I can’t work up much indignation at the collapse of London’s Garden Bridge project, which has been strangled by the refusal of mayor Sadiq Khan to guarantee its continuing operational and maintenance costs — assuming its trustees, led by former banker and minister Lord Davies of Abersoch, would have succeeded in raising the £150 million of private capital required to build the bridge and plant its 270 trees in the first place. Promoted by Joanna Lumley and Sadiq’s predecessor Boris Johnson, this was a beautiful but whimsical idea, placed in an overcrowded stretch of the Thames and based on a ramshackle business plan. In a more confident economic climate it might have gone ahead and given us pleasure — but it has been done for by a combination of funding uncertainty and a London Labour conspiracy (Dame Margaret Hodge in the thick of it) to demolish every vestige of Boris’s reputation. In killing the bridge, they have notched up double success by crying scandal over its alleged £37 million of preliminary spending from public funds.
Meanwhile, more promising is a proposed £40 million pedestrian and cycle crossing from Nine Elms to Pimlico. The borough of Wandsworth and its many apartment-scheme developers are keen to see it happen, while some residents of Pimlico are vociferously opposed. Should this column be for or against? As one angry Pimlico-dweller reminds me, in that longitude of the capital I probably have more readers north of the river than south. But I’m a sucker for an elegant grand projet — the design is by a Danish architect, Erik Bystrup — and this one is relatively cheap and surely good for health and social cohesion: so I’ll stick my neck out and say bring it on.
On the other hand, I really do regret the passing of the Lovefilm DVD-rental-by-post service, which will be terminated by its owner Amazon on 31 October. For its aficionados, this was a superior and discerning way of catching up with films and television series you had otherwise missed, just as dedicated music buffs prefer the paraphernalia of old vinyl to the convenience of downloads. Over the years, Lovefilm has kept my rural postmen in work by sending me almost 200 discs, including the entirety of Homeland, House of Cards and the gripping French police series Spiral. Late adopter that I am, I’ll now have to grapple with ‘streaming’, but I shall miss the familiar DVD routine and probably never see the most recherché films on my rental wish-list.
More significantly, Lovefilm was a useful case study of the life cycle of tech ventures — in this case, 15 years from end to end. In the early 2000s, a clutch of online DVD rental firms sprang up in the UK and began progressively swallowing each other up. By 2006, there were two competing survivors, Lovefilm and ScreenSelect. They merged — and were then bold or foolhardy enough to buy Amazon’s DVD rental business and allow Amazon in return to become their largest shareholder, with 32 per cent. In 2011 the online giant took full ownership, passing some tens of millions that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos (at $90 billion and counting) won’t miss to the British venturers behind Lovefilm and its predecessors. Amazon then set about converting Lovefilm’s customers to streaming, as well as selling them everything else under the sun. The days of the DVD service — with its physical stock, warehouse workforce and postal costs — were clearly numbered.
Now demand for it has withered and Amazon says it will pass the DVD stock to ‘our charity partners’ — boosting high street charity shops that are eating the livelihoods of the remaining small retailers who try to compete against Amazon. Wouldn’t it be better if the stock were offered to specialist entrepreneurs, akin to the lively community of secondhand booksellers which is Amazon’s happiest unintended consequence, so that the service could continue for those who value it? I might become a back-bedroom renter of French cinema classics.
The core consumer price index of inflation held unexpectedly steady at 2.6 per cent in July, further removing any possibility of an interest-rate rise this year. So what’s the downside? My eye is drawn to a bulletin from Nationwide, the UK’s most sensible mortgage lender. It reports a fall in quarterly profits after a rise in bad debts to £36 million from £16 million for the same period last year — small numbers but a significant trend — and its chief executive Joe Garner warns the sector to ‘balance its lending carefully’ as cheap-rate consumer credit continues to balloon while growth prospects decline. I’d say he’s right on the money.
What news from La France profonde? President Macron’s approval rating fell again this week, making him even less popular after 100 days in office than his footling socialist predecessor. But in my neck of the woods, no one’s talking politics: we’re more excited about a performance in the marketplace at Monpazier of Shakespeare’s Richard III by the Antic Disposition company, which is the UK’s best export to south-west France at this time of year. The programme notes offer a Brexit-related warning against unscrupulous leaders whose followers ‘attended to their sugared words but looked not on the poison of their hearts’, the point underlined by presenting the opportunist Lord Mayor of London as a wigged and rosetted Boris.
You can catch this production in London’s Temple Church from 22 August — and meanwhile, here’s my weekly value-for-money restaurant tip, also from Monpazier. If you bought euros at €1.20 to the pound back in April, ease into the gastronomic ‘Menu Eleanore’ at the Hotel Edouard I. If you’re at the mercy of rip-off exchange rates applied by credit-card companies (that’s another story), go for the excellent ‘Formule Midi’ offered by Bistrot 2 round the corner at less than half the price.
Subscribe to The Spectator Australia today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator Australia for less – just $20 for 10 issues