I’m marking a birthday in a few days. Although, I think I will imagine my age as being minus one year. 2020 had some notable moments but if I was asked: would you like to do it again? I’d say: make it ten days and you’re on. One of the beauties of age is reminiscence. Yes, I can remember a pre-decimalisation England. Pounds, shillings, and pence were what I was taught at my primary school in a small Somerset village.
I remember the Callaghan led the Government in 1976 and its financial woes. The Labour government was forced to apply to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a loan. Those turbulent years were a lot of fun for me. The summer of 1976 was magnificent in every way.
As I started work as an apprentice, unemployment stood at a post-war high and inflation was in double digits. Punk rock was running riot. England was changing. It was a dynamic period.
Although, as a young man I had no interest in it at the time, the way Governments spent money shaped a lot of what was happening. Money did matter and does matter. It’s the difference between being able to do things and stagnation or recession.
However, never be deceived. Government spending is not like household spending, as Mrs Thatcher would have had you thinking. For a start, none of us has our own mint. None of us are directly compared with other countries or issue our own bonds.
So, what are we to make of the apparent calmness expressed over massive Government borrowing and reckless spending? We are in truly unprecedented times. A pound for every time that word was used, and the national debt would be a lot smaller.
How do we make sense of a 1% pay offer for nurses when they have been so pivotal in the national response to the COVID-19 pandemic? When there’s no evidence that a Government funded Test & Trace made a difference and yet it cost over £30 billion. To top that, there’s been 130,000 COVID-19 deaths making the country stand out as one of the worst performing of all.
Are these the new late 1970s? Except for the absence of inflation, and astonishingly low interest rates it does look that way. But let’s get back to that word: unpresented. I don’t think there’s an analogous situation in my lifetime that might give some clues as to what comes next.
For the moment, the so called “cockpit of the nation”, the House of Commons seems all but useless given the power of the ruling executive. Government actions are not held to account.
The billions spent on the Test & Trace system are a perfect example. Well over £500 per head of UK population has been spent on this system in a short period. But few know where the money went or what it bought. There needs to be far greater accountability and transparency. This is an urgent matter.