The text of Sir John Major’s article on the economy, published by The Sunday Mail on Sunday 21st February 2010.
SIR JOHN MAJOR:
The central issue at the next election is – trust.
“Things can only get better” trilled Labour in 1997. How wrong they were. The British electorate trusted Labour to inherit the most stable and competitive economy in Europe, and to invest wisely for the future. Yet over thirteen wasted years, our public finances have been squandered, and our economy is in a dire state. The damage they have done is so extensive it is hard to quantify.
The total British national debt has more than doubled. Our annual debt has soared to levels never before seen in our history. We are unlikely – ever – to be able to reduce our overall debt to the low level of where the last Conservative Government left it in 1997.
The last decade under Blair/Brown has been the worst for growth since the 1930s. Manufacturing is declining at a record rate. The City is wounded, with bits of it scarcely out of intensive care. The Stock Market has slumped. Our competitive advantage has been lost. The UK was the last but one nation in the G20 to come out of recession – and even then at only 0.1%. True to form, this Labour Government, like every single one of its predecessors, has wrecked the British economy and bequeathed a crisis.
But the issue of trust is much wider than policy failures. The Labour Government is not candid – either with itself or the electorate. Even its statistics mislead. The debt to which they admit excludes large sums they have kept off the balance sheet. The unemployment figures only represent one-half of men and women of working age who are not gainfully employed. Labour continue to blame all our economic woes on the worldwide recession – another smokescreen. Of course the global situation was a contributing factor, but it was the UK Government that destroyed pensions; failed to regulate the Banks; and turned a blind eye to a mountain of national and personal debt.
I do not believe most people yet realise how serious this debt is: the Labour Government are having to borrow £500 million-a-day. In the time it has taken to read this article, they will have borrowed another £3.5 million – more than most people could even dream of earning in several lifetimes. And yet it is these very people – the taxpayers – who will have to repay this debt and, while they do so, suffer the impact of cuts in services. Every one of us faces a decade of stringency because of Labour’s folly and mismanagement.
Nor have Labour produced a fairer society with the money they have spent. The gap between rich and poor has widened, sink estates have worsened, social mobility has fallen and failing schools cripple the prospects of too many children. This is not fairness. It is failure.
Try as they might, Labour cannot defend their record in Government, so their policy is to resort to their old trick of attacking their opponents with a barrage of fantasy claims, and what Churchill termed “terminological inexactitudes”. As they do, they widen still further the growing wedge between a disbelieving public and our political system.
Why do they say what they know to be untrue? The Prime Minister tried to draw a (wholly false) distinction between Tory “austerity” and Labour “aspiration”. Alistair Darling up-ended that fiction. Austerity is unavoidable whoever forms the next Government. Labour know this, yet the Prime Minister offers false optimism, when what the electorate deserves is a stark and truthful assessment of the facts. For in time – after the election – the bleak truth will be all too apparent, and trust in politicians – and politics – will have been further eroded.
The Prime Minister feeds the public with a diet of nonsense, telling us that tackling the deficit is his priority, whilst promising increased expenditure for popular services. The disconnect between the Prime Minister’s fantasy and the real world becomes ever wider. And yet he continues to make claims that are easily contradicted by the evidence. How can trust possibly be maintained? And how have we come to this?
My own view is that – since the advent of New Labour – a once principled Labour Party has lost its political conscience and moral compass. From 1994 onwards, they existed only to win elections. Nothing mattered other than peddling back to the electorate what their polling had told them the electorate wished to hear. To win successive elections, they unleashed a private sector boom and public profligacy which the Treasury could not afford. And, as taxpayers basked in a false prosperity, a culture of deceit took root. People up and down the UK now see – and feel – the result of this reckless policy.
Nor was this strategy restricted to economic and social policy. The findings of the Chilcott Inquiry may yet show us that public presentation and private reality were in conflict, even in matters of War: we shall see. However, it is certain that few soldiers (or their families) will forget that our Servicemen and women were sent to Afghanistan with the promise that “not a shot would be fired”. Such careless policy costs lives: already, alas, more than were lost in the Falklands conflict. This is emphatically not trustworthy Government.
“Oh well”, people say as they shrug their apathetic shoulders, “that’s politics”. No, it is not. No-one should accept the way Labour massage facts to suit their purpose. Politics isn’t a game to be played out with a nod, a wink and a soundbite – it’s deadly serious and affects the lives of each and every one of us. I concede readily that when the Tories were in Government we got some things wrong, but we never lost sight of what was right, even when facing electoral defeat. And we never mortgaged the nation’s future to buy the nation’s votes.
Deceiving the electorate should be a capital crime politically and yet, under Labour, the public has become inured to it. They should be outraged. When Gordon Brown replaced Tony Blair as Prime Minister, he promised to end the black arts of spin. This is yet another empty pledge from Labour, for Gordon Brown continues to preside over a swollen army of practitioners, whose role is to mislead the very people who are paying their salaries: the British taxpayer.
But deception is not limited to these back-room figures. “Only 3,000 people will benefit from the Tory proposals on Inheritance Tax”, claimed one Cabinet Minister, whereas the true figure is 4 million. Another senior Labour figure claims the Tories will only cut tax for the rich. Such fatuous untruths are not accidental. They are a sub-text of Labour’s class war: the purpose is to promote envy, from which they hope to benefit electorally.
Labour’s theme is that all Tories are “toffs”, who know nothing about ordinary people. What inverted snobbery this is – and what a grotesque travesty of the truth. I wonder how many readers of this article who vote Tory live a carefree and leisurely life?
How many have not faced problems with bills, mortgages and family crises? Of course they have – we all have – Tories or not. As a Tory, I look back to my own “privileged” upbringing – full of all the luxuries offered in a multi-occupied, multi-racial house in Brixton. Labour’s class-based politics, setting citizen against citizen in order to win votes, can never bring social cohesion on the streets of Britain. It is a contemptible piece of politics.
Another Labour claim is that “experienced” Gordon Brown is better equipped to clear up the mess (albeit one which he created), than the “callow” Tories. “The test of a Government”, stated the Prime Minister at his Party Conference, “is the quality of its judgement”. Quite so – but this hardly helps Labour’s case:
Was it good judgement – or even legally right – to go to war in Iraq; or to move into Afghanistan with no clear military objective; or to under-equip our troops in both wars?
Was it good judgement to lead the UK into record debt? Or to remove the safeguards that were in place pre-May 1997, which could have minimised the damage caused by the global crisis? Or to sell our Gold reserves at the very bottom of the market for no good purpose?
Was it good judgement to reverse Conservative policies on health and education when they came into Government, only to re-introduce them, in re-packaged form, a few years later?
Was it good judgement to force through 24-hour drinking, which has led to more anti-social behaviour and inner city crime? Or to pile so much paper-work on the police, that they spend more time form-filling and less in protecting our neighbourhoods?
If judgement is the test, this Labour Government has failed spectacularly.
“Things can only get better”, yet – over thirteen years – “New” Labour have undermined Parliament; taken us to war on a false premise; embellished that error by linking Iraq to the 9/11 attack on New York for which there is not a shred of evidence; affronted civil liberties in an over-reaction to the terrorist threat; brought the independence of the Civil Service into question; and made a mockery of the criminal justice system.
The poet Philip Larkin once wrote: “Most things are not meant.” Labour did not mean to damage our national wellbeing, but they have. They did not mean to damage our personal liberty, but they have. They did not mean to undermine Parliament, but they have.
Larkin was right, most things are not meant, but his poem was even more prescient than you may think. It is entitled: “Going, Going”. Let us hope – for all our sakes – it is not long before this Labour Government is finally gone gone.