One of the catch phrases of the late and great English comic Frankie Howerd (1917-1992) – usually deployed after he’d taken his audience/viewers into his confidence and made some withering, disparaging, remark about some hapless individual that had prompted gales of laughter – was to admonish the former with “No don’t – it’s wicked to mock the afflicted …”
Howerd’s quip came to my mind at a dinner party I attended last night during which our new Tory Prime Minister Liz Truss and her Chancellor of the Exchequer Kwasi Kwarteng came in for a heavy drubbing over the recent launch of their mini-Budget designed to prompt a new dawn for UK economic policy by apparently removing aspects of the tax burden from the richest and yet simultaneously borrowing untold billions in order to protect the wider population from the combined effect of the global economic situation and the ever-rising cost of living bills.
You don’t have to be a professor of economics – and I am not – to register that a new policy initiative which seems to please nobody; incenses the general public at all levels of society; potentially consigns some of the most vulnerable and elderly over the proverbial cliff into “close to the bone” poverty or perhaps worse; causes an immediate major run on the value of the £ sterling; and has the IMF and global think tanks, statesmen and politicians scratching their heads to understand the theories behind the initiative … looks to all intents and purposes like a spectacular “own goal”.
It may not surprise Rusters that nobody gathered around our dining table had a good word to say about La Truss and/or Mr Kwarteng and the quality of leadership that they are displaying.
However – and whomever – expressed views upon the current crisis engulfing the Government were consistent in one regard.
They found it hard to understand how on earth had they managed to come up with such an apparently crackpot raft of policies and then explain it so ineptly and clumsily to their fellow politicians, still less to the financial experts/commentators and indeed the average punters in the street?
For me, there seemed to be two main strains of criticism that can be levelled at Truss and Kwarteng.
The first is that sometimes our lords and masters (or is it ladies and mistresses?) seem to suffer from a “disconnect” from one of the fundamental threads of real politik: you have got to be able to explain what you’re trying to do and why – not just to the experts but to ordinary folk up and down the country – if you want to take them with you.
The second is a slightly less easily understood but equally important off-shoot principle of the political game and perhaps a somewhat counter-intuitive one: if you want to succeed at all you probably have got to limit your initiatives to those that you CAN explain.
Some five and a half decades ago – in one of the first lessons I attended of my History “A” level set at school – our master gave an inspirational speech about how we were “big boys now” and, rather than any longer being spoon-fed dates and facts, we were now going to have to research and think for ourselves.
He asked us to consider the fact that the word “education”, which was of Latin origin, did not come from the work “duco” [translation: to teach].
It actually came from the word “educo” [translation: to lead], and lead us was what he was now going to do during our year in his charge.
Perhaps our Prime Minister would do well to heed this little gem of information.