Europe faces far more immediate dangers. Italy’s fragile banking system has been imperilled by the referendum result and the accompanying fall in investor confidence. In the absence of state aid, the Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, the world’s oldest bank, could soon face ruin. Italy’s national debt stands at 132 per cent of GDP, severely limiting its firepower, and its financial sector has amassed $360bn of bad loans. The risk is of a new financial crisis that spreads across the eurozone.

EU leaders’ record to date does not encourage optimism. Seven years after the Greek crisis began, the German government is continuing to advocate the failed path of austerity. On 4 December, Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, declared that Greece must choose between unpopular “structural reforms” (a euphemism for austerity) or withdrawal from the euro. He insisted that debt relief “would not help” the immiserated country.

Yet the argument that austerity is unsustainable is now heard far beyond the Syriza government. The International Monetary Fund is among those that have demanded “unconditional” debt relief. Under the current bailout terms, Greece’s interest payments on its debt (roughly €330bn) will continually rise, consuming 60 per cent of its budget by 2060. The IMF has rightly proposed an extended repayment period and a fixed interest rate of 1.5 per cent. Faced with German intransigence, it is refusing to provide further funding.

Ever since the European Central Bank president, Mario Draghi, declared in 2012 that he was prepared to do “whatever it takes” to preserve the single currency, EU member states have relied on monetary policy to contain the crisis. This complacent approach could unravel. From the euro’s inception, economists have warned of the dangers of a monetary union that is unmatched by fiscal and political union. The UK, partly for these reasons, wisely rejected membership, but other states have been condemned to stagnation. As Felix Martin writes on page 15, “Italy today is worse off than it was not just in 2007, but in 1997. National output per head has stagnated for 20 years – an astonishing . . . statistic.”

Germany’s refusal to support demand (having benefited from a fixed exchange rate) undermined the principles of European solidarity and shared prosperity. German unemployment has fallen to 4.1 per cent, the lowest level since 1981, but joblessness is at 23.4 per cent in Greece, 19 per cent in Spain and 11.6 per cent in Italy. The youngest have suffered most. Youth unemployment is 46.5 per cent in Greece, 42.6 per cent in Spain and 36.4 per cent in Italy. No social model should tolerate such waste.

“If the euro fails, then Europe fails,” the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, has often asserted. Yet it does not follow that Europe will succeed if the euro survives. The continent that once aspired to be a rival superpower to the US is now a byword for decline, and ethnic nationalism and right-wing populism are thriving. In these circumstances, the surprise has been not voters’ intemperance, but their patience.

This article first appeared in the 08 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brexit to Trump