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The rise of the lockdown share trader

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the rise of the lockdown share trader

Alongside interior design, gardening and baking, more Britons seem to have tapped into an undiscovered passion for investing in shares since lockdown.

While funds and trusts are often the go-to for the beginner investor, this year has seen an increase in trading activity in company shares.

With more people working from home and a keener interest in the impact of the coronavirus on the economy, plus some very high profile global stock market names such as Tesla, Apple and Amazon flying high, more and more people have taken to trading in shares directly.

And some have reaped significant rewards for doing so after boldly buying in after markets hit a coronavirus crash bottom on 23 March.

Lockdown has seen many tap into an undiscovered passion for investing in stocks and shares

Lockdown has seen many tap into an undiscovered passion for investing in stocks and shares

So, what is going on? Why has there been a resurgence in people investing or trading directly in shares and is it linked to a similar trend in the US – typically a more investing-orientated nation. 

This is Money spoke to the UK’s leading DIY investing platforms and some of their upstart rivals that are slashing the cost of buying and selling shares to find out how more of the nation became hooked on the stock market while in quarantine and what this might mean for the future of investing.

The rise of the lockdown share trader 

Britain is buying and selling more shares during lockdown.

Our research shows that the amount of trades in stocks and shares across all major platforms rose during the nationwide lockdown this year, which was officially implemented on 23 March and began easing in early July, compared to same period in 2019.

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Most industry experts we spoke to put this partially down to the increase in people working from home and therefore people having slightly more time on their hands without the commute, or the every day distractions one might have in an office. 

Some of those furloughed or unable to work have also been getting involved. 

We spoke to one amateur share trader, who asked not to be named, who after being unable to work as a photographer started playing the markets in March and has made a decent profit since. 

Russ Mould, investment director at AJ Bell, said: ‘Lockdown meant that people actually had time to take stock of their finances and manage them to best effect, topping up annual allowances in tax-efficient wrappers where they could. 

AJ Bell's Mould said lockdown meant people had time to take stock of their finances

AJ Bell’s Mould said lockdown meant people had time to take stock of their finances

‘It is also possible that some investors are also taking the view that central bank money printing and soaring Government budget deficits mean inflation – and loss of purchasing power for cash – is on the way, with the result that they are seeking to protect their wealth by buying real assets, such as shares in companies.’

Meanwhile, Bestinvest reported higher levels of engagement from clients over the lockdown months, attributing it to many people being on furlough and so having the time to think about their financial circumstances.  

Myron Jobson, of Interactive Investor, said it is possible that the current global crisis may have simply inspired people to start saving because now is arguably that ‘rainy day’ we all should have been saving for. 

How have the numbers changed? 

Social trading platform, eToro, which allows users to copy other investors’ trades, saw a huge uptick in new UK registrants over lockdown, alongside a whopping 420 per cent increase in the number of opened stock trades from January to June, compared to the same period in 2019. 

Adam Vettese, of eToro, said part of this is driven by the pandemic encouraging ‘working-from-home investors’ but also by the launch of its zero commission stocks offering. 

Trades in shares at Interactive Investor were up 119 per cent year-on-year between 1 April and 31 August, while trading volumes over March and April at AJ Bell were three times higher than the same period in 2019.

The group said since then, trading volumes have decreased but have still been running at double normal volumes throughout the last few months. 

Meanwhile Susannah Streeter, senior investment and markets analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said the investing platform giant saw a 221 per cent rise in the number of trades between 24 March and 30 June, compared to the same timeframe last year.

Although there was an increase in sells by 183%, our clients were much more interested in buying into the market, with shares purchased up by 258%
Susannah Streeter, Hargreaves Lansdown

She added: ‘Although there was an increase in sells by 183 per cent, our clients were much more interested in buying into the market, with shares purchased up by 258 per cent.’

Commission-free investing platform Freetrade also reported record figures, with a 26 per cent increase in order volume between April and July and a spike in June. 

