Friday 26 August 2022

Time to escape


Listening to what the two candidates for the leadership of the Tory Party have to say (an action which probably ought to carry some sort of health warning), one might reasonably be excused for concluding that there are one or two small areas of disagreement between them about policy. After all, in ordinary parlance, for one to suggest that the other’s policy platform would represent a “moral failure” whilst the other describes the former Chancellor’s economic policies as a failure doesn’t exactly scream “unity”. There is one thing, though, on which they are definitely speaking in unison – the outgoing government has been something of an all-round disaster, not just in economic terms but also in managing to keep the number of Covid deaths down to an unnecessarily high 200,000 or so, a level which either or both of them would have been happy to exceed significantly in the interests of securing a further reduction in the cost of pensions and the NHS.

However, whilst the Tory Party might appear to have become a bit like Four Feather Falls – a place where “anything can happen, anything at all”, and where reality or truth are rarely allowed to intrude – in truth we are just witnessing a temporary interlude of summer madness before they return in a fortnight, under what will purport to be new management, to the comfortable incompetence to which we have been accustomed, albeit with the added ingredient of a PM who can’t even attempt an occasional racist or misogynist ‘joke’ as a diversion. Sunak’s apparent conversion to the idea of taking a moral stance will be shown to be exactly what it is, ‘apparent’, before it dissipates in a cloud of smoke. We will have a budget, which they’re not allowed to call a budget because if they did, the Office of Budget Responsibility (established by a foolish government led by some has-been called Cameron in the far distant past before the Great Purge) would be required to assess the proposals and can be more-or-less guaranteed not to give the answer that the new PM wants to hear. Far better to use out of date numbers which give the ‘right’ answer than accurate ones which do not. Sunak will loyally vote in favour of a budget with almost every proposal in which he claims to disagree, because it is, from what he considers to be his highly moral viewpoint, better to have a Conservative government doing all the completely wrong things than risk the possibility of an alternative government getting some things almost half right. Interestingly, no-one (as far as I’m aware) seems to have asked Truss whether she would similarly vote for a not-a-budget-at-all produced by Sunak, presumably because that has become too much of a hypothetical question, but we can probably assume that the answer would also be in the affirmative. And her hated ‘Treasury orthodoxy’ would probably turn out to be a splendid thing after all, if a willingness to say so kept her in the Cabinet.

How long can it last? Well, assuming that Truss doesn’t decide to start a nuclear war over cheese imports with France (which, unbeknownst to many of us, may be our deadliest enemy), she can theoretically avoid calling a general election until the beginning of 2025. She might decide to go earlier than that, but it’s hard to believe that even she is stupid enough to do that in the middle of an energy and cost of living crisis which has all the signs of persisting throughout the winter at the very least. It would be nice to be able to believe that there is, waiting in the wings, some sort of credible alternative government which knows what it would do instead and is able to articulate a programme for reform and change. Sadly, we’re not in Four Feather Falls at all, and the phrase “anything can happen” does not apply. Some things simply aren’t credible, even in the land of make-believe. Best we escape from the asylum now.

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