The dark clouds of economic turmoil are gathering, now almost everyone has cause for concern. One might have imagined that a crisis of this magnitude would preoccupy our leaders but, if the front page of the Daily Torygraph is any indication, they are still somewhat off the pace. The headline tells us that ‘Number 10 is sponsoring a guide to changing nappies. It is ridiculous, says our dear leader, that people have to take courses before driving a car yet are left unadvised on the most important task of all. Oh yes, and he plans to promote tax relief for families employing full-time nannies. On the allotments this morning there was a feeling that even more ridiculous is the fact that a Prime Minister sees a practice such as nappy drill, which is handed down from generation to generation, as a top priority and believes that most families employ nannies. He may not be, as Albert put it, three pence short of a shilling, but he appears to be heading in that direction.
Our dear leader has also been busy lecturing the rest of Europe on the art of austerity. Hopefully the audiences will not look too closely at what it has achieved here. Absolutely nothing. The national debt continues to climb and there is little sign of any serious effort to stimulate growth without which stagnation is the very best we can hope for. Vast amounts have been poured into quantitative easing which has simply served to make the banks rich enough to start speculating again. Healthy banks in a sick society: a bad mix.
Frankly even sensible projects would attract at best lukewarm support from a society now deeply divided. Yes, much tighter monetary controls were needed but time and again the coalition has messed up the detail. Worse still it has attempted to sell cuts via demonisation. A classic example are benefit cuts. In reality only 3.4 per cent of families in receipt of long-term benefits have four or more children, yet people like Jeremy Hunt have constantly banged on about the state no longer funding “large workless families”. Benefit recipients at large have been portrayed as feckless, workshy scroungers, living in opulence funded by taxpayers. The appalling mass murder of the Philpott children last Friday may well be related to this for they were featured extensively during the election as evidence that the welfare system is out of control.
In fact every section of our society that has so much as raised a protest at the cuts affecting them has been villified. The police spend too much time in the backroom, nurses waste time gossiping to patients, blind people fail to use their mobility, teachers are sub-standard. Step by step the government has alienated millions. And to rub salt into the wounds it has failed to do more than raise an eyebrow at the tax avoidance and obscene salaries of the top banks, businesses and tycoons.
Austerity on its own is a dubious tool at best, without a total commitment by everyone it is doomed to failure. But the good news is that we are now to have a chance to judge the alternative. The election of Francois Hollande as President of France on an anti-austerity ticket will provide an interesting contrast with what our dear leader, and his cronies, have done here.
Members of Hollande’s new governmnet took up their post yesterday. The new President pledged “dignity, simplicity and sobriety”, and made what many will see as a positive move by appointing 34 women as ministers, exactly half of the total. The new ‘cabinet’ then voted in a 30% wage reduction for all ministers and the president. Ministers were told they will be expected to adhere to a strict code of conduct. The code rules out presents and private invitations and expects ministers to travel by train. Ministers were told to stay in constant touch with the public, to use the internet extensively. Above all there must be “transparency in government”.
All of which sounds promising. Had our crowd worked to such a code the entanglement with the Murdochs would not have happened, and a better fist would have been made of getting detail right. The arrogance of people like Lansley would have been tempered by real and open communication.
Hollande has also made clear his attitude to the bankers and the very wealthy. Tax is to be raised significantly. We are constantly told that such action would lead to a mass exodus. Hollande shrugs and says it is “their choice”. He is no fool and clearly believes that no one is indispensible, particularly if by their example of greed they poison morale.
Time will tell, but there has to be another way to achieve recovery than the chaotic one we are pursuing. History tells us that unity is strength, and that is only possible if everyone feels that we are all sharing the pain. Hollande is by nature a socialist. Many years have passed since we had such an animal here and the idea will worry those who confuse the creed with communism. But it just may be the answer.
The new minister for equality and housing is Cecile Duflot, the former head of the Green Party. She said that, after the first meeting, she felt “deep emotion and enthusiasm”. The justice minister is Delphine Batho. She said that she was “extremely happy, and really enchanted”.
Can’t remember any of our lot saying such things!
DEBATE ABOUT HONOURS RATTLES ON
The suggestion by a group of Lord Lieutenants that the word Empire should be deleted from our honours system has clearly rattled many of the old buffs who rejoice in being seen to be a member of something that no longer exists.
Suggestions for a change are pouring in, one that caught the eye focusses on the OBE. It should, says a petition, now stand for Order of the Brussels Empire.
Nick Clegg will doubtless agree!