Liz Truss is a theoretician

There’s an old joke among economists – you might well have heard it. Two economists are visiting a community project. People mill around in vigorous conversation, busy doing stuff, some talking earnestly in a meeting, graphs on the wall. “looks like its working well, eh? says one. “Mmmmm….,” says the other. “but does it work in theory?!”

– and there’s the problem with Liz Truss. It’s the theory that matters – otherwise everything is incoherent.

Well, there’s the problem with central government, actually. Liz is merely a flap-footed clown in a circus of skilled and semi-skilled performers. George Osborne and David Cameron outclassed her in insouciance and aloofness; Rishi Sunak was more svelt and competent; Boris a million times more canny. Theresa May was cunningly duplicitous about her ruthlessness and cruelty. But none of them were much concerned about the busy realities and complexities of life – beyond what it took to garner votes. They were all theoreticians, musing in the abstract. Insofar as any of them had a genuine concern with the health of the economy or the welfare of the citizen, this was merely a spur for ideological double-downing. Governing is like a three-dimensional board-game which has to be played well – and won. No matter what the counters and symbols represented in real life. The game solutions were to be round holes into which the square-pegged citizenry and its local representatives had to squeeze themselves. Watch, next time, a TV shot of a minister visiting a school or a factory and see a visitor from a rarified atmosphere making a fleeting and usually stiff visit to reality. “Oh! So that’s what you do!?”

Not to be too partisan about this, but you have to go back a long way, and search needling-in-a-haystack for a Conservative minister who made such a visit with a genuine curiosity about the real-world impact of their policies: Michael Heseltine and Douglas Hurd, for sure. Kenneth Clarke? Rab Butler, yes – and they thin out in recent years…Amber Rudd? Meanwhile, on the Labour side such figures are easy to identify: like it or not, Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, Robin Cook, Alan Milburn, Alan Johnson, John Prescott, Tony Benn, Michael Dobbs (who addressed NHS staff as “we”), Andy Burnham, Anthony Crossland, and numerous others. And, of course, the supreme master of them all, Gordon Brown, probably the most connected Minister and Prime Minister this country has seen, and whose considerable successes arose from his understanding of lived realities. Unfortunately, he found himself a chess-player in a world of draughts.

So – theory. Well, this is what Truss visits upon us. Perhaps more rabidly and tunnel-visioned than Cameron/Osborne, but playing in the same ballpark. She’s impatient when reminded of the damage she is wreaking in the real world – she knows all about that! That’s what makes applying the theory difficult – and, therefore, worthy.Tell me something new. It’s all part of the theory: no-pain-no-gain. We know that she can’t explain the theory – that’s what Patrick Minford does (Margaret Thatcher’s ‘favourite economist’). So what is the theory?

Here’s Patrick, himself: “I don’t see it as a gamble….We put our growth strategy in place and then cut your cloth according to the revenues that come in. I think that’s fully understood by Liz Truss.” Read this core belief carefully. ‘Put the growth strategy in place’ – ie. cut taxes to encourage those who create wealth, and these are the corporate leaders. ‘Cut your cloth” – ie. apportion money to public services. ‘According to the revenue that comes in’ – ie. wait and see what you’ve got. The short version of this, unless I’m mistaken, is ‘throw the dice and follow the result’. But it’s not a gamble. Well, it’s not a gamble for the players – Minford, Truss and Kwateng – but it sure is for those at the receiving end of ‘according to the revenues that….’. The insouciance is staggering (insouciance dictionary definition: casual lack of concern; indifference).

In the next Blog I will look at how local councillors make exponentially better theoreticians. The new battleground of politics will be central/local government relations.

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