Before it had even appeared in reviewers’ postbags, the book that Chris Skidmore co-authored with four other Conservative MPs had created quite a stir in Westminster. ‘Brits so lazy’, said the Sun, about a chapter in Britannia Unchained which describes the British as being ‘among the worst idlers in the world’. That claim provoked rage from left-wingers, with Labour’s Chuka Umunna calling on David Cameron to ‘distance himself’ from the comments, which he said were ‘deeply insulting’.
But Skidmore seems entirely unperturbed by the outcry. In fact, when we meet in his Westminster office, he seems quite taken with the idea that politicians should take a great deal of unpopularity on the chin. He praises his favourite country, Canada, whose politicians were able to ‘take a hit’ when restoring the country’s economy.
‘I think Canada would be a country that has immense potential and has an identity that it can be proud of because it got itself out of its own mess. And the bravery, the sheer determination of the politicians there, an acceptance we don’t quite yet have in British society to actually be unpopular, to sort of say we will take a hit but we’ll do the right thing and if you do the right thing in life, you’ll have to make a difficult decision.
‘I think when history comes to be written, George Osborne will be seen as a very interesting transformative figure in that he is prepared to be unpopular in order to do the right thing for the country.’
He says a poll published that morning showing Labour 15 points ahead of the Conservatives was ‘surprising’ because ‘I honestly thought that we would be 20 or 30 points behind in the polls: Thatcher was far, far behind in the polls at certain stages in her career’.
Britannia Unchained: Global Lessons for Growth and Prosperity is the second book this group, comprising Skidmore, Kwasi Kwarteng, Priti Patel, Dominic Raab and Liz Truss, has written since they were elected in 2010.