Tuesday 18 October 2022

Musings on the Mess

 Liz Truss won the Tory leadership by promising an economic policy that most people believed was a fantasy: tax cuts coupled with increased expenditure which would be financed by the growth resulting from the tax cuts.  It was brazenly proposed by her henchman Kwarteng,  and crashed dramatically.  If she had any sense of shame she would resign (and perhaps retire to a nunnery and spend the rest of her life repenting her folly.)  But no, she is still there clinging on.  ""Brussen" is the Yorkshire word for it.

 There is now a movement to paint Jeremy Hunt, the replacement Chancellor of the Exchequer, as the saviour of the nation, and possible replacement prime minister when the Tories figure out a way of deposing Truss.  it is worth remembering that Hunt was Secretary of State of Health from 2012 to 2018, the longest servieng minister in that position in British political history.  If he were any good the NHS would be in tip-top condition.  Instead it is on its knees. Hunt re-presented may be the answer to the Tories' prayers but he is not the answer to the country's.

The debacle, the greatest and most damaging national humiliation since Suez, should see the end to two myths that have dominated British politics, the first for 40 years and the second for 20.

The forty-year old myth is the dominance of "market rules OK" neo-liberal policies which superseded Keynesianism in the 1970s and was implemented with careless ferocity by Margaret Thatcher.  From the squandering of the North Sea Oil revenues through  the privatisation of the public utilities to the flogging-off of our social housing, most of Mrs Thatcher's policies were profoundly wrong  and the source of many of our present ills.  (The one thing she got right was her resistance to a national lottery, but her successor John Major undid that.) It is a nice irony that it is the (international money) market that has finally felled this Tory creed.

The twenty-year- old myth is that of Brexit: that somehow Britain is held back by our entanglement with the EU and, set free, our exceptionalism  will enable us to ascend  to the soaring uplands of a prosperous future as an dependent world beating  universally admired entity. We are not exceptional, and, like all other nations, we are interconnected in a web of treaties, trading relationships, financial commitments and obligations. In the past we have indeed played a leading role in developing them.  We cannot escape them.

I think it was Churchill who  said that we should not let a crisis go to waste.  We on the progressive left must be careful and not underestimate the ability of the Tories, with the support of the compliant media,  to re-write history to their advantage.  After the Suez crisis they ditched their prime minister (Eden had the decency to resign and did not wait too long to be pushed) and Harold Macmillan talked up  our never having "had it so good" so that they  remained in power for another nine years.  We must make sure that this  humiliation remains to be seen what it is, highly predictable and highly avoidable and the sole responsibility of a party that has been in power for fully 12 years.

Apart from the loss of our international reputation perhaps the most serious consequence of this folly is that it has queered the pitch of those of us who believe in a Keynesian expansion to revive the economy, eliminate endemic poverty and restore the public services. 

Mr Hunt and his cohort will not hesitate to repeat the mantras of 2010 and mourn that, sad as it is, "there is no alternative" to squeezing the public realm even further in order to placate the market.

There ls another way,and that is supporting the impoverished, reviving  the public services, investing in a clean, efficient infrastructure, and paying for it by taxing those things which impinge least on current activity.  Details of such a programme are spelt out in an earlier post.

All the opposition parties, but in particular Labour, need to flesh out such a programme and proclaim it boldly, and not allow themselves to be cowed into a timid programme of Tory-Lite.

But we must not just stop at economic reform.  Our constitution, our way of doing things, is "not fit for purpose."  If it is too difficult to include specific proposals  for constitutional reform  in election manifestos, we could promise  a representative constitutional convention (or even a series of regional conventions) to take a serious look at the way we govern ourselves.  This will include consideration of: devolution to the nations and regions,our electoral systems, the second chamber, local government,   the civil service and all those things considered too arcane to bother the electorate with. 

We need not just a tinkering a the edges, but a clean sweep,


  1. Economic and constitutional reforms should be radically discussed by the party to be put to serious debate at our spring conferance.We can start putting out ideas beforehand.We are now at the beginning of a new era.

  2. Agreed. The late great Richard Wainwright, Liberal MP for Colne Valley, said that politics was a bit like sailing: you had to catch the wind. This crisis has blown a hole in the status quo and we should not let the moment pass. My fear is that Labour will be to timid and the Liberal Democrats will get bogged down in detail. We need a united front for for a People's Enquiry into the way we allow ourselves to be ruled.

  3. Is it not time ,also,to put more effort into showing we are a party that covers the whole country not just at times of by-elections?

  4. I couldn't' t agree more. In may days of campaigning as a parliamentary candidate the aim was to have a "parliamentary spokesman" (sorry about the sexism: it was the 60s, then the 80s) or PPC in every constituency, making sure through the local press and organisations that the electorate were well aware of the Liberal alternative. Since then we have become very good, via community politics, at building up our local government base, but seem to have let the parliamentary aspect drop expect where there are a few live wires. We need to get back to promoting Liberalism, in every constituency, immediately winnable or not.