An unelected leader, by-passing parliamentary democracy, a junta divided, a devalued currency, a return to inflation with a vengeance, foreign investment frightened away, the balance of payments deficit at historic highs, crippling public and stratospheric private debt, with all pretence at fiscal discipline abandoned, overwhelming jingoistic hubris, creeping xenophobia, bitter division threatening the integrity of the country and even an upsurge of violence . Argentina in the 1970s, 1980s and later? Or, welcome to our own cut-price Evita’s Panglossian parallel world – the one where she and her colleagues live?
The only surprise about a sharp spike in inflation when you have devalued the currency by 20% is that the government seems surprised. Of course ministers and the Brexit coterie in the media are shielded from the cruellest effects on supermarket, energy or transport price which will just add to the dire inequalities of Britain in 2016. Some normally sober commentators fear that this collapse in the value of the pound is merely a rather early harbinger of the problems which will beset our money when the hard Brexit stall of this government is laid out, and when the banks start saddling up. There may be no floor for this currency. When the pound starts imitating the pesos then the panic really will set in.
We are told to rejoice that our devalued money is a boon for exports. Well, up to a point, Lord Copper. What is left of our puny manufacturing base is heavily dependent on the imports of primary products whose prices are starting to soar. And as we move to inflation rates higher than those of our competitors it is hard to see how our country – which even in sunnier times seems so much less good at exporting than, say, Germany and so much less competitive than, believe it or not, France – will suddenly enjoy some export led boom.
Truth to tell, when all these fantasies are laid to one side, there are now years of all the dangers for the UK: a weakening, maybe collapsing, currency; price- and wage- inflation cancelling any competitive benefit from the artificially ‘flexible labour market’ (i.e.; easy-to-hire and easy-to-fire workers, however inadequate their training and skills may be); foreign investment, businesses and financial services relocating to countries within the single market; downgrades from the rating agencies pushing up interest rates crippling growth and setting public finances on a spiralling path, out of control.
The country is now in a trap of the most dangerous kind. Instead of cramming the cabinet subcommittee with the gung-ho Brexiteers (and what precisely will be the intellectual contribution of Mrs Leadsome to these deliberations?) – marginalising the more moderate Chancellor, and making hard Brexit and roll-back of all the protections enshrined in EU law inevitable – a more sensible course would have been for Mrs May to convene an all-party conference to see whether some bi- or multi- partisan cooperation could not provide some collective reflection on how to surmount our biggest peace-time crisis in the last hundred years. That’s what some of her predecessors would have done. But in the past few weeks in which we have got to know our new Prime Minister, one thing is clear. She is narrowly partisan, even when the national interest is at stake, and she doesn’t appear to do ‘imaginative’. Narrow party interest will always trump national interest with her.
This will not end well, for her or for us.