Mr Redwood's blog is a good, serious read - especially by the dire standards of the politician-blogger. Today he makes an "off-message" point about civil service bloat that may get him in trouble with the party leadership. I found myself moved to "waste" what had been brewing in my mind as a piece for this blog by posting it as a long comment there. While it awaits comment moderation, let me share it with you;
I normally live in Moscow as an expatriate Brit, but have been in England for the last month traveling between Chester and London. In London, there is a visible recession. A taxi driver told me he was barely covering his cab rental and thinking of quitting the game. He said he had not seen London so quiet in 30 years. I have certainly never driven around Hyde Park Corner so easily in 30 years myself, nor jostled with so few people in the London shops at Christmas.
In Chester, however (apart from some job losses at the one major private employer - MBNA) there are no visible signs of a downturn. A high proportion of locals are dependent (one way or the other) on the state for their income. The recession is actually boosting their purchasing power. It is even making them feel good about themselves vis-a-vis the private sector sorts who (as they see it) are now getting their come-uppance. Their jobs (they believe) are safe and their pensions are secure, while those who have generated the wealth to support them are typically learning they have lost a third to a half of their pension pots and that their grandchildren are to be indebted (inter alia) to pay said state employees’ unfunded pensions.
I think the new “schadenfreude edition” of the feelgood factor among its key voters is one reason why Labour’s poll ratings are not as dismal as they should be given the economic situation. Bear in mind that Chester, while it deteriorated badly under a now-dismissed Labour council, is still quite a nice little town by Northern standards. It is a long way from the squalor of nearby ex-industrial towns where these effects must be even greater. It is a potential Tory gain on a modest swing and not merely because the incumbent MP, Christine Russell, is a waste of the air she breathes. But this Tory target is still economically a “company town” for the state so be careful about such posts as this!
Gordon Brown simply does not have the option to lay off 50% of this captive vote without losing office. So let’s not pretend we dont’ know the answer to your question “what’s stopping them?” More importantly, if you want such key marginals you need a better story yourselves for dealing with civil service bloat than “sack 50% now” (correct though that would be, if it were politically possible). The civil service is even bigger than you think. Many of my company’s employees provide no service, directly or indirectly, to our customers. They are there to collect taxes, enforce compliance with regulations etc. etc. They are state employees too and their wages are taxes by another name. A real attack on this problem would reduce their numbers by 50% too, but that would require de-regulation, which Labour has succeeded in making a bad word. It is just so much better at presentation that you guys are, even after discounting for their shameless and spiraling dishonesty.
The British state is more bloated now than it was in 1978. Far too many voters have immediate personal reasons to fear its contraction. Hard though it is to say it, therefore, when the country’s parlous finances dictate harsh and immediate action, the Tories need a long-term, principled, fully-justified but gentle plan to throw state mission-creep into reverse. I think it would be better-received than you may think, especially if you can raise your pitiful game on presentation. Just as in the 1970’s, the working-people closest to this corruption (because subverting state funds to buy votes IS corruption) understand it best. Mrs T. knew that, but the Tory grandees didn’t. This time around, the grandees are in charge, so the situation remains firmly and infuriatingly ungrasped.
The chance to triangulate the triangulators has finally arrived, guys, provided you can show the target voters a clear and plausible path to a different, more sustainable, future. You simply can’t just frighten them about losing what they have.Sorry if you have already seen it over there. Feel free to comment either here or at the linked article. It is time to develop a credible plan before the state parasite kills its economic host.