With the last prime ministerial debate dissolving into inchoate chattering behind me, three night thoughts about the economy:
All three parties are continuing to evade the issue of where the cleaver should fall. Assuming we believe that the present level of public sector borrowing is unsustainable (or, which is not quite the same thing, that it risks incurring the wrath of the bond markets), we are facing deep and wounding cuts to public services. All this wittering about efficiency savings, reduced bonuses and more effective procurement is marginal at best and evasive in general. And the safeguarding of the NHS and education as sacrosanct simply means that the viciousness of benefit cuts or tax rises will be so much more acute elsewhere. When people look back on this disingenuous apology for a debate, they may be angry. They would have every right to be.
Cutting public spending will hit all sorts of people, me included. But it\’s less clear than it used to be what the public sector is nowadays. Since 1997, the process of privatising public services has accelerated. Companies like Capita, Serco and Veolia may not be household names, but they each have public sector revenues running into billions of pounds every year; they empty our bins, clean our streets, collect our council tax and run our trains. The public-sector income of big consultancies like KPMG, Price Waterhouse and McKinsey is lesser, but nonetheless considerable. The modern state is locked into a co-dependent embrace with an ever-growing parastatal private sector. Will cutting public expenditure boost or undermine this economic interzone?
Lastly, the three candidates fell over each other to laud manufacturing industry. Fair enough, except inasmuch as these were the same people drivelling on about \’knowledge economies\’ and other weightless chaff only years ago. Consistency, and a modicum of dignity, are maintained by talking nowadays of the importance of science and high tech manufacturing, rather than the dirty and – by implication – \’uncreative\’ factories of the past. But nobody has given anything more than sentimental or affirmatory arguments as to why serious manufacturing industry should take root in the ashes that remain, after three decades of systematic and determined de-industrialisation. Absent the public sector and the former \’masters of the universe\’ from the world of finance, and you have to ask, What of our alleged economy remains?
They are now vying with each other to say that teachers are valuable. And the sea wet. And that fiddle music is a great accompaniment to urban bonfires. Selah.