Volume 56, Number 9, September 2019
The face of the future THE news that Alan Turing is to be the face on the new £50 probably didn’t come as much of a surprise to many. Yes, here at COIN NEWS, we quite liked the idea of Mary Anning featuring alongside a stegosaurus or two but Turing is a worthy choice. There was the inevitable “harrumph” from certain sectors that it was yet another “white man” on our notes, but the critics were soon silenced by those who pointed to Turing’s treatment at the hands of the establishment. Apparently, being a homosexual in an age when it was illegal and being chemically castrated as a punishment for “gross indecency” (and his subsequent suicide) gave Turing enough “woke” credentials to appease those who care about such things. For those of us who don’t give two hoots what gender or sexual orientation someone is, the choice of Turing is admirable because of his work with mathematics, computers and, of course, with the Enigma code-breaking machine at Bletchley Park during World War II. The fact that he became a household name following Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of him in the film The Imitation Game probably didn’t do his cause any harm either. The new £50 note, available from 2021, will of course be polymer to match the Churchill £5, the Austen £10 and the Turner £20 (coming next year) and, with the series complete, one cannot help but wonder if these longer lasting notes may not be the final ones we ever see. No one can now deny that the use of cash is decreasing rapidly, with card and alternative payments slowly taking over as more and more people find it easier to use contactless, whether via a card or their phones. How they keep track of everything is beyond me—I know that if I start the week with £100 and end it with nothing I’ve spent £100 but find that with cards I rapidly lose track of what I’ve spent and get a terrible shock when I check my balance! But that’s by the by, people obviously do like using cards and, apparently, are far better than I am at keeping track of their spending, so it isn’t too much of a stretch to imagine a world where notes simply don’t exist at all and every transaction is done via a card or app. To be honest I’m actually quite surprised that the Bank of England even bothered to announce a replacement £50—they are rarely used in everyday life as it is and those that do produce one are usually treated like tax-dodgers or drug dealers by the shop assistant to whom it is proffered! I have never understood why this is the case, the EU has the €50 note, the US has the $100 and no one bats an eyelid if you use one, but here you hand over a £50 and the suspicion is evident. I suppose the Bank of England’s decision to issue a polymer £50 in order to complete the series does give us a neat sense of symmetry but when you have people like Peter Sands, former Chief Executive of Standard Chartered Bank, stating that the notes are “the currency of corrupt elites, of crime of all sorts and of tax evasion”, you have to ask how long before they are withdrawn—such is the distrust that surrounds both the notes and those who use them. For now though the new £50 is on its way and with it the polymer series will be complete, whether there is a second polymer set at some point in the future remains to be seen but, as the whole point of the switch to the material is to extend the life of the notes, I don’t imagine it will be any time soon. Since the 1970s we have only had four £5 notes, four £10 notes, four £20 notes (with one coming) and three £50s (with one on its way) so roughly one new note of each denomination every decade and a bit. The new notes will last longer so that time frame may be pushed to twenty or more years before a new design is needed and who knows where we will be by then? Personally I will still use cash for as long as I am able. I hate the idea of every single transaction I make being tracked and logged and, worse, I hate the idea that someone else is, in effect, in control of my finances and they could, theoretically, only permit me to buy certain things in certain places should they so choose. I know this all sounds a bit Orwellian and possibly far-fetched but consider the “gohenry” card I recently heard about. Gohenry is aimed at parents looking to give pocket money to their children and which, apparently, “teaches your kids how money works”. In principle a good idea but when you dig deeper you realise some of the so-called “benefits” are spending limits and you being able to pick and choose where your children spend their money. On the surface that seems all OK but substitute “the Government” for “you” and “the people” for “your children” and you will realise how spending controls and limits are easily within the capabilities of the powers that be, should they ever choose to use them, say at a time of “national emergency”, as defined, of course, by those very same powers. Not for me thanks, I’ll stick to cash for as long as possible, no matter whose face appears on it!
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