Why the government was right not to bail out Thomas Cook
PUBLISHED: 16:55 23 September 2019 | UPDATED: 16:55 23 September 2019
The Government is showing compassion but bringing stranded holidaymakers home. But if we live in a capitalist system, compassion is the exception rather than the rule, says Liz Nice
I know exactly how the 160,000 holidaymakers currently stranded abroad after the Thomas Cook collapse are feeling.
A few weeks ago, I was stranded myself, in Gran Canaria, after my youngest son developed an ear infection and was pronounced unfit to fly.
The wait for flight clearance lasted five days, but felt interminable.
We're so used to our automatic freedoms, to be told you can't go home is emotionally jarring. Practically, I did well - caring for my son, speaking to the insurers (AXA, who were excellent) - but my mind was troubled. I felt like screaming most of the time and would happily have got on any boat offered, even though I suffer from crippling seasickness, so desperate was I to return to the safety and security of home.
What has happened to Thomas Cook has made me sad.
As the mother of two youngsters, I have taken many Thomas Cook holidays and always found them to be the best of the package holiday firms.
Thomson, or TUI as they are now, were never as good in my experience - and so it proved again this time in Gran Canaria when the lack of empathy I experienced from the majority of the TUI reps was disappointing.
Although the rep in our first hotel, Megan, was lovely, kind and helpful beyond the call of duty, when we were forced to move to another hotel because our hotel was full once our stay had to be extended, the TUI rep there was less compassionate.
She actually left me at the hotel reception trying to explain our problem (with difficulty) and never bothered to find out if we were OK after that. Similarly, messages I sent to the TUI office for basic help received cold responses. Could they tell me a local doctor's surgery where we could use our EHIC cards? No.
On reflection however, I realised that the kindness of Megan was down to her own basic decency, rather than company policy.
TUI's job was to book our accommodation and flights. Once we were out there, any further responsibility for our health and happiness not really their concern. This was capitalism in action. Kindness is always down to individuals; in business, it is never enshrined.
I chose TUI this time, not Thomas Cook, because I knew they were in trouble.
I made a cold-hearted business decision, rather than help out the travel company whose approach I had always preferred.
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This is the system we live in and so, on that basis, the government was right not to bail Thomas Cook out.
The fact that the government is laying on flights to bring home the stranded holidaymakers is the kindness coming in.
The government doesn't have to do it; all the people who booked with Thomas Cook did so knowing the business was troubled. They took their risk, probably because of cheaper prices. They are lucky that our government, either for PR reasons, or out of basic decency, will not allow their entire worlds to fall apart.
The tension between compassion and capitalism lies at the heart of our system and lives.
Human beings, in my experience, tend towards decency.
The kindness of strangers is one of life's great gifts - and it is abundant.
My father was taken ill at his hotel in Cromer where he and my mother were celebrating her birthday. People there, staff and other customers, were unfailingly kind.
"Is he all right?" asked a man as I led Dad downstairs in his pyjamas. "Go well, Sir," he added, as we shuffled slowly past once I'd explained.
Little touches, little kindnesses, are how we all, as human beings survive and find the strength to go on.
But for a business like Thomas Cook, who lived and died in the coldhearted world of capitalism, there are no such saviours.
As Boris Johnson said, £150m was a lot of taxpayers' money and to donate it would have set up "a moral hazard in the case of future such commercial difficulties that companies face".
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps also argued, rather reasonably, that he was not convinced a bail out would have solved Thomas Cook's problems for any length of time anyway, so that in a few months' time, the problem would have just returned.
Thomas Cook was a business that had had its time.
We might have loved them; we feel desperately sorry for the 21,000 staff who will be losing their jobs, but we couldn't save them.
We can only be kind to those affected, hope things go better for them tomorrow and trust that for those who allowed the company to founder and leave so many people in a horrendous mess for a long time to come, that lessons have been learned.