Amongst the many great things that George Orwell taught us are that when a government sets up a Ministry of Truth it intends to lie, when it establishes a Ministry of Peace it intends to wage war and when that government claims to be looking out for your best interests like a Big Brother it is time to really watch out for trouble.
It should therefore have come as no surprise to anyone that when this Conservative government spoke of levelling up they would actually preside over one of the greatest decades of levelling down in British history. Or that an election promise of strong and stable government would lead to a period of exceptional chaos.
What is a lot more surprising is that when Liz Truss speaks of going all out for growth, she actually means what she says. Unfortunately, she has not the least practical concept of how to achieve it or how to ensure that any growth is sustainable.
A lot of people have accused her of having rushed into knee jerk policies that have done huge harm to the country’s economy by giving away tax cuts to the rich while cutting wages for the poor. That is not entirely fair.
She and Kwasi Kwarteng didn’t rush into these major errors. They have been planning them for a very long time. They were outlined in their book Britannia Unchained over ten years ago.
Brexit and beyond: low regulation, low tax, high risk
The measures she is putting into place are exactly the ones that the far right want her to follow. We may have been sold Brexit on the Orwellian promise of £350mn more each week for the NHS but the real enthusiasts for the project wanted something very different. A low regulation, low tax economy was their ambition and they have been planning for a long time to move Britain away from the protection of common European standards.
When it comes to the City of London this means a relaxed attitude to money laundering, easy regulations on gambling with other people’s money and large lightly taxed bonuses. At best this is a strategy that sees Britain building its future on the proceeds of crime and on its skill at hiding money offshore. At worst it risks a repeat of the 2008 crash when the inefficiencies of raw uncontrolled international financial capitalism drove the entire world economy to the brink of bankruptcy. Risking another collapse is hardly a recipe for reliable and sustainable growth.
When it comes to the future of the Yorkshire countryside the consequences could be every bit as disastrous. Truss and Kwarteng have convinced themselves that the main thing holding back British business is that it has to comply with too many rules and regulations. So they want to set up special zones where few regulations apply.
Deregulation, planning and freeports
Effectively this government has decided to chase the lowest common denominator jobs from companies that don’t want to follow planning rules, don’t want their workers to have any rights and don’t care what they do to the environment.
If a firm is putting forward a project that cannot currently get planning permission, there is a very high chance that there is a good reason for this and that the plans aren’t right for the local area. The solution to this is not to get rid of planning committees and let people build whatever they want regardless of the consequences. The solution to this is for the developer to submit an application to build something decent in the right place that the local community actually want.
Dumping regulations has consequences. The Grenfell fire happened because a conscious decision was made by a Conservative government to weaken fire regulations and to weaken the powers and the independence of building control inspectors. Shares in building companies went up for a while. Then people died horribly, and thousands of others found themselves living in unsellable homes worrying themselves sick about debts they had acquired because others cheated and lied. Lasting long term damage was done to real people’s lives and the cost has already exceeded £4bn.
Sacrificing the environment
The environmental costs can be every bit as bad. On the coast of Yorkshire, millions of sea creatures were recently found washed up dead. The first time this happened those who walked along the coastlines and had to smell the decay were told it was just a bit of bad luck caused by an algal bloom. Then it happened again.
Eventually researchers revealed that dredging to create a so-called freeport in Teesside had dug into polluted mud and exposed countless millions of creatures to deadly chemicals. Such casual disregard for the environment is not exactly the best way to drive growth in the tourist industry. Or to support fishing communities.
Contrast that with some of the more responsible plans for change that are taking place in Hull. High-quality skilled jobs are being created in the construction and installation of wind farms and the associated infrastructure. A whole new industry is emerging that is helping to get Britain free from its dependence on fossil fuels.
All too often this government is making the wrong choices about what to invest in. Letting loose the frackers and drilling for every last drop of oil and gas is not a recipe for secure and sustainable growth. It is a desperate attempt to cling to increasingly outdated technology.
Developing employment sectors
The biggest employment growth areas are in the knowledge and the service economy in fields like computer game software, medical science, the creative industries and low-carbon technology. Success depends on high skills, flexibility, up to the minute knowledge of the latest science, and talent that comes from across the world.
The Brexiter loyalists who now run our country have sourly refused to engage in important scientific exchange projects like Erasmus. Their new post Brexit regulations have made it much harder for musicians to tour and build sales in Europe. In the name of growth they have separated our best exporters from their main market. They have shattered the hopes of many in the business community and left them facing increased costs, increased bureaucracy and reduced access to talent.
Big sister has plans for our future. Unfortunately, they are the wrong plans. Executed by a wrongheaded government. Taking us in the wrong direction.
Come back please George Orwell. Because we need a way to describe a government that actually believes too much of its own propaganda. And is all the more dangerous as a consequence.