Thomas Cook’s presence in Peterborough will be sorely missed

Exteriors of Thomas Cook, Lynchwood. EMN-190924-130041009
Exteriors of Thomas Cook, Lynchwood. EMN-190924-130041009

I was horrified by the demise of Thomas Cook: my sympathies go to the people who were employed by the firm in Peterborough and further afield, writes cllr Shaz Nawaz, leader of the Labour group on Peterborough City Council. It’s yet another iconic British business that has gone under in recent years: Thomas Cook was in business when Queen Victoria was on the throne.

It opened up overseas holidays to millions. It helped people get the most of their free time. Its presence will be sorely missed.

The government’s response to this has been woeful. The Conservatives can find billions to put into a Brexit fund; it can find millions to put into an ad campaign telling us to prepare for Brexit. Yet, it cannot see its way to assisting this institution. The government believes, apparently, that to help Thomas Cook would represent a “moral hazard”. I don’t recall them feeling this way about helping financial institutions.

I also can’t imagine that if the United States got embroiled in a conflict with Iran or elsewhere, that somehow billions wouldn’t be magicked up for the purpose. Certainly, the magic money trees were in full bloom when Theresa May needed the support of the Democratic Unionist Party. However, to save jobs, to save a British institution? The money just isn’t there.

I am old enough to remember a world in which British firms were internationally recognised. ICI was one. Ferranti was another. Courtaulds was yet another. All have disappeared. Dulux paint, which once proudly bore the ICI brand now bears the markings of AkzoNobel.

We are weirdly alone in this. Look at nearly any other country around the world and there are iconic companies. General Motors still produces cars in America. BASF is still Germany’s chemicals giant.

France’s AXA is dominant in insurance. Britain has been content to let itself be sold off, to the point that our railways are largely state owned: the problem is that the states that own them are foreign.

The government isn’t actually “Conservative” at all: it appears to fetishise a far-right ideology of unlimited free markets, when those markets aren’t necessarily free, and most definitely aren’t fair.

Meanwhile, the people once employed by Thomas Cook, who have worked, paid their taxes, and done their bit find that the state deems it immoral to preserve their livelihoods.

As a country and as a city, we desperately need a rethink. No matter our future relationship with the EU, we should be reflecting on how ideology has run ahead of patriotism and common sense.

We have millions to spend on Brexit advertising, but not on Thomas Cook: a company which not only provides employment but also has a clear social utility. Something is deeply wrong. What is in error is the fanaticism of the Conservatives; what we need is a bracing dose of common sense.

The Labour Group and I look forward to providing that here in Peterborough and reminding central government that when ideology and reality clash, it should be policies that reflect reality that should prevail.