The Government and its communications team likes to tell us every day that we face a choice between the awfulness of austerity on the one hand, and the dreadfulness of austerity on the other. There is no alternative because growth prospects have evaporated and the Eurozone is on fire. Oh, and the last Government dealt them a rotten hand, so austerity it is.
A psychologist could no doubt prove the theory that austerity before the fact is preferable to austerity afterwards. For example, going without because you’re saving for next summer’s holiday to the Maldives will feel less painful than still paying down the credit card bill from last year’s cruise months after the tan has faded.
Let’s say we do manage, somehow, to reduce national debt, address public sector pensions, get to grips with unemployment and sell on, at a profit, our investments in failing banks. What then? What’s the upside?
It’s time for the Government, after more than 18 months of droning on and on about how terrible it all is, to change the message.
People are more tolerant of pain if they can see a future upside. If the future is just more of the same, we’ll be underwhelmed and Government ministers will be looking for new jobs come the next election.
The country appears, so far, to have avoided the majority of trouble with the Eurozone suggesting that keeping sterling was a good thing. We seem to have accepted that an economy based almost exclusively on financial services is risky, and that we have to reinvest in making things again. We’ve accepted that the state employs too many people and we’re ‘right-sizing’ that. All good, but what does it all mean for the future of UK plc?
If the UK was a business reducing costs and cutting jobs, the management team would be travelling up and down the country setting out not just the scale of the challenge to be addressed, but the size of the prize for success too. They’d be saying things such as: “It will be tough but when we do, we’ll be a stronger business, more competitive than ever before and able to offer those of you still here better career opportunities.”
There’s no equivalent rallying cry from the government. Some will say that nobody required to reapply for their job every four years can be expected to take a longer-term, strategic view. Really? The average tenure for CEOs of FTSE100 businesses is 3.5 years.
Others will say that it’s just too difficult, that the current residents of no’s 10 and 11 Downing Street inherited an economic mess. The thing is, they knew that before they applied for the job and campaigned on the basis that they were the team to fix it.
The current Government looks more interested in power than people. If they want to stay in the job for a second term, they need to quickly find the vision, imagination and passion necessary to create and communicate a future for the country that will make the pain we’re enduring feel a little more worthwhile.