Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Never waste a good crisis

At a breakfast last week Sky’s Adam Boulton reminded us that Obama had made the phrase “never waste a good crisis” a guiding concept for his administration.

I was initially puzzled, until of course I realised what it means is that a crisis gives you an opportunity to say and do things you never could at any other time. You may be facing huge challenges, but if you’re a strong leader you can also appeal to people in such a situation to accept the inevitability of major change. Think of a family crisis, when all the old rules go out of the window, and you know what I mean.

And it is a tribute I have to say to the failure of most of our politicians that a “good crisis” – in truth one of the worst economic crises we have ever faced – is being squandered. An angry and very senior Tory aide spluttered to me last week “Talking to Gordon Brown is like standing on a weighing machine. You just get robotic comments, no dialogue.” And, taking the analogy a bit further, the wrong weight presumably. Because across Whitehall it is an open secret – blown open I see by the Sunday newspapers – that the mandarins are quietly working out all the true implications of our national budget deficit and drawing up plans to address them as soon as the politicians have stopped pretending that a lot of budgets can easily be protected. Our transformed economic situation and our huge national debt will be a part of all our lives until 2030 at least. Walking up to the problem, and deciding what we should be doing about it, is a NOW problem, not tomorrow. The Tories have launched an open challenge to Gordon Brown on this, and they are right – but they need to add their own reality too and explain what all of them know, which is that after 2011 virtually every government budget will be frozen or cut. The British people are very good at adapting to crises – heaven only knows we have had enough practice over the years - but they need to be told the truth.

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