Thursday, 6 October 2016
The Carpe Diem Prime Minister
We learnt over the spring and summer that Theresa May is rather a canny political operator. She sided with Remain when many of us suspected that she secretly favoured Leave. But she didn't really do any campaigning. She let Dave take the strain and then the blame. Once the decision was made she kept her head down while the turmoil was unleashed. She then drifted effortlessly through the middle of the pack to emerge serenely as prime minister at the end of it all. She somehow contrived to be seen as the obvious choice, the unity candidate, the grown up to lead us out of the EU.
And her speech yesterday has to be seen in this light. The canny operator of the summer and of her 6 years at the most difficult department in government now senses an opportunity to recast the Conservative Party in her image. She was the author of the term the nasty party and now wants to be the one to finally rid them of it.
And her political antennae are not wrong. She sees the frustration abroad in the country. She can see that working class people - the sort who have to do their sums to ensure that their salaries or wages will last the full month, who worry about paying the bills and who feel that they are being shortchanged - are angry. And she can see that there is a vast gap opening up in the centre ground for a canny Conservative Party to seize and make its own.
In so doing she is doing us all a service. The Conservative Party cannot afford, as some are arguing it should, to lurch to the right. It needs to be centrist. It needs to become a proper one nation party again. The alternative is that people start looking to Chauncey's Labour Party for solutions. That would be a disaster for us all.
The prime minister is right to look to new ideas and solutions for the sort of problems that make people angry. The solution is not nationalisation as Labour would like, but people do need to see that capitalism is not just a one way bet against them.
This could well just be clever political positioning. Or it could be something more. It remains to be seen. This blog is not wholeheartedly Thatcherite or libertarian. It recognises that there are many people, many whole communities, that are being left behind in an economy that is working beautifully for some whilst devastating the lives of others. And so of course there is a role for government. And government must rein in big business and make sure it plays fair. Having said that the suggestion that companies should have to publish facts about how many foreign employees they have is plain wrong and should be quashed immediately. Mrs May will have to tread a fine line between controlling immigration numbers and stymying the economy.
But I have to take issue with the usually excellent James Kirkup in the Telegraph. He claims that Mrs May is just doing what Donald Trump is doing and operating in a post facts world. This is a vicious calumny that should be vigorously challenged.
Kirkup repeats the usual lazy line about there being no evidence that immigration affects the wages or employment prospects of the indigenous population of this country. That is because economics is not a science but a social science, and one that is guilty of the most appalling groupthink as we saw with its idiotic assertions about what would happen after the referendum if we voted for Brexit. Of course immigration affects the indigenous population of this country, both economically and socially. If you have hundreds of thousands of people pouring into a country that already has a housing crisis then that is going to impact on those who are paid the least. It is a simple matter of supply and demand.
Similarly it is inevitable that these numbers will have an impact on the wages of some if not all. Again it is supply and demand. If employers have a ready supply of people ready and willing to work for minimum wage then of course they will avail themselves of it and thus resist paying more. If you can find no evidence for any of this then you are not looking. It should also be noted that most immigrant workers will inevitably be less aware of their employment rights and thus give employers greater flexibility than they would get employing British workers. Again, this is simple common sense along with experience, something that your average newspaper columnist will inevitably lack. Looking for evidence is a poor substitute for working in the real world and seeing it for yourself.
It should also be noted that Britain has a problem with productivity. Could it be that high immigration is a factor in this as well? I mention it merely as a possibility.
But getting back to our prime minister, though her speech makes me a little nervous, I suspect that she is on to a winner. And I don't think that she is saying these things for purely tactical reasons. She genuinely wants to change the world and make it fairer for people at the bottom. That is entirely laudable. For now she is taking her party with her. Let's hope that she does not live to regret not calling an election now. But if she carries on as she has started she can be confident of winning big in 2020.