Gale`s View - (May 21st 2008)
"We`re doing well, aren't we?”, say my friends following what may be claimed as recent electoral success. In party political terms the answer to that question is, of course, "yes". Most opinion polls suggest that "if there were to be a general election tomorrow" (which there will not be) a Conservative government would be returned with an absolute majority. On the basis that in politics you are either in government or preparing for government or you have no business to be in the game my party's present position is encouraging.
In terms of the performance of UK limited, however, the situation offers no cause for satisfaction or comfort whatsoever.
Those whose political memories go back more than five minutes can remember only too well the effects of inflation and high interest rates and the re-possession of houses and flats. Some of my bleakest experiences have involved facing constituents in tears as their debts spiralled out of control and their banks and building societies foreclosed and took their homes from them. It was not a pretty experience and it is certainly not something that, after Ken Clarke pulled the economy back to rude health, I had anticipated having to go through again.
When the Governor of the Bank of England indicates that twenty years of cheap borrowing is at an end and that we are on the brink of recession then I think that we have to take the warning seriously. Mr. Governor is not known for rash statement or exaggeration and if he says things are bad then we can take it that things really are bad.
The signs have been there for a while, of course. Falling house prices are supposed to help first-time buyers but the reality is that if those buyers cannot raise deposits or mortgages or, because of other rising prices, afford repayments then the market stagnates. Estate Agents close, spending on refurbishment, on furniture and curtains and white goods and DIY drops and the High Street, already under huge pressure from out-of-town outlets and supermarket buying power, suffers.
I don't need the "commentariat" to tell me that my constituents are paying much higher prices for their food or that it now costs, for some, a taxed week's wages to fill the car used to get to work. My own household pays those prices also, and we all feel it not just in the bank balance but in the sense of well-being. Politicians of all political parties take up the challenge to try to improve the lot of those that send us to parliament and, more grandly, to create a fairer, better, more just and democratic world. Watching the wheels come off, therefore, is not a source of pleasure.
Government chooses to blame "the international financial situation" for the difficulties that we now face in the United Kingdom and there is, of course, some truth in the fact that collapse of financial institutions, high commodity prices and in particular huge increases on the prices (and profits) related to fuel have had an impact.
Much of the pain, though, is home grown. As Prime Minister, Blair operated on the "bread-and-circuses" basis that if people were shopping then the economy grew and the electorate would reward him. That the retail therapy was paid for out of credit card debt was a problem for the future and, with good timing, the bubble would not burst on his watch. Throughout those years the man who presided over this policy and resided in No. 11 Downing Street, was Gordon Brown.
That Chancellor of the Exchequer, now the Prime Minister, was also responsible for the anger and the political damage caused by the 10p tax fiasco. It ought to have been blindingly obvious that no government could get away with penalising some of the poorest in the Country and a panic-stricken U-turn has still not resolved that matter.
The shambles that became known as Northern Wreck and that has done so much to undermine confidence in our financial institutions was allowed, by the Prime Minister and Chancellor Darling, to ramble apparently aimlessly on to an inconclusive and hugely costly temporary resolution under old-fashioned socialist nationalisation.
Dithering over the November election-that-wasn't probably terminally damaged Gordon Brown's political career. Had he taken his chance he might have won himself five years to battle through economic crisis. Had he lost then a new Cameron-led Conservative administration would have been saddled with the blame for the economic chaos that we now face. But by stalling, this Prime Minister showed a lack of control and a capacity for indecision that has become more evident ever since. Under other circumstances he would go, or be gone, by now.
A government that has changed one Prime Minister, quite reasonably, without a General Election, cannot, though, play the same card again and the turkeys on the Labour backbenches, facing meltdown, are not about to vote for electoral Christmas. That means, I fear, that we are faced with another two years of duck-and-dive before we experience the reality of the national ballot boxes in perhaps as late as July 2010.
During that time I want my own party to hone its policies, groom its rising stars and prepare for what will be an enormous challenge as the next government. But I want something more: in the interests of our Country I want us to help the present government through the rough water and, in the interests of the quality of life and standard of living of those that we represent, I want us to work with any sensible policy that helps to relieve the pain. Last week the Prime Minister announced for the coming parliamentary year a draft legislative programme that is based largely on our own ideas, so some co-operation in the national interest may not be as difficult as it seems!