It is now widely understood that Boris is the most left wing Tory prime minister since Harold Macmillan. He was telling everyone who would listen off stage at the party conference that the economic model of the last 40 years had failed. For ‘economic model’ read Thatcherism. Or perhaps the literal interpretations of Thatcherism which have formed the bedrock of Tory faith for nearly two generations.
Unfortunately Boris is not about detail. Fortunately Rishi Sunak, his chancellor, is. A lot of details, especially feel good items, have been either briefed or leaked over the last several days, as the tradition of absolute secrecy concerning the contents of the chancellor’s red box have been more or less abandoned. But these have been things which apparently will happen. So far we do not know how they are going to happen. How they can be afforded and who will pay, what will be borrowed and how much will be printed.
Before any judgment can be offered about the future of Boris and his plan to transform the economy for the better, we need to have some answers to these many questions. In detail.
Hopefully tomorrow we will get them.
Even I, who had never met him and disagreed profoundly with his political views on many issues, will forever recall the shock of the moment when my phone pinged a news alert last Friday, telling of the stabbing to death of Sir David Amess. I recalled at once the moment in the 1992 general election campaign when the holding of his then Basildon seat for the Tories signalled the end of Labour’s expectation that by the morning Kinnock would have led it back to power. So the shock and grief to his family, his friends and his colleagues cannot even be imagined. And of course the national wound of the murder of Jo Cox five years ago was at once reopened.
The Amess family, extraordinarily dignified and forgiving in their grief, have led calls for a kinder more conciliatory tone in the conduct of the business of politics. There is a widespread feeling that the tone is wrong and hate is now a legitimate part of how we go about public life. There is a nostalgia for more restrained and united times. Unfortunately the angry words we everywhere hear and see are the symptom of something, not the cause.
That something is a widespread experience of a perceived failure of the political class to deliver on its promises. For the first time for many decades the rising generation is predicted to be worse off than those who came before. The gap between rich and poor is getting wider with each passing year. Covid revealed real differences in life expectancy and chances between ordinary people and the professional classes. Public services are everywhere stretched to breaking point. Food banks have record numbers of users.
There has been a chronic failure to deliver, from Brexit ‘freedom’ to climate change action. There is a feeling that nothing works as it should and that things will get worse. The public is utterly fed up with broken political promises, which vastly outnumber the few which are kept.
When Nye Bevan described the Tories as vermin, nobody imagined that MPs’ lives where at risk. Because then, whatever the language, the standard of living was rising and life chances were improving by the day. There was anger, but it was used as a driver to build better times.
It is not just the political language that needs to change now. It is the integrity of the political offer. It has to subject its language to the truth test and deliver the promises for which voters in good faith cast their ballots.
This blog will correct widespread misunderstandings about the ownership of money, especially at the heart of government. Thatcher stated that the state had no money, it was the people’s money. She was completely wrong. That is why her economic model is now collapsing.
Money is a measure. It is issued by, belongs to and always remains, the property of the state. The state is greater than the individual. Witness the ungoverned spaces across the middle east, many parts of Africa and parts of Asia and all can see how critical a functioning state is to the welfare and life quality of everyone. The state comes first as a structure. The individual can and should have great freedom, within the state, of how to live and what to choose and, in a democracy, determines who shall be in charge and with what programme.
Therefore there is no such thing as Taxpayers’ Money. It belongs, all of it, to the state. The state keeps as much as is needed to provide the protection, services, infrastructure, health and security individuals need either for personal or business needs. The rest may be kept by individuals to use as they wish within the law. It is for the state to determine how much it needs to do its job and the individual can retain for business or personal use, the remainder.
I realise that if you belong to a right wing think tank or studied politics at certain of our famous universities, this little piece may make you want to throw up. But as the coming days and weeks unfold, you will begin to see what I mean.
The Party Conference Season is drawing to a close amid an extraordinary time of anxiety and distrust. Politicians are regarded with suspicion because they talk up but deliver down.
Many shortages exist and are increasing all across the economy, affecting everyday life for everybody and every sector. In this febrile atmosphere the Prime Minister rubbishes the entire economic model which has been the bedrock of the Tory party’s philosophy since Margaret Thatcher gained the leadership in 1975. So ingrained has it become that few are old enough to have had adult engagement with the Keynesian model which dominated before. Even Blair/ Brown only tinkered at the margins but did little to depart from the basic ideas.
The big centrepiece idea is that command economies do not work and that the market leading and supply and demand responding, is the only pure economic theory upon which free people can rely. The market as driver, the balance of supply and demand as regulator. The Tory party, or better said, the Boris government is now moving towards an interventionist model where the state sets conditions and everyone has to change to meet them. Brexit is obvious as the biggest game changer, but it is turning out to be a much bigger game than anybody expected, especially its promoters.
Added to that there are multiple crises building , including the out of control energy market, inflation, rising interest rates, distribution bottlenecks, labour shortages; the list grows longer every day. Boris’s speech, which wowed his party’s conference, has been almost universally ridiculed as scant on detail about how he is going to achieve his lofty ambition to change the whole broken economic model. Perhaps the biggest potential crisis of all is the mounting fear that the government does not understand what it is trying to do, nor have a clue how to do it.
Older folk remember the Winter of Discontent. Unless Boris and Co get a grip, the winter coming could be one of very real hardship and suffering for very many people.
