Who says Britain’s Conservative MPs are not future oriented?  

In fact, they are acutely focused on what job they might be able to get after the next general election, due in 2024.

Prospects looked worse after new Chancellor Jeremy Hunt delivered his mini-budget on Thursday.  His programme: rolling tax increases for the next six years.  And because tax thresholds are not being raised in line with rising prices and wages, persistent inflation (which also seems more likely) will make it more painful.

Have a smidgen of sympathy for the poor multi-millionaire.  Under the current bipartisan rules of the game, there is no alternative if the growth in debt is to be curbed.  Those who produce the most, must give the most.

Unfortunately, we know it’s probably not the best way to go about it.  History (and the academic research) suggests that spending cuts work much better in restoring economic growth in these circumstances.

And Britain – and Europe – and bits of the rest of the world – need well-above-average exceptional rates of private-sector growth just to maintain current living standards.

Which will be hard to achieve with post-Covid labour market practices; unresponsive (and increasingly bolshie) public services; a rigidly planned energy and transport sector; restricted construction and land-use; and a host of other regulatory ‘taxes’ which dictate consumer choices and shrink budgets.

Despite the Guardian’s inevitable indignation, this budget is not about Hunt’s kowtowing to the rich.  Rather it signals – better than just about anything – the continuity of policy from Labour’s Blair/Brown administrations in the first decade of this century, through David Cameron’s and Boris Johnson’s Conservatives to the current PM, Rishi Sunak.  

One is tempted to believe in historical inevitability. Apart from Brexit, just about everything else has been a question of emphasis.

Which brings us to the crux of the issue.  A society gets richer when the proportion of productive people increases and/or they are replaced by even more productive people. 

Who are productive of stuff which people willingly pay for.

All British governments this century – to a greater or lesser extent – have assumed that thanks to the Thatcher reforms of the last century, this will happen, despite increasing taxes, regulations, prohibitions and costly social engineering.

The next few years will test this assumption in Britain (and again in many other countries) like never before.  Oh – and that’s assuming that there are no major wars.

Sunak and his colleagues look likely to go into the next election having achieved mediocre results, against a Labour party saying he just failed to tax the rich enough.

But it will be hard for them to expose the fantasy, when they have been such willing participants.

At this stage, opinion polls suggest voters see no alternative but to test the system further. It must be assumed that they regard the tentative package of economic reforms proffered by Hunt as more of a bug, than the critical – albeit inadequate – feature. Perhaps views will change as problems worsen.

But Rishi Sunak’s Conservatives have for now lost the opportunity to show that they can lead with a policy aligned with economic reality and try to convince the public of its necessity.

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