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Monday, 24 October 2011

What Living Standards?

Yesterday David Cameron displayed his lack of political nous by demanding that all Tory MPs should vote against a motion calling for a popular Referendum on the future of Britain's role in Britain; and some eighty of them ignored the request. If he had allowed a free vote, there would have been a fun day with no significant aftermath: instead he was perceived to have suffered serious reputational damage. After the votes were counted the Leader of the House of Commons expressed the view that there had to be one outburst in favour of the public mood during this five-year Parliament; and that everybody should now knuckle-down and accept whatever was demanded of the UK by the European Union. Some hope!
The Daily Telegraph, for generations the authentic voice of Conservatism, suggested that the incident had demonstrated serious inadequacies in David Cameron's leadership; and it was widely suggested that this diminution in his authority [albeit self-inflicted] will be damaging in the future.

The Government has to hope to carry a consensus in the country through a series of years of dramatically falling living standards. Prices are going up much faster than earned incomes or benefits will increase, and individuals' chance of borrowing money to maintain.a high standard of living will diminish for almost everybody. Only public-sector jobs are strongly unionised; and if the civil service and Fire Brigades and Teachers' unions go on strike to preserve their pay, pensions and benefits they will increase the sense of depression and betrayal among the unionionised majority who will suffer from closed schools, unpaid benefits, accident damage - including human body-parts - left at the scene of the incident, and greater risks from fire and terrorism. The majority of the population support the Firefighters, are cynical about the pay of tube drivers, are increasingly open to the view that schools fail because of bad teaching and discipline, and hostile to the idea of petty bureaucrats being compensated to meet inflation that is crushing ordinary folk. As the public mood sours with the ongoing slide in living standards, some mitigation could possibly be achieved by Churchillian or Roosevelt-like leadership: instead there is a clique of career politicians with exiguous experience of 'real life' and who lack any hint of charisma.

This is why Cameron's failure is so serious. The absence of credible alternatives to Cameron and Clegg within the conventional political system is equally alarming. The government's policy will not lead to recovery: at best it seeks to mitigate the downward spiral in living standards by fostering 'growth' largely in 'manufacturing'. They have had eighteen months to implement policies that should be producing evidence of success, at least on a small scale. It is not visible. There is no reason to believe that mass living standards can be protected in the foreseeable future; and that is likely to spawn more profound political radicalism that has been seen in Britain since 1848.

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