Who is in this new group of investors?

It’s not just the amount of trades and new investors coming to market that is interesting – it’s who those investors are.

Traditonally, investors in shares in the UK have skewed towards being part of an older generation that came of financial age at a time of personal stockbrokers and financial advisers. 

They have continued to invest directly in shares, while the younger generation of investors coming through has preferred funds and more recently ETFs.

But between March and September, Freetrade saw an 80 per cent increase in its total number of customers, with the biggest portions being made up of those aged 18 to 25 (27 percent of total customers) and 26 to 35 (42 per cent of total customers).

Similarly, eToro found that just under 40 per cent of all new UK customers that joined the platform within the last 12 months, and which currently hold real stocks are under 29 years old. 

This reflects the Robinhood effect in the US, which has partially been credited with fuelling the stratospheric rise in popular tech stars shares, such as Tesla, Apple, Amazon and new kid on the block Zoom. The app that offers commission free trading has lured in a new generation of investors, although many question whether they are investing in the long-term sense or simply trading to speculate. 

Freetrade and eToro both offer commission-free share trading in the UK, whereas platform giant Hargreaves Lansdown charges £11.95 to buy or sell, Interactive Investor charges £7.99, Fidelity charges £10 and AJ Bell charges £9.95. Even cut price favourite iWeb charges £5. 

But it’s not just the newer, shinier, primarily app-based platforms that have seen an influx of new younger investors. The longer-standing, more traditional platforms are also experiencing somewhat of a revolution. 

AJ Bell said 22 per cent of its new Youinvest customers in the first six months of the year were aged between 21 and 30, compared to just 13 per cent of overall customers. The group said this trend saw its average customer age fall from 44 to 38 over the past 18 months.

A spokesperson added: ‘Online platforms are increasingly catering for the needs of younger investors through intuitive mobile apps, ready-made investment solutions and content specifically designed to help them get stated with investing.’  

New account openings at Interactive Investor increased by as much as 238 per cent among certain age groups in April and May 2020 compared to the same period in 2019

New account openings at Interactive Investor increased by as much as 238 per cent among certain age groups in April and May 2020 compared to the same period in 2019

Meanwhile, Interactive Investor also saw record numbers of younger people opening accounts in April and May this year compared to the same period last year. The amount of new accounts opened by 25 to 34 year-olds increased by a staggering 238 per cent.

In terms of who the investors were that were actually performing the bulk of trading during lockdown however, these were, perhaps unsurprisingly, older and more seasoned investors. 

Interactive Investor’s Jobson added: ‘There has been a notable increase in share trades among the 25 to 24 age group – accounting for 6.75 per cent of trades this year to the end of August compared to 4.33 per cent over the same period last year.

‘But the lion’s share of trades were made by older generations as you’d expect – around three quarters of trades were made by those aged over 45 this year.’ 

Jason Hollands, of Bestinvest, said: ‘Higher engagement has been particularly noticeable from those in their 50s, who are thinking about how their retirement timeline might be impacted by effect on their pensions, as well as those who want to assess whether they could afford to retire earlier than anticipated if they find themselves out of work.’ 

Interestingly, share trading activity among older clients of Hargreaves Lansdown fell markedly, particularly among those in retirement. 

Susannah Streeter said: ’14 per cent of those aged between 64 and 80 made a share trade between March and June this year, compared to 14 per cent last year. 

‘What’s also striking is that almost half (49 per cent) of clients who placed a trade were aged between 30 and 54, up from 43 per cent last year, while those trading shares in the 18 to 29 age group also rose to 15 per cent, from 10 per cent the year before.’

Hargreaves Lansdown's Susannah Streeter said it was 'striking' that more clients aged between 30 and 54 invested in shares over lockdown compared to the same period last year

Hargreaves Lansdown’s Susannah Streeter said it was ‘striking’ that more clients aged between 30 and 54 invested in shares over lockdown compared to the same period last year

What shares are people buying? 

