Category Archives: Economics

Will someone please tell us what’s going on?

It’s a few weeks since Britain was asked to vote IN or OUT of the European Union, and we were given to expect swift action following the result.

Yet nothing has happened. We are as we were before: stuck in a land of uncertainty.

All that has changed is the leadership of the Conservative Party, and thus the Prime Minister. Where once we had an Old Etonian in charge, who rolled up his sleeves and wanted to be one of the blokes, we now have a well-dressed, state-educated woman in the post, who seems to  want to be a lady.

All that has happened is that the government seems to have lurched to the right. The Prime Minister has voiced her support for grammar schools and her concern about the Chinese investment in our nuclear future, and the Transport Secretary has described as ‘militant’ those who would try to get a better deal for their members.

It seems that, if all that we see comes to pass, we shall be living in a land where the elite get all the top jobs (because they’ve been to a better school) and the rest are believed to be militant. Or, at least, malcontent.

Cameron has disappeared. Some say that June’s referendum on IN or OUT of Europe was called by him to placate the right wing of his party, and that he was convinced he and his beliefs would win. Now, it looks as if he left the job in an hurry because he didn’t want to have to clear up the mess he left behind, or be called on to deal with the big beasts of the right who would probably savage him. May was what the backbenchers would call “a safe pair of hands”, although she is best remembered for being a smart pair of shoes.Screen Shot 2016-08-11 at 17.06.54

It also looks as if we don’t know where we’re going. Or with whom.

Isn’t it time someone – I don’t much mind who – told us a few truths about the future.

At present, we seem to be drifting, with a weakened currency and no political direction.

 

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The hard choice in May

A week is a long time in politics, so they say.
Well, if a week is a long time, the four months between now and the next UK general election already seems like an age.
And, at my age, I wonder if I can bear it.
Argument and counter-argument
With Christmas over and the New Year well underway, the various political leaders have already started sharing their thoughts with us.
The state of the economy and the National Health Service, our membership of the European Union, the changes needed in our education system, the condition of the country’s roads and general infrastructure; all these and many more weighty matters will be the subject of endless debate. There’s no doubting that some issues will be the subject of fierce argument.
Now, what troubles me is this.
Have any of us got the stomach for a continuous diet of bilious rhetoric, half-baked ideas and sour grapes?
And will four months of that be enough to satisfy our appetite for certainty in an uncertain world?
Of course, it’s too early to be worrying about who to vote for.
None of the contenders – and there are many more than usual vying for our vote – have so far laid out their policies in a clear and unambiguous way.
So choice is hard to determine.
The alternative vote
I’ve talked about this before (see my blog of October 16 2014) and I make no bones about mentioning it again now.
The sheer breadth of choice likely to be on offer at this election cries out for a space on the ballot paper where we can vote “No Confidence”.
I believe that, with so many parties to choose from, and so little prospect of any of them offering clear-cut policies that look as if they will bring certainty to our future, we deserve the right to register our dismay in an accountable way.
If I had this option, the next four months would be bearable.
Even the daily diet might be palatable.
Because I could choose to listen to the debates – or not – to get sick of them – or not – knowing that, come election day, I could register my true feelings in a responsible way.
Compromised choice
As it is, the system will probably force me to make a compromised choice, either voting to thumb my nose at the incumbent MP or to keep some other unsavoury candidate from winning the seat.
Of course, I hope to be offered something positive to vote for.
But, while I still doubt that I will, I would like the chance to register my dismay in a meaningful way.
The alternative is unappetising to the point of being totally indigestible.

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Good on yer, Max!

