In a speech to the CBI today David Cameron has called for the UK to move onto an ‘economic war footing’. He said that:
When this country was at war in the 40s, Whitehall underwent a revolution.
Normal rules were circumvented. Convention was thrown out. As one historian put it, everything was thrown at the overriding purpose of beating Hitler.
Well, this country is in the economic equivalent of war today – and we need the same spirit. We need to forget about crossing every ‘t’ and dotting every ‘i’ and we need to throw everything we’ve got at winning in this global race.
So, as the Prime Minister evokes the spirit of the 1940s, what exactly does this mean?
Is Keynes going to become an advisor at the Treasury? Which Press Baron will be charge of aircraft production? Will we see a union General Secretary put in charge of the Ministry of Labour? I assume a ‘war footing’ means recognising that growth is the key issue and the national debt is of secondary importance? Will we see a comprehensive report on the need for welfare state? A commitment to full employment?
Instead an ‘economic war footing’ now seems to me a continuation of existing policies of deficit reduction and welfare cuts combined with some new rules on the length of government consultation and a crack down on the use of judicial reviews.
The focus of the speech is austerity and deregulation – which is almost precisely the opposite of the polices that most people would think of as a ‘war footing’.
Cameron remarked today that:
As someone once said, if Christopher Columbus had an advisory committee he would probably still be stuck in the dock.
Well, if Britain had tried to fight the Second World War by focusing on deregulating the economy and cutting back on public spending, I’m reasonably sure we would have lost.
A very odd speech indeed. Still I’m sure at least one paper tomorrow will feature a reference to it complete with a picture of Churchill, which seems to have been the real aim.