The resistible rise of the simple people who perform simple tasks

The property boom has provided a windfall for those who know how to operate a screwdriver, but when the bubble bursts, who will pay their extortionate fees?

Those of us who know a thing or two about marketing are not in the least bit surprised that it costs serious money to tweak a corporate identity. After all, what price to capture the zeitgeist in an imperceptible smoothing of a typeface, or to express the essence of an organisation’s being in a shade of sapphire blue agonisingly wrung from the spectrum? As the artist Whistler said in a different context, one is not paying &£3m for a new logo, but for a lifetime of experience. In other words, not any old fool can take, say, the Royal Mail and dress it anew as, say, Consignia. It requires a very special kind of fool.

So, we who are no strangers to the real world and know the price that creativity commands were not discomposed to learn that the rebranding of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) as the Department of Productivity, Energy and Industry (DPEI) lasted only a week – it is a long time in politics – or that it cost money. But what set us back on our heels, agape at the extraordinary value that may be had still by those who shop around, is that it cost &£30,000. A mere &£30,000! That, my friends, is the kind of money any corporate identity specialist worthy of the name would spend on a frugal week’s entertaining.

Ignorant of the going rate for organisational facelifts, Tory front-bencher Lord Hanningfield failed to see the &£30,000 for the bargain it was. “The cost of this fiasco could have paid for an additional police officer or six replacement hip operations,” he said.

His calculations may be right, but to make comparisons of that kind is a dangerous path down which to tread. If we were to value our currency not as the pound sterling but as the hip replacement, we should all be afflicted by a silent shudder of guilt every time we bought an ice-cream or engaged the services of a lifestyle guru. If every pound that is spent is to be seen as yet another few moments of agony on the waiting list for replacement hips, the nation would subside into a slough of guilt and all the merriment of life would vanish as the mists from the hills.

As I say, &£30,000 for a rebrand is a mere bagatelle, but it becomes a different sum entirely when it is spent on a man with a screwdriver. And that, according to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (who all too briefly rejoiced in the title of Secretary of State for Productivity Energy and Industry, or Penis, as the Whitehall jokers, of whom there are many, designated the short-lived department) Alan Johnson, is where the money went.

He said a “man with a screwdriver” would re-attach the nameplate outside the ministry. Thirty thousand Jimmy O’Goblins seems an awful lot of money to pay for a man with a screwdriver, four screws, and a similar number of rawlplugs. But, as every householder who has ever engaged the services of such a man will know, it is but the going rate.

For it is the most remarkable feature of our economy – the fourth-largest in the world – that people who are unskilled, semi-skilled, or plain unemployable can demand, and get, considerable payment in return for performing the most ordinary tasks.

This unprecedented wealth explains the entire chav phenomenon: it explains why fat, shaven-headed men with earrings, tattoos and three-quarter-length trousers drive the latest SUVs and holiday in Barbados.

How on earth has this happened? The answer can be found in two words – property boom. The increase in the price of houses over the past five years is the biggest financial bubble in history. It has generated a widespread but false sense of financial wellbeing. Many people have increased their mortgages to turn capital gains into spending money. Interest rates are low, encouraging indebtedness believed by borrowers to be sustainable because of the sense of security bestowed by the ever-increasing value of their houses.

All this amounts to a prolonged and glorious windfall for men with screwdrivers. They have never had it so good. A modest capital outlay (item: one screwdriver) equips a man with a passport to riches. Middle-class householders who would have shopped at B&Q and done simple DIY jobs for themselves have loosened the bonds of parsimony and no longer feel the need to exert themselves. When they are sitting on a fortune why deny the working man his entitlement to a share in the nation’s bounty?

It cannot last, of course. As with all bubbles it will burst and we shall be showered in cold dismay. The pawnbrokers must steel themselves for a surfeit of screwdrivers.


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