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The FTSE 100 fell, the pound saw sharp falls, billions were wiped off the value of UK plc, and why?  Because of a cough.

 

Welcome to the gig economy Mrs May. Okay, you are not exactly part of it, but this week you got an indication of what it is like.

Only in one small respect was it her fault. It was not down to her that comedian Lee Nelson rushed to the stage handing the Prime Minister her P45 on the fictitious orders of ‘get the bodies out of the way’ Boris Johnson, it was not her fault that a bit of the stage behind her fell down during her speech. It was not her fault she had a cold.  But it was her fault that she had been working too hard, having given too many interviews before her speech, leaving her larynx feeling knackered.

She has made many errors of judgment, but this week, the only error she made was to try and work too hard.

But it is an omen we are told, the shambles that was her speech is indicative of what is wrong with the current government. There is precedent, of course. Both Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar would inspect the entrails of whatever animal they had just sacrificed, before deciding whether to go to battle. Superstition has a rich tradition in politics.

But as a general rule of thumb, suspicious nonsense is not meant to move the markets.

We are told the disaster of her speech is a metaphor for what is wrong with the government.  Can events over which we have no control be a metaphor? This is a literary device, something created in the minds of men and women, if a crumbling sign is a metaphor, then this is implicit recognition of some kind of supernatural force playing tricks with us, metaphors from on high, a wily god trying to tell us something, you can say the speech is like a metaphor, but it is not one.

And yet the markets did a nose dive. Sterling fell sharply – it seems that Mrs May could have suffered from the cough that will carry her off from the mantle of Tory leadership.

If the UK needs stability, then yet another leadership battle is not exactly what the UK needs, it also appears that the markets pay too much heed to omens.

For the best interests of UK plc, let us hope that Mrs May’s successor does pay more attention to superstition, sacrifices the odd calf before making a speech, like the great conquerors of the ancient world.

But at least Mrs May and many of her followers now know what it is like when having a cough is something you can’t afford. For the UK’s army of gig economy workers, feeling ill can cost them their month’s rent.  The age of the gig economy, combined with an age when we have a benefits system that makes it nigh on impossible to tap into at short notice, has created a workforce afraid to feel ill – not because we have returned to the era of Victorian medicine, when a cough could be a pointer of imminent death, but because, just like in the 19th century, a growing chunk of the workforce is at the mercy of the markets, while the markets themselves seem to pay more attention to ‘signs’ and ‘omens’, rather than solid  fundamentals.