Friday, November 19, 2010

Infelicitous truths

The definition of a Kinsley gaffe is someone telling the truth by accident – inadvertently saying something in public that they believe in private.  Since most of us exert very little in the form of internal censorship, its’ surprising that these don’t happen more often – but then politicians aren’t normal in that way. Except Lord Young of Graffham, obviously.
“For the vast majority of people in the country today they have never had it so good ever since this recession — this so-called recession — started, because anybody, most people with a mortgage who were paying a lot of money each month, suddenly started paying very little each month. That could make three, four, five, six hundred pounds a month difference, free of tax.”
Lord Young also indicated that the Coalition had deliberately overstated the impact of spending cuts to “protect the pound”.
He said that there had been a danger of the value of the pound collapsing after the general election. “The fact that we seemed to be going through such big cuts really meant that the pound was saved, so far,” he said. “If you actually look at the cuts after four years we will be back with government spend[ing] the same as it was in ’07.”
He added: “I have a feeling and a hope that when this goes through, people will wonder what all the fuss was about.”
You have there, by my reckoning, three separate statements, all of which are true, and none of which should ever be said in public.  If you’re employed and a borrower (like, um, me for one) then this recession has been more good than bad.  OK, we’ve had a pay freeze, but mortgages are at rock bottom.  Discounting the fear of unemployment, for most of us it’s been great.  Of course, if you’re unemployed it’s been grim (as we all know, the definition of a recession is when your neighbour loses his job; when you lose your job it’s a depression).  It’s not been pretty either if you’re living on savings – and a lot of these will be pensioners not a demographic the Tories will be keen to annoy.
The next truth is that, for all the hyperbolic bluster from both sides of the biggest cuts in human history, the reality is far less dramatic.  But it suits the Tories for the moment to pretend that the fiscal tightening is even more stringent than it is, for the very reason that Young highlights: to persuade the markets that serious action is being taken.  And, more or less, it’s worked.  But having the sleight of hand pointed out is unhelpful, to say the least.  There’s more too:
He described the loss of about 100,000 public-sector jobs a year as being within “the margin of error” in the context of the 30 million-strong job market as a whole.
Which, of course, it is.  Half a million new jobs have been created so far this year alone.  It’s not stretching a point to suggest that the loss of 100,000 public sector jobs a year (many through retirement) will be less visible than the raw numbers suggest. Equally, it’s the far side of stupid to dismiss them out of hand.  People will be losing their jobs.  Real people, who matter.  It may be for the best, all things considered, but it’s politic at least to pretend that you care.
He has, of course, apologised (after David Cameron gave him a public dressing down) saying that the words he used “were both inaccurate and insensitive”.  But that’s only half right. They were accurate and insensitive.  The truth usually is, which is why we prefer our politicians to have such a flexible attitude towards it.  Iain Martin, as so often, has it right here – Lord Young is a lousy politician.


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