The Independent

The spirit in this recession seems to me better than in those of the past.

Having spent a good deal of my working life writing about sport I am all too aware of sudden joy and sudden gloom. Your team wins, even if by sheer fluke, and you are in heaven. Your team loses, despite dominating the match, and all is gloom.

Yet, brought up on such instant high and lows, what has struck me in recent weeks is how much we seem to have overdone the gloom as we enter a new decade.

I was made aware of this when, on a sudden impulse, my wife and I decided to spend New Year’s Eve in Scotland. I had always wanted to experience the Scottish Hogmanay but, having left it until the last minute, we found it impossible to find a place on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile without paying prices that could have meant starting 2010 with a financial hangover.

Eventually more by chance and luck we found a country hotel in Peebles some 25 miles from Edinburgh. The journey through the snow was painfully slow but, once we got to Peebles, everything about the night mocked any talk of gloom.

Not only was the ballroom packed and the flow of champagne constant but our table seemed to sum up a nation both cheerful and socially more integrated then I can ever recall. There were two English couples who had driven up from Durham. Not even the snow and ice had put them off returning to experience the evening they had so enjoyed the previous year. Opposite was an ebullient Anglo-French couple and next to us a Muslim pair from Bolton. In a neat turnaround I, the lapsed Hindu, happily ate the Scottish beef while the Muslim couple, not sure it was Hallal meat, became vegetarians for the night.

It would be easy to dismiss this as a personal account which has no wider meaning but this is the fourth recession I have experienced in this country in the last 40 years. I would say the spirit in this one is better than during any of the previous downturns.

What is different now is that previous recessions came with social baggage which seemed too difficult for the country to bear. The fight between the miners and the Heath government carried a serious threat to the social fabric of this country. The Eighties saw Thatcher talk about the enemy within as she took on the miners and, in the Nineties, the bust was preceded by poll tax riots. As of now there is nothing comparable to such threatening events.

This may be because, as studies by the Institute for Fiscal Studies show, the middle classes are richer than they think. As Alastair Muriel of the IFS has put it, many in middle England think they are poorer because they compare their incomes with that of bankers’ bonuses and the pay of Premier League footballers. IFS studies show that some 4.7 million people in this country are in the top 10 per cent of earners.

All this will be scant consolation to the millions who have lost their jobs. But it does suggest that my New Year’s Eve was not just false Scottish cheer. Perhaps it points to a wider picture where people are more cheerful than we’ve been led to believe.


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