Wednesday 6 March 2024

Pétards have their uses


A pétard was, apparently, a small bomb, used mostly for breaching the gates and walls of fortifications. When improperly used, it could result in the user blowing him or herself up, or being ‘hoisted’ into the air. But the word originally derives from the Latin for fart, so being ‘hoist by your own petard’ really means being propelled in an unwanted direction by an expulsion of internal wind. The latter, more literal, definition seems, somehow, more appropriate for the situation in which the Tories have found themselves in the last week. Twice.

The first was the fire being directed by some Tories at the Office for Budget Responsibility at the way in which its interpretation of the numbers is restricting the ability of the Chancellor to ‘adjust’ the numbers in order to deliver a fantasy tax cut in today’s budget. Those with an attention span longer than that of a gnat will remember that establishing the OBR was a cunning plan by George Osborne to fix financial orthodoxy into law by having an ‘independent’ group of experts consider proposed budgetary changes and report on whether they complied with that orthodoxy. It was to act as a deterrent to any Chancellor who thought that he or she could simply fiddle the figures. It was intended, of course, to nobble the Labour Party if it should ever be re-elected – the financial orthodoxy was very definitely a Tory version of orthodoxy. It was never designed to constrain the actions of a Tory Chancellor, yet that is exactly what it is now doing. Truss found a way around this inconvenient obstacle by declaring that her mini-budget was not a budget (Sunak is not the first Tory to attempt to redefine facts) in order to avoid the requirement for an OBR assessment but, as things turned out, the absence of that assessment was an even bigger problem as those in the financial markets asked themselves just what Truss and Kwarteng were trying to hide.

The second is the backlash from the extremists in the Tory Party to the proposals by Sunak to try and outlaw extremism. They have realised something that Sunak obviously did not – that in outlawing extremism he may end up criminalising a fair chunk of his own party. Some might call it a form of poetic justice, others might see it as the law of unintended consequences. Either way, it highlights the extent to which the PM doesn’t understand the implications of his own words and actions – let alone how far his party has fallen through the looking glass. Back in the days of John Major, it might have looked like a deliberate ploy to rid himself of some of the bastards in the cabinet, but from Sunak it just looks like incompetence and an astounding lack of awareness.

So, that loud ripping noise you might hear from time to time is nothing to worry about. It’s simply the explosive release of intestinal gases from a Tory Party busily ‘hoisting’ itself into oblivion. Almost reassuring.

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