A driving instructor taught me to pass my driving test but my father taught me to drive. I remember little of the wisdom the driving instructor passed my way.
Driving in Donegal, on Ireland’s north west coast with its wild, rugged and beautiful countryside and its shortage of straight roads, it’s important to know how to drive around corners safely. My father taught me to apply the brakes and select a lower gear before entering the corner. Then, once in the corner, to apply the power so that the traction generated by the engine helps maintain control, stability and momentum. This is particularly important if you’re unfamiliar with the corner and don’t know where or how it ends.
Unfortunately, my father didn’t teach George Osborne to drive. The Chancer of the Exchequer is trying to drive the UK economy around a difficult corner. He’s been applying the brakes and in the wrong gear for the near to two years since taking control of the wheel. Because of this, he’s lost momentum and the engine is struggling. There’s already evidence that the engine, deprived of a firm right foot on the accelerator, is stalling.
That’s what led Moody’s, the credit ratings agency, to downgrade the UK economy this week from triple ‘A’ to Aa1. The move will have little immediate economic effect but the last time it happened, 35 years ago, was Britain’s ‘Winter of Discontent.’ The Labour Party was in power then, with Dennis Healy at the wheel and James Callaghan, Prime Minister and himself a former Chancellor, navigating. Industrial unrest became endemic and the UK became known as the ‘sick man of Europe’. It led to the rise of Thatcherism, ushered in with the now famous Saatchi and Saatchi advertising poster – Labour Isn’t Working.
Osborne’s driving style appears to be shaped more by his political rhetoric than economic insight. The economic engine Osborne inherited needed an overhaul but he’s not a mechanic. His core method of control is to use the brakes. What’s more, he’s blind to the reality and refuses to adjust his driving style. Given the importance of the Chancellor’s role to every man, woman, child and business in the country, there should be the equivalent of a driving test to pass before being appointed Chancellor.
I’m not an economist. Neither is Osborne. But, like all the citizens of Donegal, I can drive a car around a difficult corner even with limited visibility and in slippery road conditions. But then, like all Donegal folk, we’ve had limited experience of personal chauffeurs.