Monday, November 22, 2010

Unpicking the narrative

Lord Young, the former favourite of Thatcher, was eventually sacked/quit following his outburst of insensitivity and honesty in a messy little performance by Cameron - the second occasion within a week when he has reversed minor decisions. But perhaps he was sacked for the truth he told.

On the one hand, you have the gross insensitivity of his comments over the coming job losses - which immediately revived the toxic brand image of the uncaring Conservative party - and on the other, you have his inaccuracy and lack of understanding of the impact.

All of the much discussed unemployment that is coming out of the cuts, the half a million, is about 100,000 a year. Well, frankly, 100,000 in 30  million is the margin of error

If you are one of those being sacked, then being part of the 'margin of error' is hardly reassuring. The evidence is also that 100,000 a year looks very low - councils are being pushed to front-load their cuts over the next two years, so as to keep the public memory of the bad news as far away as possible from the 2015 election campaign. That also doesn't account for the thousands of private sector jobs that are going to go alongside the public posts being lost, in outsourced jobs and suppliers. The effects are far deeper than Lord Young suggests. The government claims that their cuts just resets the country back to 2007 - an arguable claim - but one that Young accepts.

Now, I don’t remember in ’07 being short of money or the government being short of money. So I have a feeling and a hope that when this goes through, people will wonder what all the fuss was about.” Much of the complaining about cuts from councils and charities is driven by a self-interest, he claimed. Of course, there will be people who complain, but these are people who think they have a right for the state to support them

Clearly, a man like Lord Young - rich enough to have been working for Cameron for free - is unlikely to be affected by any economic downturn short of a total collapse of capitalism. Complaints aren't just coming from the undeserving charities and councils, of course, but from people who are going to see their essential services cut back. Some of the councils have reason to complain. Allister Hayman reports that some councils in the north are facing cuts of up to 38% to their budgets - which will force local authorities to restrict their activities to their statutory obligations. Services that many people enjoy and have come to rely upon will be closed - not that it will affect Lord Young, of course.

Now we come to something which manages to be insensitive, with a thin dusting of truth.

For the vast majority of people they have never had it so good ever since this recession, this so-called recession, started because most people with a mortgage who were paying a lot of money each month suddenly started paying very little

Of course, low interest rates don't bother those who are renting their properties - it may come as a surprise to Lord Young that not everybody is a home-owner yet - and they also adversely affect those who rely on their savings to provide an income, the elderly in particular. But, for those who have mortgages, it is true to say that low rates have been a saving grace of this recession and have allowed people to take jobs with lower pay or to cut back their hours and still retain their homes - unlike the experience during the 1980s and 1990s, when the Tories ran the economy.

The problem with that analysis is that it unpicks the carefully-woven Conservative narrative that Labour mismanaged the economy, a justification upon which hangs the cover for their ideological cutbacks. Tough as things were during the teeth of the recession, if Darling and Brown had not taken the actions that they did, things would have been far worse - although that is a tough argument to sell. At this point, it may be worth noting that the Tories dithered over the correct policy to follow, even as Labour were acting to shore up the banks (we came within hours of having the entire cash machine network shut down to stop panic withdrawals). Overall, although the indicators were poor, we came through the recession better than history would normally expect.

If Lord Young was sacked for speaking the truth, it was a truth more inconvenient to the Conservative Party than they would wish to admit.

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