If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. It’s sometimes hard to see why prime ministers reshuffle their cabinets at such regular intervals when all they seem to end up with is a lot of bewildered ministerial newbies wandering around Westminster and asking stupid but important questions from their faithful civil service advisers. So David Cameron has done well this time to keep his essential troika intact – the Foreign Secretary William Hague, the Home Secretary Teresa May, and of course the Chancellor George Osborne.
Oh, certainly there was lesser blood to be found on the pavement afterwards – but the only really top-level departure was Ken Clarke’s leaving of the Justice ministry – a post, let us remember, that didn’t even exist until 2007. And I suppose we ought to give an honourable mention to the replacement of Business Secretary Vince Cable’s minders with a tougher bunch who will know exactly where to hurt him if he ever steps out of line with the Chancellor again.
This, then, was a cabinet for stability, as Mr Cameron might have put it, and for stasis and intellectual bankruptcy, as the Balls and Miliband faction would have preferred it. Say what you like about George Osborne – and you might as well, because he isn’t listening anyway – the reshuffle leaves Britain on the same unerring economic path as before the summer.
Unerring in the sense of ‘unwavering’, you understand – not as in ‘infallible’. There have been enough well-justified accusations recently about how the Chancellor’s neo-Thatcherite slashbacks have been slaughtering economic confidence without creating either growth or jobs – most notably from the International Monetary Fund, which declared in June that the excessive savagery of the cuts needed to be softened, and more recently from Moody’s, which seems sure that we’ll all abandon our European cousins and pay off our own debts.
Neither statement was a ringing endorsement for a Chancellor whose dogged determination to keep plunging on, no matter what, is more blinkered than Churchillian. Two and a half years into the job, Mr Osborne has yet to abandon his simple faith in the idea that, if you cut public expenditure, then business growth and job creation must somehow inevitably follow. There are those who say that a hereditary baronet whose line goes back to the Tudor era and whose family made its dosh by selling expensive wallpaper to the well-heeled was always going to be at a bit of a disadvantage when it came to understanding the realities of job creation. But it would be cruel of us to dwell on such indignities.
Stronger Than He Seems
Be that as it may, Britain’s lapse into technical recession has been an embarrassment for Mr Osborne. His unreconstructed views on the euro zone have encouraged the PM to keep him as far away from the foreign policy microphone as possible. (Indeed, was there ever a prime minister who did so much of his own talking as Mr Cameron?) The Chancellor’s politically tone-deaf approach to discussion is properly Thatcherite in a way that we’ve seen only rarely since the departure of the Iron Lady.
And yet there are times in history when only the tone-deaf, the dogged and the “There Is No Alternative” thinkers have their place. Osborne is no Churchill, to be sure. But when all other certainties fail, the sheer unstoppability of an unchangeable mind can be a kind of comfort. As we nears what we hope will be the final chapters of our current economic difficulties, this particular war horse is not the kind you abandon in mid-stream.
All of which is probably one mangled metaphor too many. Thank you for listening….
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