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Friday 17 April 2009

Hang on Lads, I’ve had a Great Idea

So ends the literal cliffhanger at the end of The Italian Job. We never get to know about the idea that Charlie Croker (Michael Caine) has just thought up. And this makes for endless fun, where we can guess what happens after the credits roll.

The concept of the Great Idea that doesn’t get explained is one that politicians must find attractive: no explaining means that the punters don’t need to waste time over that explanation, that there’s no need to worry or think about it. Trust us, we’ve got a Great Idea.

So it is that I find David Cameron’s slogan “a man with a plan” both intriguing and suspicious. It’s a slick and memorable strapline – you’d expect nothing less with Andy Coulson at his side – but it doesn’t tell you what he’d actually do if the electorate presented him with the opportunity to govern.

To find a clue, we have to go back to the last time a Tory government replaced a Labour one – 1979. In the run up to that year’s general election, the Tories made much of the “winter of discontent”: one can hardly blame them for pushing open that door. There was the “Labour isn’t working” poster campaign. What there was not was any warning of what was really in store.

Had the electorate known of the swingeing cuts in public spending, the almost doubling of VAT, of over reliance on monetary policy with 17% interest rates, of inflation peaking at over 20%, and ultimately an unemployment level reaching beyond three million, and remaining there for the rest of the 1980s, they may not have voted as they did.

So perhaps this time the more enquiring journos will at least try and get to the heart of David Cameron’s plan. It may well be a fruitless quest. The noises coming from the Tory Party suggest that nothing has been learned in the intervening thirty years, and that an economy turning down will be made worse by rounds of spending cuts, inducing yet more unemployment, reducing economic activity yet further.

If only the budget were brought into balance. It’s a mantra that some still believe. I will return to this subject with the kind of examples with which today’s politicians should be familiar, if not necessarily comfortable.

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