The Chancellor isn't willing to take on entrenched interests
Elon Musk doesn’t pull his punches. Yesterday, it was reported that he emailed his Twitter employees demanding an “extremely hardcore” effort to “build a breakthrough Twitter 2.0”. Being part of this mission would mean “working long hours at high intensity”. However, there is an alternative option, namely “three months of severance”. According to the email, employees have until later today to make their choice.
Another hardcore offer was made today — this one from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Jeremy Hunt. In his Autumn Statement, he unveiled an estimated £30 billion in spending cuts and £24 billion in tax rises. Further, no matter how many hours they work and at what intensity, millions of workers’ pay won’t keep pace with inflation.
Unlike the Musk ultimatum there’s no option to decline, but the British people do have until the next election to decide whether or not to return a Conservative government. Right now, that looks unlikely. So what can the Tories do to turn around their poll ratings?
The promise of “stability” (Hunt’s top priority) is not enough: as Liz Truss found out, this is the minimum we demand from a government. What could make a difference, though, is a hint that we’re working towards economic transformation. The upheavals of the last 15 years have made it clear that our current British model just isn’t up to the challenges of the 21st century.
So did the Chancellor unveil an exciting vision for a Britain 2.0? Not really. He did make efforts to protect the budgets that most obviously contribute to growth and productivity — like funding for infrastructure, skills and R&D. In addition, there was a promise to invest more into energy efficiency. But, while welcome, this is only playing catch-up after David Cameron’s short-sighted decision to “cut the green crap”.
As for reforming public services, Hunt announced some policy reviews. However, these will be led by such blasts-from-the-past as Patricia Hewitt and Michael Barber. I doubt we can expect many game-changers there.
Hunt did refer to the Mais Lecture given in February by Rishi Sunak (back when he was Chancellor). This was Sunak’s ‘big ideas’ speech, which outlined a plan get Britain growing again. But instead of developing these ideas, they’ve been diluted. In particular, there was no mention of the intention to transform tax incentives — so that lazy British business starts investing in productivity. Without radical action on this front the UK will remain a bargain-basement economy dependent on cheap imported labour.
Comparisons have been drawn between the current government and Margaret Thatcher’s first term as Prime Minister. This helps Sunak against the die-hard Thatcherite wing of his party — because, contrary to the Right-wing narrative, she began by increasing taxation in the face of an economic crisis. However, Sunak should not forget that Thatcher’s initial caution was followed-up by radical action. Having stabilised the economy, she then reformed it, taming militant unions and privatising moribund industries.
The vested interests holding us back in 2022 are different — from rapacious landlords to selfish NIMBYs — but they’re just as entrenched. Without a vision for change, Jeremy Hunt’s “stability” will mostly benefit the next Labour government.