Monday, 24 February 2020


I remember this half-hearted encouragement given to someone not doing very well at school; that word “only” had a feeling of resignation anticipating failure. It should have been more positive. We should all aim to do our best. And it’s in that spirit that James O Brien on LBC, reflecting on the current immigration policy, said he found the term “unskilled worker” obnoxious.

He’s right. There is no task, however menial, that doesn’t require skill. We have a Czech cleaner who does a brilliant job in our house filling the place with positivity as she cleans with ferocity and finesse. If architects were as skilled in their jobs as she is in hers we’d have more beautiful buildings.

My Goddaughter has just gone to Tokyo to take up a big, skilled job in a top law firm. Her flat is in Roppongi, an area full of designer boutiques, restaurants and bars. But when she moved into her flat it was empty, devoid of refrigerators, washing machines, furniture. She had to buy everything and said the pride the delivery men had in delivering and installing the fridge carefully and “skilfully” was amazing. The Japanese are fussy about doing every job perfectly. Porters at that stations are doing their best to be the best porters.

But in the UK the idea that you should do every job brilliantly, however far beneath your self-perceived merits it may be, is unusual . Rachel Bell, a successful entrepreneur and my co-author, had as her byword “be the best at whatever you do…nothing’s beneath you”.  But so long as our leaders are dismissive about  “low paid, unskilled” work, there’s little incentive for pride. I recall a TV programme in which British workers were matched against foreign workers. They did badly, criticising their Polish counterparts for “working too fast” and in other instances walking off the job because “too much was expected”.

Years ago I talked to the CEO of Unipart, John Neil, about the state of British Industry in the 1970s. He said “no-one knew what good was”. Most people know now, helped by watching  immigrant labour keen to work and work quickly. Eastern Europeans do so with such pride and focus that employers attracted by their work rate and quality are eager to hire them. 

We’ve got better, with  big, thriving sectors like the automotive industry and,  particularly, hospitality which is significantly dependent on professional, ambitious foreign labour skilled in customer service Apparently though, not skilled in the eyes of the Home Office. 

These are not easy times. The high street is suffering. But recently I walked on impulse into Fortnum & Mason. The place was heaving. There were exotic displays of tea and biscuits. In 2019 they had their 7th year of double digit growth. And as their confidence has grown they’ve got better still.

They are still trying their best to be best and it shows.

All we need is government to do their best now.

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