Do you remember my “great escape” last December, as one by one, European countries closed their borders to the UK while I tried to get back to Tenerife? One of my flights was cancelled by BA and they, wrongly, refused to give me my money back. Despite numerous calls with long wait times (I hope to never hear the Flower Duet again) they wouldn’t budge. So, after five months, I took the case to arbitration and won. It turns out, the BA brand of old-fashioned quality and decency is just a facade. In the end, profits come before customers, especially when the chips are down.
Another great British brand evoking cozy village trustworthiness is the Post Office. As you may have been following in the press, between 1991 and 2015 it successfully prosecuted over 900 sub-postmasters for alleged theft, false accounting and fraud. Reputations, livelihoods and life-savings were lost. Some even committed suicide and others were imprisoned. Well, it turns out they were all innocent. The cause: computer error. The worst part is that some senior Post Office managers knew what was really going on and did it anyway. When challenged by investigators they lied and prevaricated. It has been described as one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in British history and they got away with.
There are plenty more examples of institutions we think we can trust, who have let us down. Only last week the Metropolitan Police was accused of institutional corruption for its handling of numerous investigations into the murder of Daniel Morgan. And let’s not forget the BBC’s Martin Bashir who, as we all now know, forged documents to secure his interview with Princess Diana. So much for dear old Auntie Beeb.
Was it always like this or have things got worse? Since we’re routinely misled by companies, governments and the popular press, it does make me wonder: who we can actually trust? I don’t know the answer but a good starting point would be your dog, or at a push, your cat. I don’t think our dog, Dino, could even imagine withholding refunds or sending a post office manager to prison and he certainly wouldn’t lie to a princess. I’m not saying he should be in charge of these organisations, he can’t talk, for one thing, and he tends to sleep 16 hours a day, but I do think that if he made himself available for petting at board meetings and sat in the lap of the chairperson, they’d be a little kinder. And isn’t that all we really need: more kindness? Who knows, if every boardroom has a resident puppy, these companies might even become the examples of decency we want them to be.