Brian Monteith: It’s a step in the right direction

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Harold Wilson was right. The former Prime Minister coined the phrase “a week is a long time in politics” when talking of the changing events surrounding Labour’s devaluation of the pound in 1968. And so it has proven again.

Last week we had the omnishambles when everything the coalition government touched seemed to turn into a quivering, dissolving blancmange. It made a dog’s breakfast over energy prices, the Chief Whip finally resigned over his condescending and insulting behaviour to an ordinary police constable and the Chancellor of the Exchequer couldn’t get a seat in standard class and had to pay a surcharge after going into first class.

Personally, I thought the Chancellor was in the right; I’ve been moved from standard to first by railway guards in the past and not paid extra, but such was the febrile nature of the 
opposition-led media that any sense of people getting above themselves suddenly was fair game. The fact that Osborne has only claimed standard class travel, that more first class rail travel is claimed by Labour MPs, and proportionately even more by SNP members, was conveniently ignored.

In fact, it is said that this week’s announcement of the postponement of the planned badger cull in the south-west of England was meant to have happened last week but such was the growing sense of incompetence it was decided to postpone it so it did not add to the maelstrom. A Labour MP cleverly called it an “omnivoreshambles”. And in some respects it was.

So if last week was like a seventies disaster movie – just as cheesy, camp and unreal – then this week has signaled the beginning of the end of the coalition’s dog days. The news has arrived – the economy is in the up.

As I have said before, there is good news in the economy if people only care to look, and maybe people would notice it more if the coalition would focus on promoting it rather than self-indulgently talking about their differences. The recent news about investment in manufacturing and especially car manufacturing shows Britain not only still makes things but is seen to be very good at it and is preferred above many other European nations – even when their labour rates are cheaper.

Then there’s the perplexing unemployment figures – or should I call them employment figures – for not only do the numbers of unemployed continue to decline, the number of people in Britain now in work is actually at an all-time high – ever! As the UK population has grown in size (it’s more than 60 million now) so too has the workforce – which means that we have had to create more and more jobs just to stand still.

Such is the strength of Britain’s economy – thanks especially to the still misunderstood and criticised changes introduced by Margaret Thatcher’s governments – that over a million new jobs have been created as the public sector has contracted.

So when the Gross Domestic Product figure of a one per cent gain was announced for the July through September quarter yesterday, it instantly took Britain out of its double-dip recession. This marked the beginning of not just a new week in our domestic politics but a new chapter.

After all the bluster of Miliband and Balls about the need for a Plan B, suddenly Plan A is beginning to bear fruit. When Balls was interviewed by Sky’s Adam Boulton he had no answers but to try to say that things were better in other countries, like Germany. 
Boulton asked why that was and after Balls waffled the interviewer eventually had to give the floundering shadow chancellor the right answer – because Germany had not had such a financially flatulent Labour government spending money it did not have and borrowing on the future earnings of our grandchildren.

Labour is now on the back foot and so long as the GDP figures continue to be positive the coalition will begin to recover its confidence and eventually more public support.

I can still remember the difficult times of the early eighties. Unemployment was climbing as we came to terms with the overmanning of the seventies and the subsidy of unsustainable and unprofitable businesses. The Tory government looked doomed, then the economy began to show signs of improvement and Thatcher won re-election in 1983 – even with unemployment still high. This was because there was a public mood that the 
medicine, although unpalatable, had to be taken – and was certainly better than the overdose of morphine Labour was offering.

Labour tried to suggest Thatcher’s victory was due to the Falklands War, but the economic renaissance was already beginning and the message the coalition has to understand is that it is the economy’s direction of travel that the public is interested in, not the current location.

Thus, while there are still many challenges to be faced, not least the unresolved decline of the eurozone and how it might continue to hurt some of our exports, and while there are many other issues the economy must resolve – it is the direction of travel that should now give the coalition some heart.

A week is indeed a long time in 
politics; just ask George Osborne when you see him in standard class.