The fuel and energy crises have brought to a head issues which have been simmering under the Boris government since its inception. They can be summed up by two questions. Does it know what it is doing? Can it be trusted? After a brief period when the combination of the Covid emergency financial support and the vaccine roll out won widespread support, the answer appears to be no to both.
So would Starmer’s Labour do better? This is important because when a government is failing the public begins to look more closely at the opposition as an alternative administration. If they like what they see, they tough it out until an election is called. Thus Thatcher’s gradual rise during Callaghan and Blair’s rise during Major. Even Churchill’s rehabilitation as a peacetime leader during Attlee. But if they have no confidence in the Opposition to rescue them, bad things happen. Strikes, panics, demos, shutdowns and shortages ooze their way into everyday life, like lava flowing from an active volcano.
Starmer’s Labour is hamstrung by two existential pressures. Corbyn’s Labour is still very much there and Scotland, as the bedrock 40 to 50 seats, is not. The strategy is to win over angry middle class voters in the south, the so called blue wall, through Starmer’s steady hands, and send the fiery Angela Rayner, with her impeccable connection to life as ordinary people have to live it, to bring the errant red wall back into the fold.
To outsiders Labour’s conference did little to inspire a surge to its colours, but maybe it can also be said, that it did not drive the undecided away. We have instead yet another part of the national well-being which is in a state of anxious wait and see. Among the problems for the Starmer leadership is the need to move left to recapture the red wall, but move right to seize the blue wall.
We will have to be patient while Labour decides how resolve this without some crafty political fudge. Voters are too angry to buy into PR. They want polices, clear and unambiguous, that speak not to the Westminster hot house, but to them. If Labour can deliver it will be worth the wait.
Not since the Winter of Discontent has there been so much disruption and disquiet, nor such a feeling of unease in society. From protesters closing motorways, to panic at the pumps, things appear to be going from bad to worse. Add the news of energy companies going under as the dysfunctional gas market implodes, threatening back breaking heating costs for the winter, airport log jams, supply chain gaps, cuts in universal credit, failures in diplomacy, flight from the Taliban; the list seems endless.
At the heart of it all is the Boris government, a weird collection of supremely inept politicians in thrall to the whims of one of the most frightening leaders in our history. Frightening not because he is an ogre, but because he his a fool. A clever fool to boot, the very worst kind. With the intention span of a goldfish and the ego of a one whose only care is for his own glory, he fumbles and delays, always ending behind the curve and below the need.
Thus we have our, our, country gripped by irrational anxieties and fears. But the biggest fear of all is the one that becomes ever more true with each passing day. The fear that the government has entirely lost control of events.
Events of which it and, it alone, is the architect.
In a wonderful farmhouse retreat in Cumbria, I have little inclination to keep up with the news. So today just some quick observations.
The Kermit the Frog moment was a speechwriter’s blunder and a PR disaster. Boris’s message to the UN, whatever it was, on the critical issues of climate change and global warming, was lost in a zillion replays of an idiotic line and a torrent of twitter derision.
On the growing fix now list are now mounting crises for which the government has no obvious answers, or if it has, they are too late or too little. A pattern under the regime of K the F to which we have become accustomed, since the oven ready Brexit election and the onset of the ‘mild illness’ pandemic.
There is the shortage of lorry drivers and key workers causing failures in supplies of almost everything, with food and petrol topping the potential panic agenda. There is the recurring crisis at airports with Border Force inadequacies snarling up terminals. We have an astonishing collapse of the the distribution arm of the byzantine electricity and gas markets. And there are signs of serious inflation coming down the line.
So the government has a lot to do. Almost everything is of the Tories’ own making during a decade of poor national leadership. Fix it all and Boris could emerge invincible in the face of a rather divided and piecemeal Labour reboot attempt.
But to do that he will have to offer a lot more than silly jokes about Kermit the Frog.
There all all sorts of snags, inequalities and lack of detail about the long awaited fix for social care and linked boost to NHS coffers, to cope with the aftermath of the pandemic. Having promised a plan Boris has come up with quite an eye catching one, which he promotes with enthusiasm. How much of the detail he himself understands is not clear. But it is likely to be not much. Boris is a broad brush person, not a details freak. Without becoming entangled in the political wrangling or the sums of the pundits cluttering the media, I just have this to say.
For decades the Tory party has been a low tax low spend party. If money is needed it is met by borrowing and cuts. Cuts described as efficiency savings. Over the last ten years cuts have meant starvation of resource to every public service , except perhaps the border force. Tories have a thing about borders.
Boris’s Tory party is however different. It spends big. Fighting the pandemic was, like a war, without regard to cost. So borrowing soared to mega levels unknown for a couple of generations, although the true net figure is far lower because nearly half the debt is owed by the government to itself via quantitative easing.
In the past a Tory Chancellor would have initiated cuts to ‘get the public finances in order’. But not now. This latest development signals a major shift. Stuff will be paid for by raising taxes. Cuts to public services are out. It will be interesting to see if the Party has the guts to stay the course. The political shift is clear. Labour is in danger of ending up to the right of the Tories. That will certainly please Boris’s new red wall friends. But it could drive the blue wall faithful into the arms of the Lib Dems, the Greens and Labour’s growing southern appeal.
Politics has at last become interesting again.