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Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Tories 2012: 7th movement

In her New Year speech, German chancellor, Angela Merkel, warned us that 2012 will be worse than 2011. It is not clear whether this was meant as a warning or a threat. It probably rather depends on to whom the admonishment was addressed. Not all interests coincide and some are mutually exclusive; I've found to my cost that mine, for instance, seem to get a rough ride when those of the banks are given overarching priority and I don't think I'm unique here. However, for the purposes of argument if nothing else, it is probably wise to proceed with her expressed views in mind. Rest assured, the markets are doing just that and, for now, we have little choice but to pay attention even if we don't see any fundamental reason for either the unrestrained avarice that drives them or the misery they aver to be unavoidable and absolutely necessary for - the best bit - the common good.   

Just to ensure individual and collective despair should be unmitigated, Nikolas Sarkozy shrugged his shoulders and reiterated an academically valid but none-the-less largely platitudinous comparison with the 1930s - I'm assuming that no matter how tough it gets, genocidal fascism isn't going to mount a comeback; I have to assume this, otherwise the tenor of the debate changes.
Of course, our view of foreign leaders is far more diluted than that of our own. It is generally only gleaned through the many-faceted prism of an increasingly confused and often downright hysterical media. It is all to easy to judge our own leaders unfairly beside those of our neighbours; if we're honest, we know fine well that if we were as familiar with Obama, Sarkozy, Merkel or any other national leaders as we are with our own, we would have more developed and more critical impressions.

But this has always been the case. Themes persist and by these we can still make reasonable assessments of a leader's relative merits. If we were to deny ourselves the authority of our own considered opinions simply because these might have been unevenly influenced somewhere along the line, there is really no point in democracy. There are many in the world of international finance who are very keen to promote such retrograde undermining of our political self-confidence, so we should be wary in our concessions and in our apportioning of any benefit of doubt. 

In recent years, the complacentcy of relative comfort has left us far too susceptible to just leaving the scoundrels to their own devices. Voting trends alone tell us this; placed alongside any other indicator of political engagement and myriad other distress signals, from our drug-ravaged inner cities to the tranquillity of the shires, de-politicisation of the West is at an advanced stage. Market prosperity is largely reliant on this neutering of political activity. Popular docility is far easier to manage than informed volatility.  

So, having taken every step to neutralise prejudice and to keep any conclusions in the same field of perspective, just this. The Westminster Coalition stinks. David Cameron in particular stinks. His own address to the people had the production values of a pop video and was accompanied by, in a deluge of dire audiovisual cliché, the kind of polished but hackneyed photography one might expect to find on a Cliff Richard album – when it comes to “getting down with the kids” Cameron makes Tony Blair seem the epitome of cool. Tony Blair's ability to play electric guitar a bit didn't impress, but Cameron is playing air kazoo.

The prime minister opted to counter brutal Teutonic pragmatism and lugubrious Gallic fatalism with a speech of such astonishing vacuity it made the 16 year-old William Hague's at the Tory conference sound like the Gettysburg Address. His performance was just that; pure performance and nothing else. If Cameron is considered to be the cream of Tory crop – and his appointment and continued tenure suggest that nobody is seriously contesting this – we should be concerned.

He tells us that by some unexplained and quite possibly supernatural process, the awe-inspiring wonders of the Queen's diamond jubilee and the Olympics will conspire and intercede beneficently to herald a new dawn, by the light of which the City of London will steer the U.K. back to the sunny uplands of free market prosperity. It's hard to believe he really said this. I'm not sure which is more worrying; that he truly believes this, in which case he must be truly thick, or that he doesn't, in which case we have to ask why he is lying? Lying: deliberately passing off as true what we know to be untrue. So, sue me.  

Perhaps the most obvious and significant political defects to stem from the unquestioned supremacy of financial markets over democratically elected governments is the way in which, while the roles are essentially unchanged, the powers are now at the very least equally shared between numbers 10 & 11. By and large, economic policy involves doing exactly what the holders of the purse-strings say. Only war or disaster can over-rule Number 11. Certainly, the notional second in command, the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, is lucky if he gets to be chancellor's bag and can carrier. (The post is currently held by former park-keeper, Danny Alexander, who seems to confuse brassneck with stoicism)

It's become almost a cliché now, but this doesn't detract from its significance: given his track record on back-tracking on his forecasts on every single one of his own chosen indicators, every three months, it seems almost embarrassingly inevitable that, if he's still in a job, George Osbourne will be telling us in his autumn budget statement that the U.K's descent into catastrophic recession was merely a statistical blip caused by the combined disruptions of the Olympics and the Queen's diamond jubilee. Last year's royal nuptials were all set to boost the economy until the day after the event, when they were duly blamed for all the flat-lining indices, so such bypassing of traditional logic should surprise nobody.

Nor should we expect any consistency in which ring road is chosen. Note how, while shutting practically the entire country for a day for the Royal Wedding was always punted as an economic multiplier, the one-day strike by a few per cent of the workforce, none of whom was involved in primary economic production, cost a round half billion, according to George. In an age where economic markers are cheerfully measured in tenths of percent - and when even dishonest economists admit the margins of error are in whole points - the docked pay amounts to a measurable chunk of the public sector wage bill. As work back-logs accrued from the strike were generally cleared in a matter of days, if they existed at all, the strike was probably a net contributor to GDP. And if the brief withdrawal of labour had such a devastating impact, this demonstrates just how valuable this labour is, thus undermining the Coalition's utter conviction that public sector inefficiency is rife and that swingeing cuts are vital to root it out.  

More follows............