Most markets and industries were hit by the coronavirus pandemic, so it could be argued that opportunities were, and still are, to be found pretty much everywhere.

Significant trading activity at Hargreaves Lansdown centred around the travel sector, which suffered steep declines during the pandemic.

Streeter said easyJet, Carnival and International Consolidated Airlines Group were among the ten most popular shares traded on the platform. 

What is fractional share trading? 

Fractional share trading is the ability to buy a part or piece of a full share, rather than the whole thing. 

Many shares can be quite costly but with fractional shares you get the same price movements as full shares, simply in smaller increments. 

Wombat Invest chief executive Kane Harrison believes fractional share trading is the future of investing. 

He said: ‘It removes the concept of needing to save up to buy full shares. People can get started much earlier and are able to simply buy however much they can afford to invest. 

‘This is important because it allows people to get started on their investing journey much earlier, and develop the knowledge and skills they need to become successful investors.’

Between 1 April and 31 July, Tesla was the most popular stock at Freetrade, followed by Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Boohoo. 

Most of these companies are still firm favourites today with the top five stocks at eToro for August 2020 featuring Apple, Advanced Micro Devices, Microsoft and Tesla.

Lloyds Banking Group was the best-selling stock between 1 April and 31 August at both Interactive Investor and AJ Bell. The top ten at the two platforms didn’t vary much either with International Consolidated Airlines, BP, Boohoo, Barclays, EasyJet and Avacta featuring in both, though in different positions.

Ed Monk, of Fidelity International, said trends for the most traded shares indicate that it is household UK names which still catch British investors’ eyes, with a firm focus on dividend paying sectors like oil, the banks and pharmaceuticals.

He said the platform’s five most traded shares year to date are Lloyds, Barclays, Royal Dutch Shell, BP and International Consolidated Airlines.

Meanwhile Wombat Invest, which launched early last year and allows customers to trade in fractional shares, has a select few stocks available to invest in.

Of these, it has found that its customers love investing in British brands and its most popular companies to date are JD Wetherspoon, Games Workshop, JD Sports and Ocado.   

What next for the lockdown share traders?

Those who started investing for the first time during lockdown, and stayed put even as volatility continued to hit global markets, will be smiling to themselves now after being handsomely rewarded by the strength of the rally.

Mike, one of our Money Pit Stop readers made £15,000 just from ‘copy-trading’ on eToro in recent months, and is keen to continue investing due to his success. 

This may well have given investors like Mike a confidence boost to continue trading directly in stocks over funds and trusts, though they must remain aware of the risks.

Regardless, all platforms believe trading will remain a popular pastime even after lockdown.

eToro’s Vettese said: ‘The number of opportunities now available to consumers to actively engage with their investments is really encouraging. 

‘The pandemic has certainly accelerated the adoption of fintech and online investment but, most importantly, this increased popularity has led to more conversations around investment. 

‘We hope one of the legacies of this year will be a generation of investors who continue to seek education around the financial markets and take increased responsibility for their investments. 

‘This could well translate to more people investing directly in shares as consumers seek to build their own diversified, long-term portfolios.’ 

Fidelity International’s Monk added: ‘Fund investing, which provides diversification and day-to-day oversight of investment decisions, will remain the most appropriate place for most new investors but the extra appetite for shares that we’re seeing suggests there’s a rising number of people confident to invest under their own steam.’   

Meanwhile, PrimaryBid, which enables retail shareholders to access corporate fundraisings from which they have historically been excluded, also saw increased activity on its platform and expects this to continue in the same direction.

While the increase in activity may have been partly to do with an increased investor appetite over lockdown, it also couldn’t have happened without the fact that a large number of UK listed companies decided to raise money between March and July to protect their businesses.  

Anand Sambasivan, chief executive of PrimaryBid, said: ‘Where companies have allowed retail investors to participate, there’s been a huge increase in activity. Examples include businesses like Compass Group, Taylor Wimpey, Segro and Ocado. 

