“Britain is open for business.” this is a phrase that comes up again and again in the media, either as a cliché from journalists or a direct soundbite from an MP. It is usually linked to economic reports that show growth in the UK economy, or a piece of legislation that makes international trade easier (or less regulated) is going ahead. The emphasis is that the UK is a company and that that company is profitable. ...
This is where I start to really stretch the metaphor. I want you to picture an actual physical marketplace: perhaps your town has an indoor market or a weekly produce market. I'll be keeping St George's Market in Belfast in mind throughout this. Now lets start thinking about what makes a good market and how that applies to national economics. Just trust me and go along for the ride.
Safe and secure
A good market is somewhere where stall holders can leave their merchandise overnight and be relatively confident that it will still be there in the morning. During trading they don't expect to experience much in the way of stock loss, or other significant crime. They know that, should something be stolen or they are assaulted or any other crime is committed that market staff and security will help deal with the issue appropriately.
The same goes for people visiting a market. They don't want to be mugged, or pick-pocketed. They don't want to be harassed or assaulted. They don't want to have a stall-holder overcharge them, refuse to give them change or steal their bank details (it's 2015, markets have card readers). Should anything happen we want to be sure that security or the police are involved, that our complaints are listened to with care and diligence and that appropriate measures will be taken. In the case of a stall-holder committing a crime against a customer that may be a criminal charge but it may also include a ban on future trading.
The UK market place has a police force, a criminal justice system and a legislature that includes dozens of regulating bodies, especially when you start taking in to account local authorities. Now I was raised to be fairly pro police and I have to say, by and by that confidence remains. I am aware however, that for certain groups of people and for certain crimes,
and justice aren't always carried out fairly. Young black men for
example are more likely to be stopped and searched than any other
group. In fact racism in the UK criminal system is well reported and
documented if you want to go and read about it. In more recent years
this has extended to Asian men, and people who are not UK nationals.
There are also certain crimes which are not treated with the
sensitivity or even handedness they should be: rape and sexual
assault have some shocking statistics regarding how many cases are
taken to trial, how many end in prosecution and the length of prison
sentences handed down. Rape is also one of the few crimes were the
burden of proof falls so heavily on the shoulders of the victims and
there is an uphill struggle to even convince police that a crime has
Policing and justice is clearly not as fair and even as it could be.
Then there are other parts of the legislature: banking regulation, taxation, welfare and social security, wage and employment law, immigration law (relating to the above section on diversity) which are skewed to benefit a very small percentage of the population and to cripple the rest. To shun, marginalise, refuse to help and at times actively hurt large parts of your market in order to benefit a small few. Is that actually leading to a successful market or is that leading to a market which can't be sustained whilst a few stallholders walk away smiling (with the credit card details of their unrepresented customers).