Shock Horror! Tories and Lib Dems Don’t Agree about the Economy

Friday, January 9th, 2015

by Jonathon Porritt

I can’t deny that it’s highly entertaining watching the Coalition Government energetically tearing itself to pieces over the future of the economy. You’ve just got to laugh out loud at the wounded indignation of Danny Alexander suddenly waking up to the fact that his ‘close colleague’ at the Treasury, namely George Osborne, is driven primarily for an ideological passion for shrinking the size of the state. Imagine a bright spark like Danny Alexander not having spotted that one right from the start!

Don’t get me wrong: the size of the state (public expenditure as a percentage of GDP) is an important economic issue. A really important issue. And what makes it important is that it is indeed very ideological, very political, as in contrasting positions on a conventional Left–Right spectrum. And as far as I’m concerned, the more stark, clearly differentiated positions we have across the body politic, the healthier our democracy is likely to be.

But now we’ve got a precedent out there, let’s have more of it. And given that the Lib Dems must be desperate to differentiate themselves from their Tory coalition partners in those areas which were once seen as Lib Dem strengths, why don’t they start tearing into the Tories on the whole question of the Green Economy? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to hear leading Lib Dems starting to highlight exactly what the Tories have been doing over the last four years to destroy any prospect whatsoever of this being ‘the Greenest Government Ever’?

And once we’ve finished with all the knocking copy, there must surely be scope for lifting up people’s sights on economic policy in general? I spent a very enjoyable couple of hours on the 9th of December attending the first Advisory Group meeting for an initiative called ‘An Economy That Works’, a coalition of business and civil society organisations set up and managed through the Aldersgate Group.

The initiative’s core premise is incredibly simple: our current economy clearly doesn’t work (whatever the size of the state!), and we need to step back and redefine the fundamental purpose of any economy. The foundation document for An Economy That Works is well worth a look, and it really is quite something to have got so many business leaders to subscribe to such a vision – as well as a whole bunch of NGOs and civil society organisations.

But a report is just another report, and the trick now will be to turn all of that into something of a campaign. I’m not sure how much impact it’ll be possible to have before the General Election next year, but the four campaign goals that it’s adopted are spot-on:

  • Create and influential and diverse coalition for change;
  • Encourage individuals to act by offering a positive vision for the future;
  • Deliver more than the sum of its parts by connecting partners with different focus areas;
  • Address the challenges we face in an holistic way

There are, of course, many massive barriers to delivering an easily accessible vision of a different kind of economy. And the sticky, intractable issue of economic growth is the biggest of all those barriers. Today’s unyielding focus on growth as the primary purpose of any economy is clearly not delivering from an environmental, social or even economic perspective. But everybody remains completely wedded to the idea of growth for growth’s sake. Despite lots of wishy-washy blathering from Cameron, Miliband et al about the importance of ‘wellbeing’, the ‘growth imperative’ still overwhelms every other idea that raises its head.

So I thought you might be amused by this little spoof from Australia*.

Sort-of says it all, really.

* For non-Australian viewers, Clarke and Dawe are well-known satirists in Australia, who appear once a week before the ABC TV news. The focus of this piece is the recent G20 Summit in Brisbane, featuring any old growth-mad politician or economist!

Jonathon Porritt is co-founder of Forum for the Future and a member of the Economy That Works Advisory Group.


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