Dubai: exodus from the kingdom of bling
There is a "regular astonishing sight" at Dubai's international airport, says Mark Hollingsworth in ES Magazine: dozens of luxury cars – Mercedes, Porsches, BMWs, etc – abandoned with their keys still in the ignition. In some cases, notes of apology are taped to the windscreens.
The owners of these vehicles are mainly British expatriates, who have left in a hurry because they faced "crippling debts" as a result of Dubai's financial meltdown and their own profligate behaviour. Many of them, says Hollingsworth, have defaulted on loans; rather than risk arrest and jail, they drove at top speed to the airport where they jumped on the first flight to London.
If you're looking for a microcosm of the world financial crisis, then Dubai is it. The Alice-in-Wonderland atmosphere of crazed spending was more extreme than anywhere else and now the tourism-and-expatriate-dependent little kingdom is heading precipitously towards bankruptcy. Last month it was bailed out with a $20bn package by its oil-rich neighbour, Abu Dhabi, but, with $80bn worth of debts, it could still go bankrupt this year.
Five years ago Dubai was expanding faster than anywhere else. Vast hotels were going up everywhere, as were millions of houses as British and other expatriates flooded in, along with Hollywood stars and supermodels. In the surreal world of Dubai, you could even ski on an indoor ski slope or watch racing camels being trained in a hotel swimming pool.
Nor, in this "kingdom of bling", did anyone worry much about Islamic law, which prohibits alcohol and gambling and under which prostitutes risk being stoned or flogged to death. Almost everything was available in the Western hotels, "as long as patrons were discreet", and plane-loads of high-class call girls from eastern Europe descended on Dubai. "The government don't mind because it brings money," said one local madam. "Hotels, taxis, restaurants, shops – everything benefits from the girls. Now tourists come here just for sex." Dubai, says Hollingsworth, was the Las Vegas of the Middle East: "everything was illegal and yet everything was available".
By last year, 100,000 Britons were living in Dubai, paying no tax and enjoying the sunshine for 300 days a year. Now, with property prices plummeting and the price of everything else staying high, they're leaving in droves. So are the Americans. And the days of film stars throwing glitzy parties in Dubai, I'd guess, will soon be gone, too, if they aren't already.
Surallan's shrinking fortune
When the new series of The Apprentice begins next week, one element will be missing, says the Evening Standard.
No longer will we be told that Sir Alan Sugar is worth "more than £800m". In fact, no value at all will be put on his fortune. Perhaps this is just an oversight, as a spokesman for "surallan" suggests, but the Estates Gazette last October put his fortune at £750m and it is likely to have fallen by another £50m or so since then. But, as The Times says, "at least he is still hiring".
Tabloid money... Mandy's £500 a week flower bill
• "What fragrant flowers nestle in the vase that is constantly brightening the desk of Lord Mandelson?" asks Fergus Shanahan in The Sun. The business secretary has spent £500 a week of our money on blooms for his office since his return to the Cabinet. The education department under Ed Balls has blown £174,000 at the florist in the last four years. "The government's four-year flower bill stands at £780,000 – a scandalous waste of taxpayers' money."
• Lord Myners blames everyone but himself for Fred the Shred's "disgraceful £703,000 pension bonanza", says The Sun. "Nobody told me, he blathers." But Myners was only given a peerage and a job as Treasury minister because of his "vaunted banking expertise". When Royal Bank of Scotland collapsed, he should have asked what its board had in mind for the departing chairman. "Instead he let them clobber taxpayers with an outrageous bill of up to £30m – of which Sir Fred has already grabbed £3m in cash. What a reward for landing us with liabilities of £2trn! Myners' plea of ignorance is no defence. He was hired for one purpose. Having failed so abjectly, there is no further need for his services."
• Workers at Toyota's car plants in Derby and Deeside are taking a 10% pay cut – averaging £1,900 – to avert redundancies, says Paul Routledge in the Daily Mirror. "That's what I call a real sacrifice." It shows "there is more decency on the shopfloor than in Britain's boardrooms". Bank bosses, in particular, have no shame. They are just hoarding the money they've been given by the government – "when they're not putting it into their personal pension pots".