The gaffe and very humble apology later by Gordon Brown may have a significant impact on the General Election. But, as I wrote on John Redwood’s blog, there is a deeper public v private face to the Labour campaign.
In recent years our politics has become too like those of the countries that have defaulted in the past – like Brazil, Argentina and like Greece has become now. It has become about presenting a public face of concern and competency, whilst privately just wanting power and prestige. It is also about defending of that image by denigrating the opposition and distorting the reality of events to an extent that George Orwell would not have imagined.
As a result, we had a structural deficit built up in the boom years and a refusal to recognize that growing debt was an issue. We have delay upon delay about tackling the issue, or even recognizing the problem. Now every minor proposal to tackle it is met with cries of destroying public services and ruined lives.
The false face of the boom years and the delayed recognition means we have a much bigger problem. It will mean more painful cuts and more growth-damaging tax rises. However, like with personal debt problems, being open and honest there is a severe problem is the first step to solving it. Then you prioritize what is most important, both by area and within each area. That priority should be based on meeting needs – on serving the public – and not on maintaining jobs.
As part of that recognition, we should divide the deficit between the structural part (using OECD guidelines) and the cyclical part.
Like with a financial plan for families who have got into debt, we can see, year-by-year, how that deficit is reducing. It should not be enshrined in law, but at least will show how the pain of narrowing the deficit is bringing the nation back to financial health. Then we can also explain how targets are not being met – e.g. through growth faltering, or failing to meet targets.
We need, as a nation, to admit to the false face that all put on. We should now shun the spin, and recognise the poor state of the public finances so that we can repair the damage with the minimum of adverse consequences.