THIS government’s confusion and lack of focus continues to alarm. On Saturday the shrill Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss, undertook to give arms to Moldova to deter Russian aggression. Our Liz is awfully belligerent these days, which must be a shock for the FCO, their role being generally to find alternatives to military action. Inevitably, she sidestepped the question of what arms to send. Presumably the NLAW anti-tank weapon. We’ve apparently sent more than 6,000 to Ukraine, perhaps half of the British Army’s holding. Now that the UK (alone, currently) is also committed to defending Finland and Sweden (as well as our commitment to the rest of Nato) we can’t continue running down our war stocks and remain a credible ally.
As yet we have no plan for bringing the Ukraine war to an end, nor indeed for readmitting Russia to the western bit of the global economy, nor for mitigating the consequences. With the notable exception of Japan, few Asian countries have impounded oligarch assets or imposed serious sanctions; there’s a ready market for the gas and potash (a key fertiliser) that we don’t buy. Waiting for sanctions to end Russia’s belligerence might take longer than waiting for Godot. (In any case, as the Sunday Times explained, sanctioning oligarchs has caused them some irritation but left their huge fortunes largely intact: ‘There’s a world of difference between freezing assets and seizing assets.’)
The government’s standard approach to an emerging problem appears to be make bold announcements, ignore facts (particularly details), blame someone else and move on. It didn’t work for Covid or net zero. It won’t work for Ukraine or the ‘cost of living crisis’.
Our economy is tanking, rather than bouncing back once the government ended our pointless incarceration. As the Telegraph’s Roger Bootle writes, blaming the (supposedly) Bank of England is misleading. Increasing tax to (allegedly) pay for the (failed) NHS contributed directly. So too does the energy price which, as I have written before, is rising as a result of the government’s deluded obsession with net zero. Slapping a ‘windfall’ tax on the oil and gas companies is hardly likely to stimulate them to access the oil and gas under the North Sea and elsewhere which we need to keep the lights on, let alone industry working.
Then there’s the food price shock. Yes, global factors such as the oil price and the war in Ukraine contribute. But so does the government’s policy of encouraging landowners to plant useless solar panels on productive agricultural land (paid for by you, the sucker taxpayer). Likewise the obsession with ‘re-wilding’ and planting trees. Sure, uncertainty about access to Ukraine’s current grain stocks and their likely future production isn’t helping, and this is the current government scapegoat.
Ukraine is only number 8 in the world list of wheat producers. The top four (China, India, Russia and the US) together produce 20 times as much. In terms of exports, Ukraine was number 5, with 9 per cent of the world’s total. Russia is number one, with 24 per cent. Again, the government’s policies are exacerbating the price – we won’t buy from Russia, which every trader knows. Worse, the pound has slid against the dollar (the currency of international trade) as inflation gets a grip. Much of the increase in the cost of bread will be as a result of the government’s misguided policy.
Governments are always keen to take responsibility for macro-economic success (broadly when the pound is strong) but evade culpability like a politician at a lockdown drinks party. Economic failure induced by flawed policy is the hallmark of Labour governments, who have repeatedly demonstrated that big state socialism does not work. Mr Johnson (and the hapless, hopeless and helpless Mrs May whose fiat introduced net zero in the first place) is adding variety by delivering economic failure in a Tory wrapper.
All of which gives the voters in next month’s Wakefield by election a bit of a problem. Both main parties are offering big state economic failure as policy. Fortunately, Reform is standing too.