Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Ken And George Show

How it would work

This morning's City AM/YouGov poll of City types does not make for comfortable reading. Only 23% of these financiers think George would make the best Chancellor, just 3% ahead of St Vince. True, Darling trails way back on 7%. But streets ahead of all of them - on 36% - is Cuddly Ken.

Of course, anyone who has talked to these City types recently will already know how they feel. As City AM editor Alister Heath notes:

"[Osborne's] policies are often more anti-City even than Labour’s, while Clarke often sounds more pro free-enterprise and more forthright about explaining the size and scale of the crisis. Clarke is also vastly more experienced and has held real jobs in the private sector."
Which brings us back to an idea we first floated back in August - Ken should be made Minister for Public Sector Reform, charged not only with steering the cuts programme, but also leading the reinvention of the public sector.

The appointment of such a minister was one key element of the successful and much-lauded Canadian programme of fiscal retrenchment back in the 1990s. For it to work it has to be someone of wide experience and real clout. And to command respect, he must be seen to be independent of both the Treasury and the big spending departments.

Willie Whitelaw did a similar job for Thatcher back in the early 80s (the so-called Star Chamber), but in terms of experience and expertise, Ken would be even better. Remember he's run both the Treasury and two major spending departments. He would fit the role like a hand in a glove.

What's more, he's always been highly regarded in the City. Both the evil bankers and those credit ratings agencies would breathe a huge sigh of relief. It would buy us more time to arrange an orderly retreat on public spending, rather than a panicky slash and burn forced on us by a market crisis.

What's that? Ken is an unreconstructed left-winger?

Well, it is true that he appears warmer towards public spending than Tyler. But when you look at his record as Chancellor you find he did actually preside over a real terms cut in Departmental Expenditure Limits (DEL). Between 1993-94 and 1997-98, DEL spending fell by 6%. And as a percentage of GDP it fell by over 4 percentage points (from 23.8% to 19.6%).

That was no small achievement, and it shows that Ken can deliver cuts.

What's more, he has hands on experience of public sector reform. Thatcher famously put him into the Department of Health to drive through the biggest NHS reform since its foundation - the introduction of the internal market. Despite massive opposition he succeeded, and although the idiot doctrinaire Dobson later reverted to Stalinism as soon as Labour got elected, since then, Labour have been forced to readopt many of the ideas Ken pioneered.

So with Ken as Minister for Public Sector reform, what would George do?

Well, he'd still become Chancellor, and with our tax and benefit system an incentive sapping mess, our financial system still stuttering, and our creditors banging on the door, I fancy he wouldn't be short of work.

And as we all recall from the much-missed Ken and Eddie Show, Ken works well as part of a duo.


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