Monday, August 17, 2020


There was talk this morning that economic activity across continental Europe is likely to settle at a level around 10% lower than the pre-pandemic one, for the time being at least.

Meanwhile a poll in the UK found that 86% of people say workers should be able to work from home until a vaccine is found. Of course, a complete medical solution to this problem may never present itself. 

This will inevitably feed the discussion about the likely medium term fate of the big metropolises like London and New York

San Francisco has also witnessed a massive exodus since the start of the year.

In Britain certain conservative factions would like us to feel passionate about the prognosis for Pret A Manger, poster boys for the important economic activity seemingly squandered in major city centres during lockdown.

Yesterday morning V and I were reminiscing about the lunchtime grazing options available in London during the nineties and then the noughties. Chains like Pret and the various branded coffee outlets clearly contributed to the fairly rapid decline of traditional sandwich shops in the West End. I’m thinking in particular of Battista’s in Charing Cross Road, close to the old Foyles, which eventually turned into a Caffe Nero. (Superficially, still kind of Italian, right?)

If there is some nuance to be added to the immigration discussion surrounding Brexit it is this. The old-style coffee and snack shops were the product of pre-globalised, twentieth century immigration. Most were family run, single outlet businesses. Wherever these little clans hailed from originally, they had come to stay.

Once displaced by the likes of Costa, Starbucks, Pret and so on, a newer, more opportunistic form of immigration took hold. London started to fill up with workers from abroad who, in the main, had little intention of putting down permanent roots. It was simply there as the most humungous short term opportunity in the EU block, and as such, just had to be milked.

Companies founded by British marketing and business consultants then took full advantage of this new mobile and temporary workforce. The immigrants of previous generations hadn’t a hope of competing, at least not with their existing models.

I’m no Leaver, and I have not been any sort of Londoner either for over a decade, but I do understand why many of my local-born friends in London of more or less the same age as myself, and equally averse to populist rhetoric, find it hard to worry all that much about the fate of the post-millennium coffee and sandwich industry in the capital.

They had their moment and they exploited it ruthlessly and not without collateral social damage. So if it is now gone, so be it.

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