But what about Gordon Brown and the economy? Like most colleagues in funny hats, I have a great personal respect for the Prime Minister. His words at the Lambeth Conference were brilliant and impassioned, showing deep personal understanding of, familiarity with and commitment to the millennium development goals. They were entirely ignored by the UK flock of Salaried Hacks, who were trying to portray him at the time as all washed up and about to resign. In the flesh, he seemed nothing of the sort, and so it has proved. He wasn’t and he didn’t.
In bigger terms, Labour government since 1997 deserves credit for at least trying to adress many significant issues, often long term problems and trends around which predecessors failed. It’s striven nobly to use the fiscal system and other means to tackle Child Poverty and help pensioners. Having gotten us into the hole in Iraq, it’s trying to dig us out. It’s talked the talk on development, globalization and the environment, and sometimes even walked the walk.
At home, HMG has tried to address questions of social cohesion, although some of its initiatives here smack of boy scouts helping old ladies across a road they don’t need or want to cross. Education and, even more, healthcare are areas where it’s poured money in, although there’s still chronic doubt about bangs per buck. On Civil Liberties, the record is dubious, but, in fairness, this area of governance has been a chronic tidal race between ideals and pragmatism for all our rulers these past 500 years. Let’s be kind and draw a tactful veil over transportation and penal policy, both disaster areas. Since the days UK penal policy was transportation, all governments have been clueless about both.
On the Economy? By the wisdom of the world and curent economics Labour has played up, played up and played the game — and reaped many benefits for us all. It was a bit hilarious to see politicians on all sides clambering over each other as they turned on a sixpence last autumn about the need for tough regulation of financial institutions, after years of loud boasting about the virtues of low to zero regulation. However, it would be unfair to suggest our politicians were greedier or naughtier at the party trough than anybody else’s.
Fact is, We’re all in this mess together — The Church of England, the Bank of England, the Labour Party, the Conservative party, the owners of newspapers, and indeed everybody else in Britain with a house, or a pension, or money in a bank, is implicated up to the eyeballs. To look ahead in hard times, we need to address the “meta” level. As we all stand around the bonfire of the Vanties, trying to warm our hands, some “meta” questions strike me:
- We need a reboot not a bailout, as the man said. It’s time to think different. The fantasy that the answer to one housing Ponzi is another is profoundly barmy. Debt fuelled growth is problematic. It makes everybody feel good for all the wrong reasons. The wealth is like fairies in Peter Pan — fine as long as you believe it really is wealth, but every time a house is undersold, a fairy dies. It’s certainly no substitute for hard work, added value, goods and services. Borrowing to bailout has to be paid for by future taxation. If we must borrow heavily off our children, perhaps even our grandchildren, as the UK did to defeat fascism in the 1940’s, at least let it be for a rational and worthy cause, not just more of the same.
- Rich and Poor — the gap has widened, though the government has sincerely tried to reduce child poverty. This is exactly the global problem highlighted by the Pope at New Year. It’s right on the button and nothing like unique to the UK. But what do we do about it? What about the losers? What about savers? What about pensioners struggling with bills and taxes, often on fixed savings-based incomes for which they’ve worked damned hard, and which now seem so inadequate? MP’s read their post and know exactly who I mean — it matters that the poor are not forgotten.
- Has our economic effort gotten out of balance? Not enough manufacturing, design and R&D — too many bubbles blown. Ingenuity that has been applied to repackaging debt as profit could now be applied to, er, what — the real world?
- Was “more” in itself a sufficient object? — yes and no? It would have been, if we had a greater vision of how to invest it, perhaps. But then our greater vision would have been the sufficient object. So, logically, no. Sure we all need to feed outselves. There’s nothing wrong with growth, and lots that’s right with it, but it is not big enough to be the purpose of our civilisation in itself.