Political Review: Welcome to the Omni Inquiry

Political Review: Welcome to the Omni Inquiry

Wednesday was a bad day for Adam Smith. We shall return in the moment to the strange case of the crazy Culture Secretary but first, as they say, the economy, for which Adam Smith, by virtue of having the prescience to share a name with Jeremy Hunt's late special adviser, must stand as proxy. "Consumption", wrote Smith, "is the sole end and purpose of all production". (This is the earlier Smith speaking by the way; if only his namesake had had the foresight to stick to little ditties about the motivation of bakers in his copius e-mails to Mr Murdoch's lot, none of this would have happened.) There is no consumption, ergo there is no production. This, in essence, was David Cameron's defence of the flatlining economy after the latest non-growth figures arrived just in time for Ed Miliband to whack him with them at prime minister's questions.

Mr Cameron struggled valiantly to avoid arrogantly blaming the economy's woes on everybody else though this, of course, was no vaccination against being accused of arrogantly blaming the economy's woes on everybody else. The Labour Party, facing austerity of its own, has economised on having an economic policy as such, though it does have a series of pre-programmed responses which are apparently selected by the same computer that digs out the premium bond winners.

The problem is that Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne are arrogant. Sometimes it is that they are complacent. Sometimes they are posh - a wonderful word that, although derived from where ruling-class types used to have their cabins on the voyages to and fro the colonies, now has the modern interpretation of being arrogant and complacent combined. Sometimes, according to Labour, the problem with the economy is that the Government is slashing public spending. When it is politely pointed out that the Government is doing no such thing, the incubus becomes that the Government keeps talking about slashing public spending, which has the effect of making everybody feel so fed up that they stop going out and buying pizza and self-assembly wardrobes. You see, we got to Adam Smith eventually.

Many people blame the Liberal Democrats for the malaise. Not Mr Cameron obviously, who would sooner pick on the British Olympic gymnasts team, but no such strictures apply to Liam Fox, Mr Hunt's predecessor-but-one as the Man Who Will Have To Go Eventually. Dr Fox wrote an article in Friday's Daily Telegraph criticising the Lib Dems for their "intuitive left-wing opposition to supply-side reform".

The former defence secretary is one of those doctors whose bedside manner would make you glad you had a very big bed. A film of air-conditioned menace hung across his article, with its chill threats aimed at Cable, Clegg and all the rest of the woolly liberal crowd. If the economy doesn't get better, he seemed to say, we can make it very hard for you.

The received spin upon the article was that it had been written to bolster Mr Osborne, even where it was apparently highlighting the failure of his economic policy. We simpler souls feel that the Chancellor himself might bear some responsibility for the lack of supply-side reform. However, Mr Osborne is, as we know, a political genius, even if the only obvious manifestation of that genius today is an incredible ability to make various colleagues and hacks still believe in it.

Poor old Jeremy Hunt though; nobody really believes him. He is in the unenviable, though not uncommon, position of a minister whose only defence against venality is incompetence. Why he should authorise his political adviser of all people to have sotto voce conversations with Old Murdoch's familiars while he was simultaneously trying to pose as an impartial judge in the matter of the great Sky buy-out is anybody's guess. Tory MPs, apparently after some prodding by the whips, turned out in force to support Mr Hunt during his statement in the Commons. It became wearisome after a while to listen to all these photocopied testimonies to the man's unrelenting wisdom and integrity. Socrates, we were invited to feel, couldn't have handled the matter any more adeptly.

All of this stage-managed sycophancy worked, however, for by the end of the week Mr Hunt was still there, clinging to the goassamer get-out clause that it should be for Lord Justice Leveson to decide whether or not the Culture Secretary has misbehaved. This seems to have come as a surprise to Leveson himself, understandably perplexed that his terms of reference relating to the ethics of the press have been extended to mean the ethics of government ministers. While he and his people were playing with Rupert Murdoch, he has found himself in charge of an Omni-Inquiry. He should watch out. Any more bad economic news and Mr Cameron will arrange for somebody to tell Leveson about it. Then he will insist on the other side being put and then waiting for the judge to pronounce officially on whether or not we are on the road to fiscal perdition.

As to Mr Hunt, he is an unlikely looking villain, if that indeed is what he is. There was much discussion during the week about his scarf, though no one seemed to grasp the obvious point that he is clearly being made to wear it by his mum. The Private Pike of the Government front bench, it is already too late to tell him not to panic.


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