Maybe because he’s got a guilt complex, maybe because he subconsciously hates his “staunch Conservative” father, maybe because he’s just a bit nuts, or maybe for reasons beyond our imaginations, John Mills — multi-millionaire founder of the JML shopping channel empire — is the Labour party’s biggest donor.
I know, it’s weird.
Never heard of him? Well, neither had I, but if you’re an insomniac, watch TV when you come back late from the pub, or have been channel hopping under the influence of boredom, then you’re sure to have seen the creative output of his enterprise — and if you were drunk, you may even have made a purchase.
Unnaturally excited, brightly lit and with the endurance of the Energiser Bunny, young and desperate television presenters enthuse the benefits of various products that mostly seem like the surplus of Derek Trotter, each with catchy faux-casual names (“Snuggies”, “Ruggies”, “GripGo”, “HotBuns”) or faux-foreign pseudo-brands (“Rapido”, which must be said in feigned Italian accent).
The purpose of the airtime, of course, is to convince you — the bored housewife, the single mother, the husband who has got back slightly inebriated and just remembered it’s his wife’s birthday tomorrow so needs a gift — that, until now, you’ve been simultaneously dicing with death without the double-backed “Tacky Grip Polymer Technology suction pockets” of the adhesive “Ruggies” rug gripper, and inadequately dicing your veggies without the “8-in-1 Rapido Blender” which can splice, dice, mice, lice and perform four other tasks that fit the rhyme.
And sometimes, spilling out from the dedicated shopping networks, the offers get even better, with pre-recorded “informercial” adverts on other channels extolling not only the product’s virtues but a huge shopping list of other completely unrelated products (that are probably cluttering up the warehouse) that you’ll get free, all conjoined by the memorable, iconic, unintentional catchphrase: “…but wait…there’s more!”
And so buying a fountain pen set gets you a knife set big enough to film three Kill Bill sequels — presumably just incase the pen isn’t mightier than the sword — a Potty Putter, a Heat Surge, a Ginsu Knife, two Better Marriage Blankets — every man who has purchased one generally needs a second for when buying the first results in his wife kicking him out — a Fushigi, some BluBlocker Sunglasses — to block all that “Blu”? — and possibly much, much more, which I cannot comment on since I’ve never successfully made it to the end of the advert.
In short, the shopping channel and its infomercial kin are so unashamedly consumerist they could practically be a parody of free market capitalism — BluBlocker even sings “There’s a number soon that appears on your screen / Everything is groovy, do you know what I mean?”
Buy now, while stocks last!
None of this matters to me of course since, as an ardent-capitalist, I love the fact people can get fantastically rich from all manner of weird, whacky and wonderful creations, and through their insane imaginations contribute immeasurably to the gaiety of the world. And hey, through that experimentation, sometimes something good gets developed — everyone laughed at Edison, the Wright Brothers, Steve Jobs! — which is why capitalism always triumphs over socialism, and why discovering the JML boss describes himself as “tribal Labour” is so shocking. It’s like Gordon Gekko coming out as a Marxist. Someone ought to ask the Pope if he’s still Catholic.
But so what if John Mills is Labour’s biggest donor you might ask, why does that matter? Well, if he has any influence, given his recent policy proposals it suggests Labour returning to power could be even more disastrous than previously feared.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Labour’s biggest donor demands a severe 30 percent devaluation of the Pound, bringing it roughly to parity with the US Dollar and Euro. Rekindling Harold Wilson’s infamous “pound in your pocket” scam of 1967, the plan would increase the cost of imported goods including oil, gas, and many groceries, as well as make foreign holidays all but unaffordable except for the very wealthiest. It would trigger inflation — a risk he casually dismisses by looking only at past devaluations coinciding with recessions — erode the value of savings, slash our wealth relative to other nations, and cause interest rates to spike for borrowing. If you find an economist in support of his proposals — which he is calling “The Pound Campaign”, but should be called “The Pummel The Pound Campaign” — I suggest taking cautious steps backwards, talking in a low, slow, soothing voice, then running away as fast as possible.
And the upside to this Argentina-style banana republic devaluation? It will, he claims, boost low-wage, low-skill, low-prospect marginal manufacturing — such as making ironing board covers for JML — by making us cheaper than China! For, as he makes clear, his policy is based entirely on the model of third world developing nations — which are growing fast from an impoverished, low base, with centuries of catching up to do — rather than the world’s most successful manufacturing nation, Germany, which he omits to mention has always kept a strong, stable currency.
Labour has of course always had a significant collection of crazy proposals, but if John Mills has influence — and as their largest donor it’s hard to see how he wouldn’t — the risk of a Labour victory in 2015 is hard to overestimate, and unlike the Hula Chair… that’s no joke.