As a boy in my South Yorkshire mining village, often on Saturday mornings I went to the picture house and watched a black and white film.

While the special effects were primitive by today’s standards, I still gasped in horror and woke up trembling during the night thinking of those vampires, giant insects or Frankenstein monsters sucking my blood, devouring me whole or kidnapping me.

What terrified me most of all, however, were the bug-eyed zombies and their avowed mission to take over the world. Who could have guessed that 2009 might go down in history as the year it actually happened?

If you look around any retail park, it is not hard to spot the living dead, despite their best efforts to hide themselves behind window posters designed to imply business as usual. They are the companies that have collapsed, but continue to trade thanks to pre-pack administration or the new con trick of company voluntary arrangements.

These shameful devices give badly managed businesses a huge cost advantage over neighbouring retailers that have worked hard to trade solvently through the recession. I cannot get my head around why such incompetence should be rewarded at the expense of successful companies.

It is hard to totally blame those in charge of these failed organisations for taking advantage of a legal loophole that allows them to cling on to some sort of stuttering half-life. But I do blame landlords for being so short-sighted as to go along with it, clearly prejudicing the goodwill of their more valuable, successful tenants. If these landlords are prepared to slash costs for some tottering retailers, surely the same deal should be offered to us all?

The Government helped create this situation by levying substantial taxes on empty properties, tempting landlords to accept dubious covenants at give-away rents. Our rulers pressed ahead with this legislation despite warnings from all of those whose sight actually extended beyond the end of their noses.

Sadly this is typical of the ill-thought-through law-making in Britain today. Directives flood out of Brussels, often festooned with bells and whistles in Westminster, attempting to micromanage the smallest details of our lives from the type of light bulb we can buy to how much certain business sectors are permitted to pay their employees.

Millions died in the last century protecting our freedom and democratic system, yet everywhere I see the authoritarian screws tightening. Fortunately for us, there is no one at the top with the charisma or intellect to become an effective dictator.

But as I contemplate Gordon’s drooping jaw at the end of every sentence he utters, or Bob Ainsworth’s joke moustache, a chilling thought creeps into my mind. Perhaps when the zombies earmarked 2009 as the year of their world takeover, they chose to begin right here in Britain and started at the very top.

  • Lord Kirkham is chairman of DFS

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