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Hi, this is Gerry, and this is my News Digest for Friday 15th December, 2017. On today’s show I’m going to talk about trust , about the town of Blackpool and its deprivation , about the new Irish Question for the EU, and seven reasons to be optimistic.
Who do you trust these days? This was the question in an article I read recently in the Financial Times. An international opinion survey has revealed that less than a third of us trust politicians and only just over a third trust business leaders. We find the same level of mistrust  when it comes to  our journalists, and even NGOs (Non-Governmental Organisations) don’t score much higher. In a recent book entitled “Who can you trust?” the author, Rachel Botman, describes different patterns of trust. There’s old-fashioned strong, “horizontal”, face-to-face trust: trust in our friends, our colleagues and so on; people we know personally. Then there’s “vertical” trust. This is our trust in institutions, such as the Church, the government, other big organisations, but our trust in them is weak these days. Now, this book suggests, there’s a new form of trust. Consider this: you look on your phone for a driver to take you home. You don’t know him. He’s in an ordinary car – not a regulated taxi. Isn’t it very risky  to get into a stranger’s car? Or you agree to let some stranger come and stay in your flat. Can you trust them? Companies like Uber or Airbnb are creating a new form of trust. It’s face-to-face in one sort of way, but it’s guaranteed by the group, your peers . You don’t trust the company as such  but you trust the other customers. That’s why customer reviews  are important. TripAdvisor and E-Bay are other examples. The article finished with a word of warning , however. It asked if we are willing to accept the full risk. Do we still expect our government and our public institutions to be protecting us in the background? If something really bad went wrong with these companies, such a catastrophic cyber-attack, wouldn’t we expect some authority to step in  and save us? Where would our trust lie then?
A lot of the people in the UK who voted for Brexit were people who don’t trust politicians, business leaders and so on. They don’t think they’re getting a fair deal  from them. They live in parts of the country that are not doing well, and in Britain many of the towns that are among the most deprived , the most economically underperforming, are on the coast. A prime example is Blackpool on the Lancashire coast, not far from Liverpool, Manchester and the other industrial towns of the north-west. Blackpool used to be a famous seaside resort . The industrial workers of the north all went to Blackpool for their holidays. Nowadays, a lot of the factories where they worked have closed, people are doing different sorts of work, and if they have the money they can now afford to go to Spain or Turkey for their holidays. Blackpool today has lost its holiday appeal  and the town is in trouble. Public health statistics tell the story. Life expectancy  for men there is five years less than the UK average. Blackpool has the highest number of people who are in receipt of benefits  because they are too ill to work. And the situation is getting worse. If you’re too sick to work or if you’re on a low pension, a seaside town with a low cost of living is an attractive destination, so Blackpool attracts pensioners and people on benefits, while qualified people and higher earners are moving away. It’s a difficult cycle to get out of. Voting for Brexit may not have been the solution to the problem but at least those votes have put places like Blackpool in the spotlight .
As I come to the end of this final News Digest for 2017, Brexit remains the biggest UK story of the year and it’s still in the headlines just about every week. As I record this we’re just hearing that the negotiations have made enough progress so that they can move on to the next stage and start talking about what the UK has wanted to talk about since the beginning, that is to say trade: the future trading relationship between the UK and the EU. Things were looking good. The UK had agreed to pay more money; the rights of EU and UK nationals living in each other’s countries seemed to have been secured; so it just remained to  find a solution to the question of what sort of border there would be between Northern Ireland (part of the UK) and the rest of Ireland, the Republic (a member of the EU). The EU insists  that the border should remain open, and the UK agrees. The open border and close cooperation between the Republic and Northern Ireland were important for creating peace in Northern Ireland. But how will it work in future? Once the UK is outside the EU, don’t we have to have a border with customs posts? Unless of course, free trade is agreed between the EU and the UK - but the EU refuses to talk about that yet. It’s very complicated, but then the politics of Ireland and its relationship with the UK have always been complicated. I’m reminded of an old joke about 19th century politics, when the whole of Ireland was part of the UK, and when the Liberal Prime Minister, Mr Gladstone, was trying to find a way to give the Irish more control over their affairs . People talked about this as the Irish Question. So, it was said that the great Mr Gladstone in his later years devoted himself  to finding the answer to the Irish Question, but each time he came close, the Irish secretly changed the question. If you’re following the news at the moment, you’ll understand that that joke seems awfully modern all of a sudden.
The future of the UK outside the EU may seem rather uncertain at the moment, and it may make some us a bit anxious , but the future of the planet should make us all very anxious. However, the Guardian newspaper recently published some reasons for hope: seven megatrends that may help reduce global warming. Here they are. In the west at least, we’re eating less meat, and new plant-based meat-like foods are constantly coming onto the market. Fewer cattle and sheep will mean less methane gas. There’s extraordinary growth in renewable  energy: solar, wind, etc. And the price is plummeting . Then as solar power gets cheaper, coal becomes less and less attractive. The future for electric cars seems to be here. At last they look like a real alternative to petrol- and diesel-driven cars. At the same time, there are huge advances in battery technology. Then more and more countries are taking energy efficiency seriously. There’s been a 20% improvement in efficiency in the EU since 2000. Deforestation  remains a problem, but countries like China and India are leading the way in planting new trees. So with these trends, perhaps there’s hope for us all.
And that’s it for today. To comment on my stories, please write via the PodClub website (podclub.ch) or on Twitter under the address @Gerrypod. Don’t forget that the PodClub app not only allows you to listen to our podcasts but also provides you with some help to extend your vocabulary. As I mentioned, today’s show was the last for this year, so I wish you all happy holidays, and let’s enter 2018 with hope in our hearts! I’ll be back with my next News Digest on February 2nd. Till then, take care!