Wednesday, April 17, 2024
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Johnson must stop spending what he doesn’t have


THE imminent release of Top Gun: Maverick has led me to think of Boris Johnson as Maverick (the Tom Cruise character). Not for his cheeky grin or success with women, but from one of the opening scenes in the original movie. Maverick is in trouble over a dangerous decision and is berated by his commander: ‘Son, your ego is writing cheques your body can’t cash.’ A glimpse at the economy shows that our Prime Minister is writing cheques the economy can no longer afford. As Liam Halligan writes in the Sunday Telegraph, the pound is facing the doom loop of stagflation

The problem starts with the eyewatering national debt, 25 per cent of which has an inflation-linked interest. Half of this was run up in the pandemic, where on the basis of flawed medical advice the Prime Minister shut the economy down. This is exacerbated by an ever-expanding state (less wealth creation and higher taxes), on top of which must now be added the escalating price of energy.

As I have previously written here,  the near-doubling of the electricity price from 2004 to 2020 (before gas got expensive) correlates with successive governments’ ill-considered rush to wind power.

Energy costs will rise as the gas price soars and the pound collapses against the US dollar (energy, being an international commodity, is priced in dollars even if Mr Putin doesn’t like it).

Part of the hubris required to be a British politician is the ability to take undeserved credit for an economy growing – the reality is that the entire private sector is striving to grow, often despite government. The second hubristic trait is apportioning blame when the economy goes wrong (as it usually does when the state gets big). Thus the reports of Cabinet ministers briefing against the Governor of the Bank of England are entirely predictable. While it may be that the BoE should have raised rates earlier and faster – the proven and effective (if uncomfortable) treatment for inflation – not all problems can be solved by interest rates. The oil and gas price surges are in part due to world events. Quantitative easing, invented (or rather rebranded from ‘printing money’) as a solution to the 2008 financial crash has been perpetuated by weak politicians seeking popularity rather than respect. The rest of the energy price inflation is a direct result of flawed government policy (unsurprising if you pander to an agenda created by a troubled Swedish schoolgirl and a wilfully misinformed mainstream media). Similarly, running a deficit (funded by QE) is a political choice, again symptomatic of weak and wishful thinking.

Levelling up? The government is dragging us down, drowning our economy.

The looming disaster of stagflation can be averted only by robust action; simply stop spending money that the government does not have. This translates to:

Ending silly projects (HS2, the solution to the problem no one had, being the exemplar).

Halting the rush to wind and getting shale and the North Sea producing energy again. (This might involve confronting the XR numpties, but anyone who can count should be able to demolish them. That might actually be a vote winner.)

Focusing the government on doing what only the government can. That’s law and order, defence, tax and the NHS. The latter needs a hefty rethink by someone from commerce, not yet another civil service review – even one led by a former Royal Marine.

That’s going to mean fewer civil servants. Given their ability they should be able to find gainful employment and create wealth on higher pay. They should embrace the opportunity.

Returning to Top Gun, there’s a moment when – in a particularly tricky dogfight – Maverick’s radar operator implores him to ‘Give me some of that pilot sh*t!’ For Mr Johnson it’s time to remember the small-state, libertarian capitalism that he once championed – he must discover his inner Mrs T.

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Patrick Benham-Crosswell
Patrick Benham-Crosswell
Patrick Benham-Crosswell is a former Army officer who has spent the last 30 years in commerce. He is the author of Net Zero: The Challenges, Costs and Consequences of the UK's Zero Emission Ambition. He has a substack here.

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