In our name, politicians lie. When questioned about dissention within the ranks of government, they unite to deny differences over policies. Then, after being thrown out by the electorate, they admit in their memoirs that the journalistic inquisitors were correct. They had to lie, they claim, for the sake of good governance. If we tolerate this behaviour, then it’s true – we get the politicians we deserve.
These reflections are provoked by the publication of Alistair Darling’s memoirs on his period as Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer following the resignation of Tony Blair. Gordon Brown became Prime Minister.
The media knew they were at loggerheads, but on TV they denied their differences and insisted on focusing attention on policies. But that is the problem – there was disagreement over those policies within Downing Street, and the public were denied their democratic right to engage in the discussion.
Now, Darling confesses that he covered up the differences with Brown by lying in public. As did Brown. And Blair, too, in their attempt to mislead the public about the viability of the economic policies which, we now know, were driving the economy towards the worst depression since the 1930s.
The Secrets that Matter
Missing from Darling’s book, Back From the Brink (Atlantic, £19.99) is any reference to my letter to him in 1997 when he was Chief Secretary at the Treasury. I warned him – and, separately, Blair and Brown – that they could reform the tax system to avoid the depression that would follow the peak in house prices in 1997. They had 10 years to take pre-emptive action.
This trio betrayed Britain. Now, in their memoirs, they disclose the tittle tattle of their back-stabbing arguments, leaving the public in the dark as to why they refused to reform taxation in favour of those who work. Instead, they seek to blame the financiers and property developers whom they favoured during their years in power.
If they were honest, that would give the new generation of politicians in power the chance to learn from the mistakes. But they are not honest. That’s not surprising, given that they were the architects of the catastrophe that is now being inflicted most heavily on the people with the lowest incomes – the people on whom they rely for votes.
Blame it on Human Nature?
And so, we are now being treated to nonsense diagnoses such as the warning by two Tory MPs. How the Crash Will Happen Again Unless We Understand Human Nature is the sub-title of Masters of Nothing (Biteback, £12.99) by Matthew Hancock and Nadhim Zahawi. They want us to believe that the flaw is to be found in our collective psychology.
In reality the boom/bust cycle was inscribed into the DNA of what became the capitalist economy by the feudal aristocracy. The tax regime which distorts personal incentives and public policies was designed to favour the landlord class. So the focus should be on the Predator Culture rather than on psychological idiosyncrasies.
Learning the truth about the way in which politicians fought each other behind closed doors is amusing. But it does not lead to a clearer understanding about what needs to be done to avoid the economic calamities that are in store for the western economy in the coming decade.