If there was ever such an effective mithridate to our own woes as British folk, poking fun at the French would be our choice antidote. Our gripes and groans are what make us British: we are the only people who like to hear the worst; we like to know how bad things are. In this case, our thick skin and propensity to revel in gloom can be compounded by an economic forecast that is the fiscal equivalent of erectile dysfunction: disappointing, yet accepted to be the norm as the years imperviously advance.
It seems with each passing week; George Osborne’s position becomes a little shakier; his excuses a little less credible and his facial features more tempting candidates for some form of therapeutic rearrangement. So bereft of gumption is Gideon that we face down the unprecedented prospect of a triple-dip back into the familiar swamp of recession.
George Osborne did inherit a landfill of a situation; a balance sheet in tatters, and debts toxic enough to strip paint. The Eurozone crisis didn’t help either; if it’s any condolence Greece and Spain are far further mired in the abyss than us. These excuses, though valid they may be, have worn through. Osborne’s circle of trustees is fast-shrinking.
Figures released by the ONS last week reverberated around the rest of the country; a 0.3% drop in GDP during the last quarter will prove troublesome for the Chancellor to deflect, and digest. Not only has the economy flat lined for two years, but borrowing is up, and thus the national debt, is rising as a result. Osborne’s key objective when taking office was to have the national debt falling as a percentage of GDP by 2015-16 – the next general election – this has been shelved. Despite what the Muesli Mafia chime on about: the demagogue of austerity is actually spending more than Gordon Brown. When the cries of “too far, too fast” ring out from the Toynbee Tannoy: you should know that it is utter rubbish.
This magazine has suggested, on numerous occasions, what Osborne could do to ameliorate our economic predicament. Ambitious reforms to the supply-side of the economy; liberalisation of employment and business regulations; targeted tax reductions. These ideas are nothing new; a slew of centre-right think tanks publish credible tomes of research on a weekly basis, all of which fall upon deaf ears within the halls of Westminster. The Keynesian foolery of borrowing more to stimulate demand hasn’t worked.
This is where the French come into play. Rather than waste any further copy space telling the government what we think should be done, I’ll provide an insight into where we could be headed.
Michel Sapin, French Employment minister, caused a whirl in many a bowl of snails (ahem) on Monday with his claims that the French nation was “totally bankrupt”. The whistleblower furthered:
“There is a state but it is a totally bankrupt state,” Mr Sapin said. “That is why we had to put a deficit reduction plan in place, and nothing should make us turn away from that objective.”
These comments will have shocked the French, and satisfied a large contingent of us right-leaning Brits. Given the opportunity to moan about a country other than our own means we, naturally, target that lot across the Channel. Any political wonk has known for quite some time that Francois Hollande’s tax and spend socio-policy is the political equivalent of Agent Orange: incendiary, damaging, and likely to permanently maim. It’s glumly satisfying to be proved right at the expense of the French.
What Hollande’s flagship 75% tax rate has managed to do is scare off anyone with a modicum of financial sense. It’s all well and good to say the rich should pay more; that doesn’t mean they will sit around to get plucked. Couple this with the bloated French state that employs over 2 million people and counting and you can see where Monsieur Hollande has gone wrong. Economic inertia requires chains to be unshackled; Hollande is adding millstones.
France’s only decent actor, Gérard Depardieu, was the first of the high-profile departures to more hospitable lands; he was pictured embracing Vladmir Putin and Russia’s 13% flat tax rate just this week.
To prefer the arms of Vladimir Putin to the climes of your native lands means something is drastically wrong back home.