As I ruminated on David Milliband’s rather transparent positioning as a leadership candidate I thought about a wider issue: after only a year in the job, Gordon Brown is beset by difficulties and a skittish party who may be willing to dump him if they think Milliband might give them a dead cat bounce. But would a man who looks more like a spoddy sixth-form prefect than a cabinet minister be any better to lead Labour and the country? In all honesty: no. And for all those fawning over Cameron right now, try to think what the Conservatives would do about the economy that would be materially different to what’s happening now. Got the answer yet? Nada. Diddly squit. How could they when they are singing from broadly the same ideological hymn sheet?
But that isn’t even the principal issue, That is the short-term, consumerist attitude we see in the wider economy now pervading all the way through into all areas of our political life. So we’re having rough times? Change the Prime Minister! It’s what makes Cameron’s constant bleating for an election annoying, because I didn’t hear him shouting for one in 1991 when he was working with Norman Lamont at the Treasury. It’s just an appeal to the short-termism of the electorate,hoping we have the memory span of goldfish. Unfortunately, many do.
But the politicians and their marketing machines, which treat politics as just another product to be pushed, have been complicit in this. We have also (many of us, though by no means all) to have had the good fortune to benefit from a reasonably strong economy both locally and globally. I have some sympathy for Brown in this respect now that the wind has changed. And I do tend to side with his opinion that we are better placed than many to cope with it.
And this is where I hit my real point: our featherbedding and I-want-it-now attitude have not prepared us for circumstances where things are rather harder. It has been at least fifteen years since the economy went through anything like this. Those who might recall Black Wednesday might consider that complaining about having interest rates around the 5% mark is rather different from having them at 15%. Instead of a traditionally British stoicism in the face of changing circumstance, we seem to have created a nation of people who throw a tantrum when their divine right to make a profit in any way threatened.
And that is the reason for the title of this post; maybe we do need a recession to shake us out of this coddled, complacent feeling that things will, can, only get better. Perhaps we need to be reminded of the fact that we don’t have a god-given right to expect to make money, that house prices can go down as well as up and that our comparative prosperity doesn’t come for free: it needs to be paid for somewhere down the line. Welcome to the payback…