OK, so I’ve been off line quite a bit due to a weird perversion called “moving house”. This means that my constituency MP is no longer Philip Hammond, which almost makes it all worthwhile by itself. Hammond was one of the most annoying features of living in wonderful Runnymede & Weybridge; an immensely self-satisfied and superbly mediocre greaseball who was invariably unhelpful on every occasion I had any dealings with him.
For some strange reason, Hammond has risen to a mysterious prominence in politics as Shadow Chief Secretary of the Treasury. Now this is no small thing; the Chief Sec is probably the most-underestimated job in government, being the gatekeeper for the Treasury’s dealings with all other government departments. So it is a sad comment on the shallow Conservative talent pool that it is filled by a waxwork like Hammond; in more normal times, he would no doubt botch the job and be dropped, but for various reasons entirely beyond his or anyone else’s control, the economic and more importantly financial climate has left him with an open goal. If you’ve seen Kes, it’s his Brian Glover/Bobby Charlton moment.
As far as I can make out, the only reason for Hammond’s success apart from the desperate shortage of alternatives is that he can be relied upon to repeat predetermined talking points without stumbling over often. He is, as the essay at the end of Nineteen Eighty-Four would say, literally a doubleplusgood duckspeaker – one who quacks out the party line without the least deviation. This may not be much of an achievement; you could, after all, replace him with a simple Python script without much trouble. But he’s done well with it.
The problem is the content of the duckspeak; after all, duckspeakers will always be with us. Hammond insists on reciting that “Gordon Brown failed to repair the roof while the sun was shining”; this appears to mean that the budget deficit ought to be lower, or something. Leaving aside that everyone, always, believes that if only they were in charge the budget deficit would be lower; it just isn’t true. Public debt as a percentage of GDP is significantly (about six percentage points) lower than it was in 1997. If the roofing is not complete, then Brown at least put on quite a few new slates.
But the problem is worse; what on earth is the Conservative proposed macroeconomic framework? What would they consider as sufficient roofing? Indeed, what on earth was it all these years? I can’t remember that the Tories ever promised to run a primary surplus during the period 2002-2008, and the only policy of theirs I can think of that was explicitly intended to reduce public debt was William Hague’s half-bright brainwave of using radio spectrum sales to fund the universiti….hold on, that wouldn’t have reduced the public debt, would it? Hague came up with it because he didn’t agree with the Government using the UMTS 2.1GHZ band auction to reduce the public debt.
Not that telcos in 2001-2 would, or even could, have bid that kind of money for spectrum; they didn’t have it. They never will bid that kind of money again, either, as anyone in the trade could tell you. Which is a pity, given that I think Hague’s brainwave is still part of the Tory platform. The Tories do not appear to have any idea what fiscal rules they will use, if any.
Complaining about the Tory legacy (if the roof needed fixing, perhaps it had something to do with the PSBR running between £28-46bn for each of the last three years up to 1997? Just a thought) is widely held to be a pathetic tactic; but you’d be wrong. It was only this spring that a government warehouse – the so-called Work in Progress Store – that had held the backlog of unresolved immigration files since 1994 shut down without fanfare, as Michael Howard’s legacy was finally processed and transferred to the archives.
But they are very good at repeating utter bollocks over and over again.