‘These are all companies that retail investors follow and actively trade in the secondary market, but for the first time they were given the opportunity to participate in so-called “primary” raises where a company raises new money.’ 

‘Fundamentally people want to take control of their financial futures and they now have the tools to do so, even if they are only investing in small size.’  

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Priti Patel plans to fly at least 1,000 migrants back to Italy, Germany and France

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priti patel plans to fly at least 1000 migrants back to italy germany and france

The Home Office is planning to fly at least 1,000 migrants who crossed the English Channel back to Italy, Germany and France in a series of weekly flights.

More than 6,000 refugees have crossed from France in crowded dinghies so far this year.

Officials have described the crossings as ‘thoroughly unacceptable,’ as Home Secretary Priti Patel plans to fly the arrivals back to Europe on a weekly basis, according to The Telegraph.  

The Immigration Enforcement Secretariat said the Government and Ms Patel are ‘equally frustrated by the severity of the situation’. 

The Home Office is looking to send 1,000 migrants back to Europe having crossed The Channel

The Home Office is looking to send 1,000 migrants back to Europe having crossed The Channel

The Government office warned it cannot take simple measures such as returning migrants after intercepting them at sea, due to legal constraints. 

Talks are ongoing to get more UK funded officers on French beaches to prevent people trying to make the dangerous crossing.

The 1,000 migrants who would be flown back to Europe would be returning to countries where they have already had asylum claims granted. 

Only 29 arriving migrants were sent back to France in 2019. 

The Immigration Enforcement Secretariat official told The Telegraph: ‘There is considerable policy work underway to address where the UK’s immigration and asylum system is being exploited and abused… As it currently stands, the system is inflexible and rigid, and is open to abuse by both migrants and activist lawyers to frustrate the returns of those who have no right to be here.’

Earlier this week it was revealed the Home Office was eyeing up two former army bases as temporary sites to house refugees while their asylum claims are processed.

Around 400 refugees, including families, will be kept at the Napier Barracks in Folkestone, Kent, after the site was also offered to the Home Office by the Ministry of Defence.

The MoD has also offered Penally Training Camp in Wales, more than 300 miles away from the English Channel.

It could house 250 asylum seekers.

A Home Office spokesperson said: ‘During these unprecedented times, the government is working with a range of partners and across departments to secure further accommodation and the MoD has offered use of some of its sites.

‘When using contingency accommodation we work closely with organisations, including local authorities and law enforcement, throughout the process to ensure value for money and that vulnerable asylum seekers, who would otherwise be destitute, have suitable accommodation while their claims are processed.’

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Game of drones: Air corridor set up for flying postal service 

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game of drones air corridor set up for flying postal service

Ambitions of an airborne postal service have moved a step closer due to a ‘flight corridor’ being created near Reading. 

The five mile long aerial highway, the first commercial route of its type in the world, will be set up south of the Berkshire town by the end of the year, according to the Times.

Drone pilots will be able to to control them beyond their line of sight, which is not normally the case under existing regulations.

A new air traffic control system for unmanned devices will monitor the corridor and feed automated instructions to the drones to keep them away from others or change path if they’re in danger of crashing.

The corridor, a third of a mile in width will operate in the same normal airspace used by commercial jets, helicopters and light aircraft.

Ambitions of an airborne postal service have moved a step closer due to a 'flight corridor' being created near Reading

Ambitions of an airborne postal service have moved a step closer due to a ‘flight corridor’ being created near Reading

The move still needs to be rubber-stamped by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) but it hoped to be live next year in the first large-scale trial of its kind.  

Small parcels, medical supplies and blood or tissue samples are examples of the kind of packages that could be delivered via drones in the controlled area.

Under current rules, drones must be flown away from built-up areas, within a pilot’s visual range, usually up to 1,600ft, and cannot soar higher than 400ft to avoid other aircraft.

However, the new system created by Altitude Angel, an aviation technology company based in Reading, monitors every drone movement and gives them the freedom to fly. 

