From the TUC

An odd kind of ‘war footing’

19 Nov 2012, by Guest in Economics

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?  

Apparently not.

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.

4 Responses to An odd kind of ‘war footing’

  1. Andrew Curry
    Nov 19th 2012, 2:53 pm

    Well, of course, Columbus did have an advisory committee. Queen Isabella put his plan to said to India by going west to the scientists of the Inquisition, the best in Spain, and they said (correctly) that Columbus had under-estimated the circumference of the earth and was unlikely to make it with the supplies on the Santa Maria. This delayed the trip for some months. Eventually the Queen decided that it wasn’t a large investment and that if Columbus vanished it wouldn’t be a big deal. A bit like George Osborne’s approach to managing the economy, it seems.

  2. Robert Andersen
    Nov 19th 2012, 3:14 pm

    Is it possible that you’ve completely misunderstood what we are at war with?
    The fear of change, the uncertainty that debt service brings (it is after all dependant on rates). Not to mention that severely focusing the attention on a very specific goal is a method adopted by any winning team, very much unlike the comedy show of Blair/Brown

  3. gastro george
    Nov 19th 2012, 6:25 pm

    “… the uncertainty that debt service brings (it is after all dependant on rates)”

    Except that the government can effectively set the rate.

  4. Peter
    Nov 20th 2012, 10:11 am

    From watching “Wartime Farm”, it’s pretty clear that there was a huge increase in regulations and bureaucracy during the war. They were all aligned with one aim, though.