Do you have to put your head in the sand to want to be Chancellor?

Posted on

Our economy is in a mess. I think that should be obvious to anyone, and yet you don't hear that message too often on the BBC news, ITV, Newsnight and much of the print media.

Ken Clarke had to leave the government before he could say the UK's economic recovery is not 'firm;y rooted'. Even so he was being mighty generous to George Osborne. Too many are; Ed Balls in particular.

Some realise how wrong this view is. Paul Mason is one of them. He was right to argue, as I think he did, in a Guardian article on Sunday that the most important theme in much of the UK economy is alienation.

That alienation is dangerous. As Phillip Inman has argued, debt and ageing pose massive problems in our economy. Those problems exist in the short term - when rising interest rates are going to push millions over the edge with regard to household solvency. They face the risk of real alienation, for that is what bankruptcy and all that goes with it is. By 2018, at the latest, I suspect this to be a crisis engulfing the next government of what ever complexion it may be, and yet neither Ed Balls or George Osborne want to talk about it. If Danny Alexander does, well no one is listening.

And Alex Andreou, also arguing in the Guardian, has in a sense pulled these themes together, albeit inadvertently (it's me doing so, explicitly). As he points out, unless we have a vibrant population of young people then they can't sustain the elderly - which is what the crisis of ageing is really all about.

What all three have in common is a concern that no one is addressing these issues. As Paul Mason says:

The moment a party says: "We stand for the low-paid worker against the loan shark, the rip-off landlord and the profiteering boss," young people in places such as Bow Arts might show some glimmer of interest in politics – instead of the utter cynicism and detachment that is routine.

And as he also said:

Strangely enough, we once had a political party whose entire brand, and even name, was centred around improving the wages and conditions of people who work. 

His implication is all too obvious. Phillip Inman is not too subtle either:

Britain has become expert at putting off decisions and hoping for something to turn up. Without a return to ultra-cheap commodities, another technological/productivity revolution, or a return to more modest living and delayed gratification, it's a plan that is running out of time.

It is Alex Andreou though who goes to the core of these issues though, when looking at them from a European Union perspective, when he says:

It is up to us to reclaim Euroscepticism – the critical assessment of how we want Europe to work for us and make it work.

In this sense Alex adds the most to debate even if I am sure Paul Mason was probably more read. That's because Alex Andreou makes clear that there are issues that need not be mere matters of concern, and even anxiety, in the current situation, but about which action is possible. Paul Mason and Phillip Inman offer counsels of despair. So too does Alex Andreou, in part, when he says:

It is telling that the Europhobe alternative narrative always ends at a referendum endorsing exit. I have yet to hear a coherent narrative of precisely how the eggs are to be unscrambled.

But  it is his  twist on that argument is pivotal. He argues that whilst the right have a narrative it is one that does not work. It is a similarly incoherent narrative from the right that Osborne, Balls and Alexander will all offer at the next election.  Even if the spin on the EU will differ what Alex Andreou is saying is that all that these politicians will offer are tales of despair and resignation: that ,after all, is what the narrative of the balanced budget and the withdrawal from the responsibility of the politician to put forward an alternative (including on the EU) is all about. What that narrative, quite literally, represents is an argument that there is no choice.

Paul Mason and Phillip Inman do not move much beyond that despair. Alex Andreou does. As he says:

There is no doubt that the EU has lost its way. It has been captured by vested political, financial and corporate interests. It is up to us to reclaim it and reform it.

What he is saying is that of course there are faults in the economic and power structures that we have; it would be absurd to think otherwise. But this does not mean we withdraw from discussion or resort to the discredited solutions of bygone ages (like balancing budgets).  What we should instead seek to embrace is an active recognition of these failings as the start point of an alternative narrative.

That is the foundation for a radical politics of change that is intended to deliver empowerment. When all we're being offered is a tale of despair and powerlessness by all the major political parties you can see why I think Alex Andreou's argument pursues his concern to the necessary next step on the way to progress in a way that few will currently do.

I wish others would have Alex's courage. We certainly have candidates for Chancellor who do not and who instead appear to wish to put their heads in the sand. Paul Mason and Phillip Inman are right to note the poverty of those candidate's thinking and the alienation it induces. But Alex Andreou is also right to say the time for noting it has passed. The time to deliver on alternatives has arrived. It's unlikely to happen in 2015. But we still have to work for it, nonetheless. I hope I am.