Election Comment: Terry Murden
Cameron is missing a trick and must play the enterprise card
Few should be surprised by the Tories’ plan to sell more shares in Lloyds Bank. For David Cameron and George Osborne, getting the bank off the Treasury’s books has been a key priority, not only to raise money that will help pay off the country’s debts, but as a way of saying to Labour: you caused the banking crisis, and we have fixed it.
That would be no idle boast, a step towards returning £20 billion to the taxpayer and a way of putting some distance between the Tories and their chief opponents. It might even wrongfoot Labour’s call for more caps and restrictions on the banks.
If they want to remain in Downing Street, Messrs Cameron and Osborne will need to think about putting policies such as this at the heart of a wider enterprise agenda. That’s because it is in danger of being sabotaged by a union of left wing forces who have come to believe that society can only benefit and prosper by punishing capitalism in all its forms.
This is an understandable reaction to the financial crisis of 2007-09 which brought an end to an era of feckless greed and self-aggrandisement. Few can blame the ordinary citizen – whatever their political persuasion – for wanting to see malpractice and self-seeking behaviour properly judged.
A sense of justice denied is palpable, but there is a collective amnesia over what produced the ‘credit crunch’. We were all culpable in what happened, through our individual demands for more credit, bigger houses, more consumer goods. Even so there is a residual refusal to accept the need to repair rather than to replace a capitalist system that has, by and large, served us well.
In the years which have followed, those on the right see a re-birth of enterprise and an economy growing strongly. The left believes it has been a selective recovery that conceals a continuing and needless drive on austerity that has left tens of thousands of Britons reliant on food banks while the greedy bankers have got away with it.
This post-crash ‘resentment culture’ has permeated current policy making among left wing politicians across the continent – in France, Spain and most notably in Greece. It has spread like a populist tsunami to Britain, although vested interests and constitutional differences mean that those on Britain’s left – essentially the SNP and Labour – cannot bring themselves to admit having common objectives.
Yet much of what unites them is a fragile form of economics that goes beyond current arguments over full fiscal autonomy and oil taxes. It fails to understand that a country can only pay for more nurses, more childcare – and an end to foodbanks – if it encourages wealth creation. That will not be achieved through punitive taxation which stunts investment and growth.
Mr Cameron’s Tories have slipped up by failing to capitalise on the upside of his government’s record. Instead, he has been sucked in to the welfare rhetoric, claiming his party will find billions more for the health service. By doing so he raised suspicions that it was not properly costed. Worse, he allowed others to set the pace and put himself on the defensive.
He needs to look at the positives. Britain is creating record numbers in work, has inflation and interest rates tamed, is seeing wages rise and is on course to become a bigger economy than Germany. Even Madame Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund, believes the UK government has got the correct balance of spending cuts and tax rises.
Mr Cameron’s record is hardly flawless, but it ain’t all bad. He has less than three weeks to make his voice heard.