When Bojo heads to his desk this Monday morning I hope he has spent the weekend reading some history. Not the (recent) history of the General Election campaign just fought and won, covered in the weekend papers. Not Classical history, either, but about the first few months of a Conservative Government in 1979. Why?
He needs to avoid making the same major mistakes.
Margaret Thatcher leading the Conservative Party in a General Election for the first time had won a great victory. She was put into power by the votes she called for from ordinary working men and women. Not the wealthy, not those in the elite professions like lawyers, doctors, stockbrokers (remember them?), bankers, actors and pop stars but by the working classes and ‘ordinary’ people.
Mrs Thatcher appointed a lawyer, Geoffrey Howe, as her first Chancellor. She then took her eye off the ball. Geoffrey Howe in his first Budget delivered on an election promise to cut taxes. Not for ‘ordinary’ people though. The Higher Rates of Income Tax were cut. The country’s finances were in no state to permit this. It had to be paid for, so Howe increased the rate of VAT and some other indirect taxes, including Fuel Duty. This, in particular hit the very people that Margaret Thatcher had called on to put her into a position of power to lead the country – the ordinary working man and woman. Not only that, it created extra inflation, something that the Conservative campaign in 1979 had pledged to bring under control.
One pledge delivered. One pledge immediately broken.
Howe was gracious and honest enough to later admit his Budget had been wrong and that he did not really know what he was doing in economic terms. He had blindly followed his Party’s manifesto pledges, apart from that given on inflation.
The real responsibility lay with the First Lord of the Treasury who should have been asking the Housewife’s Questions “Geoffrey, are you sure we can afford all this?” and “What is the likely effect of each measure?” Disaster might then have been avoided.
Disaster did indeed follow but not immediately apart from voters who had voted Conservative – perhaps for the first time – feeling colossally betrayed. They then had to cope with the extra inflation on top of that which the previous Labour Government had caused and then tried to cure. The extra cost of travelling to their ordinary jobs was particularly hard for ordinary working people who had had Conservatives campaigning on the importance of work and making ones way in the world.
The UK’s finances were further weakened, almost to the point of recession, so that when world recession really did hit within a year or so, the effect was devastating on both the country and the Conservative Party. Support poured away, ordinary people felt betrayed by the Conservative Party and not for the first time either. Edward Heath and Anthony Barber had done similar damage with their ‘dash for growth’ starting in 1970.
As Sgt Phil Esterhaus would say at the end of Roll Call: “That’s it. Let’s roll. Hey, hey! Let’s be …. truly C A R E F U L … out there today.”
Boris, are you listening and paying attention?
Feel free to discuss, Biased BBCers, but please stay polite and on topic.