A government in search of philosophy

Yesterday offered a revealing window into the current mode of government in this country. Barely did Andrew Bailey, Governor of the Bank of England, call on employees not to ask for pay rises to match the steadily rising cost of living, which No 10 issued a rebuke, noting that the Prime Minister disagreed.

It’s easy to see why. Boris Johnson has staked his reputation on creating an economy characterized by strong growth and high wages, and not plagued by runaway inflation. Nor is it hard to imagine the newsgroups that Downing Street is so enamored of reacting with fury to the idea that as prices rise it is somehow the duty of workers to hold their own. belt and become poorer.

Such conflicts may seem inconsequential given the impact of the energy shock itself, the wider economic turmoil and the prospect of another war in Europe. But there is a broader significance to this government’s inability to resist intervening. Indeed, Mr Bailey’s disguise comes at the end of a week in which, confirming a National Insurance hike and unveiling a multibillion-pound package of energy bills, buy now and pay later, the government has once again revealed its irresistible urge to spend other people’s money and meddle in the market.

It’s not conservative. Nor is it the best way to deliver the high-growth economy the Prime Minister has set his sights on. Instead of stepping in at every turn, government must learn to step aside, create the conditions of low taxes and low regulation for businesses to thrive and consumers to benefit.

This is why, despite the departures of senior advisers this week, it is ideological and non-organizational confusion that lurks in this government. Who’s to say where the soul of this administration really lies, even on the most basic issues of taxation and spending, when ministerial promises and evidence from voters’ own eyes (and wallets) clash daily?

Such statism has seen the Tories of today compared to the Labor Party of yesteryear. And with his showmanship, it’s easy to compare the current prime minister to Tony Blair. But Mr. Blair at least had a clear program and understood the political apparatus necessary to implement it. The danger is that, weakened, beleaguered, but in command, Boris Johnson will come to look more like Gordon Brown, determined to seize power but, having conquered it, uncertain of how to deploy it, a political paralysis made flesh of which the main concern becomes staying in power. .

Two brief years after winning worldwide acclaim for his handling of the financial crisis, Mr Brown has found himself alienated from the role he has long aspired to fill. If he is not to suffer the same fate, today’s prime minister needs to remember what he wanted his job to do in the first place and the fundamentals best suited to achieving it.