The air traffic control system will be created by using radar and multiple tracking sensors within the corridor. 

Drone operators can send instructions such as ‘change flight path, hold, return or land’ but the control system is then able to intervene if the request is not followed for whatever reason.

The system will initially be tested using two drones, travelling in either direction simultaneously, before then being scaled up to create four drone lanes going each way and two or three highways at different altitudes.  

Richard Parker, founder and chief executive of Altitude Angel, told the paper: ‘The size of this step cannot be underestimated. 

‘Beyond visual line of sight automated flight in unrestricted airspace is a very significant barrier to overcome in order to realise the vision of mass-commercial drone usage.’

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ANDREW MARR tells how moral values of the Elizabethan age can lift us from our travails today

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andrew marr tells how moral values of the elizabethan age can lift us from our travails today

 Tuesday, June 2, 1953: Coronation Day. With London decked out to celebrate its 27-year-old Queen, there was only one story in town. Or rather, two.

Just four days earlier, with perfect timing, two men, hacking through the snow, had made it to the top of the world’s highest mountain. Edmund Hillary was a tall Kiwi beekeeper with a huge, goofy smile. And his companion, Tenzing Norgay, was a devout Buddhist who had lived a life of profound physical poverty as a mountain bearer.

Reaching the summit of Mount Everest was, in the early 1950s, an extraordinary achievement. So all Britain was keeping one eye on this record-breaking attempt. But would they be aware of their Herculean achievement by the time the new monarch was crowned?

That responsibility fell to the young correspondent of The Times, James Morris, waiting at base camp nearly 18,000ft up. It was Morris, scribbling against the clock, who sent a coded message via a physical runner to the Silk Road village of Namche Bazaar.

From there it went by wireless to the British Embassy in Kathmandu. And so, thanks to Morris, The Times had its story in time for a Coronation special, to inaugurate what people called the new Elizabethan age.

Cheer: A party in Northampton marking the Coronation in 1953

Cheer: A party in Northampton marking the Coronation in 1953

It sounds like a tale from a vanished era of old-fashioned heroism. But there was a twist. Even at the time, Morris was wrestling with an issue that has since become very familiar. Ever since he was three or four years old, when he remembered sitting underneath his mother’s piano while she was playing Sibelius, he had felt he had been born into the wrong body. He should have been a girl.

So it was that 20 years later, he made the transition from man to woman, first with drugs and then through perilous surgery in Morocco. James Morris, successful journalist, travel writer and historian, became Jan Morris, ditto.

Today, trans rights and gender fluidity are the most fashionable and contentious aspects of Britain’s fractious 21st-century culture wars. But Morris’s story is a reminder that our recent history was never as straightforward as it’s often painted.

It’s also a small example of how, by digging a little deeper into our national history through individual stories, we can recapture some of its lost freshness.

So in my new book, looking at how Britain has changed since the Coronation in 1953, I’ve tried to tell the story of change through the histories of people such as Jan Morris, from explorers and writers to artists, scientists, musicians and entrepreneurs.

It’s easy to caricature the lost world of the 1950s. We’re often told that it was racist, misogynistic and homophobic, and that we lived in a dim, gaslit pre-liberalism.

And there is no doubt that aspects of post-war Britain were dingy.

The food was meagre and tasteless, the cities grimy, the clothes were unflattering, and industrial and domestic smoke hung in the air.

The moral atmosphere could be harshly censorious. This was still the Britain of the school cane, the hangman and the backstreet abortionist, who had wearily seen it all, knocking on the back door with her bag full of knitting needles and vinegar.

It’s easy to caricature the lost world of the 1950s. And there is no doubt that aspects of post-war Britain were dingy

It’s easy to caricature the lost world of the 1950s. And there is no doubt that aspects of post-war Britain were dingy

Many single mothers gave up their babies for adoption. Pauline Prescott, then a hairdresser in Chester, had her first child in a Catholic home for unmarried mothers. The baby boy was later adopted by a family living many miles away in Wolverhampton.

