Britain’s Trillion Pound Horror Story (Channel 4, Thursday) was unquestionably the most important programme that will appear on British television this year.
Britain’s Trillion Pound Horror Story (Channel 4, Thursday) was unquestionably the most important programme that will appear on British television this year. Yes, even more important than Downton Abbey.
The thing that really drove home just how important was the point, quite early on, where the Fawn turned to me and said, ‘Ohmygod! Where do we emigrate to?’ And it’s not as though the Fawn has ever been one of those irksome left-liberal wives who keeps undermining her husband’s thought-through right-wing wisdom with prissy right-on inanities based on nothing more solid than hormones. No, sirree.
Yet up until this programme, she had never quite appreciated to the extent I do just how irredeemably f***ed our country is. She had imagined, as so many poor innocents still do, that all it would require is a bit of genteel tinkering from the Coalition and within a few years, hey presto: economy revived, greatness restored, all the vine weevils in our garden permanently eradicated, and everyone living happily ever after.
Unfortunately, as Martin Durkin’s brilliant piece of polemic made horribly evident, that just ain’t going to happen. Unless we take steps far, far more radical than anything David Cameron has so far shown himself prepared to contemplate, this country is doomed to become a stagnant economic backwater, little different from those Eastern Bloc economies we so despised in the Eighties. The comparison is not far-fetched: in many parts of Britain, the state’s share of the economy (Wales: 77 per cent; Northern Ireland: 81 per cent) is as high as it was in Honecker’s East Germany, Ceausescu’s Romania.
And what are we doing to deal with this? Absolutely nada. Last year our government spent more in benefits than it raised in income tax. One third of households in Britain now receive more than half their income in state benefits. Yet our national debt now stands at £4.8 trillion — a figure so large it’s hard even to imagine. If you stacked that figure up in £50 notes, you’d have a pile reaching 6,500 miles into space. If you sold every single house and flat in Britain to try to pay off the debt, you’d still be £1 trillion short.
This puts George Osborne’s ‘savage cuts’ into their proper perspective. They’re not cuts in government spending at all but cuts in the rate of increase of government spending, which — as Durkin demonstrated — will have about as much effect on debt reduction as an eggcup would used to bail out a fast-filling bath with both the taps on full.
‘Ah,’ goes up the bien-pensant cry. ‘But if we cut government spending too drastically front-line services will suffer.’ Oh, really? Of the £700 billion-plus of our money currently being squandered every year by the government, only around £200 billion goes on doctors, teachers, police and other ‘key workers’. Most of it simply goes on administration, on diversity-outreach consultants, on climate-change advisers, on entirely pointless government ‘initiatives’ such as the various ones devised to cope with our failing education system: the Numeracy Task Force, the National Skills Academy, Early Learning Partnerships, Excellence Hubs, Learning Outside the Classroom, Parenting Early Intervention Pathfinders, The Framework for Personal and Learning Skills.
At the root of all this is a terrible culture malaise. There’s a widespread belief — lovingly nurtured, daily, by the BBC — that if the government didn’t take ever greater chunks of our income and spend it on ‘vital’ areas like health and education, social injustice would prevail and the nation would go to hell in a handcart.
Yet, as Durkin showed, this has not been the Hong Kong Chinese example. There, thanks to the groundwork of perhaps the 20th century’s most able and farsighted administrator — a British civil servant called John Cowperthwaite — Hong Kong has been run since the 1960s on impeccably classical liberal lines. The top rate of tax is 15 per cent; the poor don’t pay any. The economic growth it has experienced as a result has been spectacular, but not to the detriment of the poor (who remain perfectly well looked after) nor to public services such as the transport system (shinier, cleaner, vastly superior to our Moscow c.1950-style Underground because — true Arthur Laffer principles — low-tax regimes bring in more to the Exchequer than high-tax regimes.
In 2007 Durkin’s Great Global Warming Swindle became the first programme on British television really, properly to lay into the corruption, mendacity and flawed science of the Climate Change industry. It rubbed an awful lot of eco-fascist noses up the wrong way because the grisly truth had never been spelt out with quite such brutal, unapologetic accuracy.
Britain’s Trillion Pound Horror Story will, I believe, prove similarly offensive not only to the Polly Toynbee-style Guardianistas who’ve always yearned secretly to turn Britain into a Soviet command economy, but also to those Conservatives still foolish enough to believe that Cameron’s Coalition has any serious answers to the mess we’re in.
It was just the rallying cry the cause of classical liberalism needed. And it couldn’t have come at a more desperate moment in our nation’s history. Hooray for Durkin!