BACK in October, Maureen Eames, 83, from Barnsley, showed precisely the kind of Yorkshire grit and indefatigable spirit that Johnson, Hancock, Whitty et al have done their very best to eradicate in the past ten months.
In a memorable interview, she made two really compelling points (amongst many). The first was ‘Where’s all the money? By the end of this year, there’s going to be millions of people unemployed and you know who’s going to pay for that? All the young ones. Not me, because I’m going to be dead.’
Such refreshing, straight talking – of a type unheard in political circles.
In March, Rishi Sunak had declared, with a suitably defiant demeanour: ‘We will do whatever it takes to support households and businesses through the worst of the coronavirus outbreak.’
He continued: ‘we will support jobs, we will support incomes, we will support businesses, and we will help you protect your loved ones. We will do whatever it takes.’
He repeated that final phrase many times over. Whatever it takes.
His initial measures ran to some £12billion of new commitments. With more, so much more, to follow. At the time, I remember hearing this with cold shivers tracing my spine. Whatever it takes. With no feasible limits whatsoever?
Sunak also stated: ‘And I reiterate today our commitment that whatever resources the NHS needs, it will get.’ As we now know, within weeks, this resourcing strategy had been hijacked by Ferguson and SAGE.
It quickly mutated from the provision of ‘unlimited resources’ to an unprecedented strategy based on ‘protecting the NHS’ by shutting down the entire economy. And introducing the new concept of ‘furlough’.
The state paying 80 per cent of the wages of tens of millions on an indefinite basis. Still hard to credit, but true. Plus billions spent propping up companies on the brink of folding. Together with countless millions spent on fear-inducing propaganda, a cynical media campaign which continues to the present day.
It feels like only a tiny minority of hard-headed Brits, quite probably including Maureen, had the common sense to think: ‘Where will all this end? Who is going to pay for all this madness?’
It seems clear that the answer in so many fear-addled minds is: ‘I really don’t care as long as it is not me.’ Others, normally on the Left, choose to believe that any government has unlimited funds. And, encouraged by the media, there is always even more that can magically be found.
According to the BBC, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), which monitors government spending, estimated that borrowing would be £394billion for the current financial year (April 2020 to April 2021). The highest figure ever seen outside wartime. Worse still, the Government will also raise about £100billion less in tax than it anticipated because of the crisis.
But here is the simple truth with regard to public spending. If the Government wants to spend an extra pound on something, then it has but four options …
One, raise taxes. Take an extra pound from a citizen.
Two, cut a pound of spending from another budget.
Three, quietly print another pound note.
Four, borrow a pound from a friendly institution.
Gordon Brown found a fifth option when he sold off most of the UK’s gold reserves between 1999 and 2002 at a jaw-droppingly low average price of $275 an ounce. But that is the problem with selling a physical asset, once it has been sold it is gone.
Which leaves this government with the first four options. And in exceptionally hard times like these, the first and second are a really hard sell. Unacceptable to the majority of nervy MPs all fearful of their seats. Which pretty much takes them off the table for the foreseeable future.
This leaves the Government with printing money or borrowing even more. Both are the refuge of scoundrels. And sooner or later, opportunities for yet more massive public borrowing start to narrow. Because lenders may start to worry if all their money, plus interest, is ever coming back.
Cold, logical, financial analysis evaluating the dysfunctional behaviour of a ‘debt zombie’ borrowing even more to meet all the eye-watering repayments due on existing commitments.
The first signs will be that interest rates start to creep up, reflecting the reality that lenders start to perceive a higher level of risk. Not a very welcome prospect.
Which leaves Sunak and Johnson with money printing. Or quantitative easing if you prefer. Which, of course, will initiate inflationary pressures.
Possibly appealing if you think about it from a certain perspective. Inflation is actually welcome if you have significant debts because the value of historic debts, in real terms, will be falling.
But inflation is like a forest fire in a bone dry, windy environment. Once alight, incredibly hard to control without massive firebreaks.
The equivalent of firebreaks for inflation are rising interest rates. Which is terrifying for all parties, from government ministers right down to all the newly unemployed with several thousand owed on credit cards. Not to mention the millions of mortgage holders long accustomed to minimal interest rates.
I am normally an optimistic ‘glass half-full’ person, but this tendency has been nurtured over the decades by an aversion to debt and a very powerful instinct to live within one’s means. Both habits ingrained by the influence of ancestors that lived through some truly awful times in the first half of the last century.
Unmanned by Covid and panicked into lockdowns, Johnson and his cronies have abandoned these basic economic principles and sooner or later, the nation will have to face up to the grim consequences of their decisions. I suspect that an economic (and social) nightmare is already coming up on the horizon.
Finally, I think Maureen should be allowed the last word. A wonderful gutsy woman, such a shining contrast with the callow, manipulative and contemptible middle-aged men running this shit-show and their disastrous authoritarian strategy based on stoking irrational fears.
‘We should never have been in lockdown,’ she said. ‘All the people who were vulnerable should have been helped and kept safe. All the rest of us, I’m 83, I don’t give a sod.’