She only made contact with him again when he was in his 40s, after a long and honourable military career. By then she was married to Labour’s Deputy Prime Minister. But it was not an unusual story.

The mother of the novelist Ian McEwan had her first baby during the war, while her husband was serving overseas, and placed an ad in her local paper: ‘Wanted, home for baby boy aged one month: complete surrender’. She handed the baby over to a couple at Reading Station. The boy, David Sharp, had a happy childhood and grew up to work as a bricklayer.

He lived a few miles away from the famous novelist, without either knowing about the other’s existence for half a century. It is an extraordinary story, but not as rare as we might think.

And yet a moment of common sense reflection tells us that the British of the early years of the Queen’s reign must have lived their lives in full colour, not black and white.

The young were brimming with youth. Every variety of sexual experimentation was vigorously attempted. And despite the newsreel depictions of an endless grey winter, spring kept coming around more or less on time every April.

The mother of the novelist Ian McEwan had her first baby during the war, while her husband was serving overseas, and placed an ad in her local paper

The mother of the novelist Ian McEwan had her first baby during the war, while her husband was serving overseas, and placed an ad in her local paper

Britons may have more rights today, and be wealthier materially. But I don’t believe that necessarily makes us happier, more fulfilled or more virtuous.

Of course, there’s much we have lost. Churchgoing, for example, was once a genuinely collective activity.

Children attended Sunday school, where they were tutored in Bible stories and Christian morality. Their parents sat through sermons. Vicars, ministers and priests made regular visits to homes all over Britain, unannounced but expected.

But Christianity’s influence has endured, not least in our politics. Margaret Thatcher was the daughter of a Methodist lay preacher; Tony Blair converted to Catholicism after leaving office; Gordon Brown is the son of a Church of Scotland minister; Theresa May is an Anglican vicar’s daughter.  

And among the rest of us, too, its legacy is far from dead.

Still, there’s no doubt that in the decades immediately after the Coronation, something changed. These were the years of the sexual revolution, the pushing back of the punitive state, the use and tolerance of drugs and an unmistakable decay in the social and religious hierarchies.

It was largely driven by a small group of Left-wing politicians, often inspired by their enthusiasm for America. A good example was the Labour and future SDP politician Shirley Williams, the daughter of the famous 1930s writer Vera Brittain.

 

Christianity’s influence has endured, not least in our politics. Margaret Thatcher was the daughter of a Methodist lay preacher

Christianity’s influence has endured, not least in our politics. Margaret Thatcher was the daughter of a Methodist lay preacher

 As a prisons minister in Harold Wilson’s government in 1966, Williams persuaded the authorities to send her to Holloway women’s prison, her identity kept secret. When her cellmates asked what she was in for, she explained that she was ‘on the game’.

It’s hard to imagine one of Boris Johnson’s ministers doing the same today.

Like many of her friends, Williams was inspired by the informality and democratic optimism she had seen in America, and wanted to build a similarly sunny world, without the crabbed, confined divisions of the British class system. But as so often, things didn’t always turn out how the liberal reformers anticipated.

Her friend and colleague Tony Crosland, also an admirer of all things American, dreamed of reforming Britain’s schools on a truly egalitarian basis.

But instead of taking on private schools like his own alma mater, Highgate, he decided to attack the state grammar schools, which had allowed so many working-class children a ladder up.

In a celebrated and notorious scene, he told his wife Susan: ‘If it’s the last thing I do, I’m going to destroy every f***ing grammar school in England.’

But he failed. Today there are more than 160 selective, state-funded grammar schools left in England.

And the argument about school selection rages on to this day, like a football kicked from one end of the muddy pitch to the other, with no goals being scored.

Perhaps the most underrated change of the 1960s, though, was the collapse of our self-image as the workshop of the world.

Manufacturing had shaped the look, sound, smell and social structure of the country for more than a century.