I never thought I’d say this, but the Daily Mail’s Max Hastings is spot on today.
Commenting on Chancellor George Osborne’s speech in the House of Commons yesterday, when he introduced his Autumn Statement, Hastings says that, while it was a good speech, if Osborne had “told us the whole truth about the economy the Tories would never get elected”.
Goodness me! And in the Daily Mail!
Cataloging the anomalies in Osborne’s address, he highlights the disconnects between fact and fantasy and claims that, if Britain’s public finances are to be sustainable, Osborne would have to make spending cuts on a scale beyond the acceptable, in electoral terms.
Hastings goes on to bemoan the levels of what he calls “wasted, wasted, wasted” public expenditure, on projects he derides.
But his final, parting shot is the most wounding to the Tories – his newspaper’s core readership.
He says: “George Osborne is a better and more truthful man than his Labour foes, as he showed us again yesterday.
“His party is the only one fit to govern after next May. But it is nowhere near honest enough, if our children and grandchildren are to inhabit a solvent Britain.”
And he’s right.
I never thought I’d say that!

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A tale of two Gs

A couple of weeks ago I spent an evening in the company of Ken Clarke, one of British politics’ big beasts.
That night, recounting his achievements and countering his critics, Clarke seemed like a man at the end of his political tether; a misunderstood old-school patrician slightly confused by the antics of his upstart public school successors.
Today comes the news that Gordon Brown – another big beast of British politics – is to retire from Parliament at next year’s general election.
Both men have been in pubic service – and in the public eye – for decades. So it’s little wonder they both feel it’s time to take a back seat somewhere; or, more likely, a front seat in some international institution or another.
For both men, the questions are “What next?” and “How will they be remembered?”.
In Clarke’s case, he may always be recalled in the same breath as Margaret Thatcher.
In Brown’s case, he may never be disassociated from his erstwhile political friend and adversary, Tony Blair.
But there is another comparison to be made.
Two G forces
Gordon Brown was Britain’s longest-serving peacetime Chancellor of the Exchequer.
In that role, he oversaw extraordinary levels of economic growth and (admittedly debt-fuelled) prosperity for the UK.
As Prime Minister, he was responsible for saving – not ‘the world’ as he mistakenly put it in Parliament – but the world’s banking system as we knew it – and, to a great a extent, still know it today – when it was brought to its knees by the collapse of Lehman Brothers.
Throughout his political life, he has believed in the idea of politics as public service.
His is a record of devotion to Britain, to the betterment of society and to the selfless notion that working to improve the lives of others is a laudable activity.
There seems little doubt that, once he leaves Parliament for the last time next May, he is destined for some new role in public service.
But what of the other G?
A chancer on the make
George Osborne, Britain’s current Chancellor, is a man for whom the ‘chance’ in his job description seems more closely allied to ‘risk’ and ‘luck’ than to the serious business of managing Britain’s economy.
Tomorrow he will deliver his much-trailed Autumn Statement, in which he will outline spendings and savings that he’ll no doubt describe as being good for the British economy.
He may well, as always, blame the last administration for the “mess” he inherited in 2010.
He may even quote Liam Byrne who, as outgoing chief secretary to the Treasury, reportedly left a note saying: “There is no money.” And there is still none.
He may claim to have righted what he saw as a sinking ship.
But he will still be presiding over levels of near-unstainable debt and continuing austerity that can be seen in the UK’s fragile economic growth, the collapse of our manufactured exports, the general state of dereliction in parts of the country and the increasing numbers of people relying on food banks for survival.
Unlike Brown, Osborne, one suspects, will quietly slide into some well remunerated, superannuated business slot when he retires.
A truly big beast
Not for him any notion of ongoing public service.
He is, after all, of the generation that, as Brown puts it, sees politics as, “at best, a branch of the entertainment industry”.
Indeed, it’s hard to believe that Osborne shares anything with Brown who, speaking in Kirkcaldy yesterday, said: “I still hold to the belief in something bigger than ourselves. I still hold to a belief in the moral purpose of public service … which I hope to inspire in my children.”
It’s my belief that, when the tales of these two Gs come to be told, Brown’s will have the greater heft.
For all his failings, he was a good politician and a great public servant.
I cannot see Osborne bettering him on either count.

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