I know why George Osborne has called for a "relentless focus" on the UK economy. It's because it keeps getting smaller. If you don't look hard soon you might not be able to see anything at all. But a flat-lining (and worse) economy is not really a joking matter. The 0.7 per cent fall in second quarter GDP was the sort of shock that no-one finds funny.
In response to the bad news the government stuck to its core message. There was no need to change course - indeed, that would be a sign of weakness and would betray a lack of resolve. No, no: it was rather time to press on with the austerity drive and "roll up our sleeves", as the prime minister likes to say. (He has now called on us to roll up our sleeves so often that I picture him on the tennis court in a Rafa Nadal-style sleeveless vest-top.)
In just over two years since the euphoric Downing Street garden press conference, during which the prime minister and his deputy joked about their (hastily formed) relationship and how they intended to govern, not much has gone right for the UK economy. The new government inherited a growing economy that has stalled and is now shrinking. True, unemployment has not risen as high as was feared, and there has been some reasonably good news on private sector jobs growth. But the terrible GDP and productivity data suggest a workforce that is hardly thriving. And the growth in part-time jobs and self-employment, along with falling inflation and ultra-low interest rates, hint at an economy that is underperforming badly.
In the face of all this evidence of policy failure, why the talk of no change, of "holding our nerve" and "staying the course"? It seems to me that Dave and George are playing out a role - that of resolute, Thatcher-inspired "strong leaders". It is almost 32 years since Mrs T's "U turn if you want to" speech, and yet that leadership model is still seen by many as the right (and only) approach to take. Osborne is known to have been influenced by both Lord [Geoffrey] Howe and Lord [Nigel] Lawson, Maggie's chancellors for most of her time in office, who believe that the extremely tough budget of 1981 was vindicated by the eventual return to growth in the UK economy in the mid-to-late 1980s.
The key verb in the last paragraph was "play". There is a fundamental lack of seriousness about Dave and George's approach. Yes, the government was formed in a hurry, and possibly received some bad advice from officials as to just how grave a position the country was in. But bad judgment and inexperience led our tyro leaders into adopting the wrong policy mix. Now they refuse to take seriously the evidence that is staring them in the face.
Osborne claims to be a "full-time" chancellor even as he heads a twice day to No.10 to chair so-called "strategy" (actually tactical and reactive) meetings. Cameron's breeziness knows no bounds. He will be at it again and again during the Olympics. But all he has to offer are glib assertions - "the greenest government ever", "the most family-friendly government ever", and, yes, "rolling up our sleeves" to "get the economy going". It is empty talk - PR positioning rather than meaningful policy. As the macro data get worse and worse, he sounds, as Gaby Hinsliff has said, like a school sports teacher giving a cheery half-time talk to a team that is obviously going to get slaughtered when it goes back onto the pitch.
There is a casual recklessness about Dave and George which cannot help but recall the notorious activities of the Bullingdon Club to which they both used to belong. But at least members of the Buller had the decency to get their cheque-books or trust funds out at the end of the evening to pay to repair the damage they had caused. The long-term costs of this "lost weekend" government are not yet clear. But the tidying up will take many years, and will come with a gigantic bill attached. This time daddy cannot afford to pay. That privilege will be ours.
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