When the Queen’s reign began in 1952, Britain produced a quarter of the planet’s manufacturing exports. Today we make just two per cent. We were a more sinewy people back then. The world of factory work disciplined generations of British men, toiling on hot and dangerous production lines under the watchful eyes of their managers and shop stewards.

But even as Shirley Williams and Tony Crosland were climbing the political ladder, things were beginning to go wrong.

A good example is the story of Birmingham Small Arms Company (BSA), then the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world, but also famous for its Daimler and Lanchester cars.

Its managing director, Sir Bernard Docker, had succeeded his father Dudley in 1944. He married a Birmingham dance hostess, Norah, who became a national celebrity for her flamboyant, outspoken and provocative style. The doting Docker gave her a series of specially built Daimlers, such as the 1955 Golden Zebra, which sported an ivory dashboard and upholstery covered with zebra skin. As Lady Docker drily explained: ‘Zebra, because mink is too hot to sit on.’

But the Dockers were setting themselves up for a fall. Sir Bernard was spending too much time having fun and not nearly enough on the company.

And at a tumultuous meeting in London on a rain-soaked spring day in 1956, he was sacked as chairman for his extravagant expenses claims.

But it was too late. With its market share falling, BSA was sliding towards disintegration.

Daimler was sold to Jaguar four years later. By 1972, overtaken by cheaper and more reliable Japanese competitors, even the motorcycle business was defunct.

Not all British businesses fared as badly as BSA. The success of entrepreneurs such as James Dyson should remind us that we’re still the sixth largest economy in the world, with our GDP per capita about level pegging with the French and not very far behind Germany.

And in other ways, British innovators have changed the world. Think of Gerald Durrell, whose revolutionary zoo changed the way we think about animal welfare; or Anita Roddick, whose Body Shop led the charge for a more ethical capitalism.

But if we’re to thrive after Brexit, we’ll need to banish any trace of the Dockers’ complacency.

Our industries will need to be hungrier and harder, and take inspiration from our undoubted success in cultural and creative areas, and our ingenuity in computing and engineering.

Yet when I look back across our Queen’s reign, I’m reminded that there’s more to life than making money — important as that is. This has been the age of market values. Relentless consumers, we’ve been schooled to see most of our human exchanges in terms of price and profit. Too often we measure success by wealth, and confuse happiness with cool stuff.

But should we really judge our happiness by what we consume —holidays, consumer goods, large houses? And if a society comes to judge success by personal wealth, how can it deal with the large majority who will feel forever bruised and excluded?

Finishing this book during the coronavirus lockdown, I watched as we rediscovered the common notions of fairness, decency and mutual respect that were so familiar to our 1950s predecessors.

I was inspired by the stories of people like Captain Sir Tom Moore, with his record-breaking walk to raise money for the NHS; or Marcus Rashford, the Manchester United and England footballer, who raised around £20 million to supply three million meals to vulnerable people, and persuaded the Government to provide free school meal vouchers during the summer.

Here, I believe, is where we can learn from our past selves — from the more consciously moral, frugal, hard-working and optimistic Britain Jan Morris knew so well.

I was inspired by the stories of people like Captain Sir Tom Moore, with his record-breaking walk to raise money for the NHS

I was inspired by the stories of people like Captain Sir Tom Moore, with his record-breaking walk to raise money for the NHS

Yes, it was in many ways bigoted and rigidly hierarchical. But a decent future means taking the best of the past, ditching the mistakes and starting again.

Today, we have to learn to work harder, while being more generous in our global outlook, kinder to neighbours who look and sound different to ourselves, and more restrained in our personal tastes.

Does that sound impossibly pious? Or simply impossible? Then we should remember the struggles and achievements of our grandparents and parents. They were there first. They can teach us still.

n Elizabethans by Andrew Marr is published by William Collins £20. © Andrew Marr 2020. To order a copy for £17, go to mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3308 9193. Free UK delivery on orders over £15. Offer price valid until October 3, 2020.

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