Expertise is still the enemy of the all-powerful howling-mad wing of the Tory Party but they’ve got a new name for it: orthodoxy.
It is more than six years since, confronted with facts that entirely undermined his argument, Michael Gove declared he, and the people of this country had, “had enough of the experts with their acronyms” who disagreed with him. It was an outburst that made David Brent and “Finchy” declaring themselves the “real” winners of a quiz night, by throwing some shoes over a community centre, look statesmanlike by comparison.
It also turned the word “expert” toxic; in that those who continue to share Michael Gove’s idiotic and entirely disproven view now know better than to repeat this particularly stupid phrase, so they’ve had to come up with another one.
And that one is orthodoxy. A few days before Kwasi Kwarteng and Liz Truss brought about the first ever entirely self-inflicted economic crisis, they sacked the chief civil servant at the Treasury, Tom Scholar, for being, in their view, the beacon of “Treasury orthodoxy”.
Orthodoxy doesn’t mean anything at all apart from experience, from making decisions based on evidence and an understanding of their consequences. For almost a full week now, I have described Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng both as having deliberately and accidentally crashed the economy, and found myself unable to conclude which is accurate, and this is because they are both accurate.
If someone, say Kwasi Kwarteng, gets in his car on his driveway and announces to his passenger his intention of slamming his foot straight down on the accelerator, it is not hard to imagine a lengthy argument in which it is pointed out to him that what will follow is the certain destruction both of his car and his house.
If Kwarteng, owing to his various prizes in Latin and Greek poetry, doesn’t agree with them, can it really be said to have been an accident when the Audi mounts the ottoman?
This is the nature of the war on orthodoxy that is now in full throttle, and it is depressingly familiar. Back in the distant Boris Johnson days, there was always a handy barometer for how bad things had got, based on who was prepared to go on television to defend him. When things were terrible, there you would find Nadine Dorries. Catastrophic – enter Michael Fabricant. You know things have become apocalyptic only when you see the face of Desmond Swayne.
Liz Truss is barely in her second proper week in the job, and already the government is having to deploy the great lemon holder of Shewsbury – the idiot’s idiot, Daniel Kawczynski.
The trouble is, when you only have idiots to defend you, you end up looking even more stupid. Lord Frost’s Telegraph columns have retreated from their usual confused undergraduate essay standard and would now not pass for Key Stage Three.
The prime minister must keep up her war on orthodoxy, against the “international hectoring classes like the IMF, the European Commission, the Mark Carneys and the Gordon Browns”. The mini-Budget, he reckons was “sound economics”; its soundness in no way undermined by it having directly caused an emergency intervention from the Bank of England to prevent the wipeout of pension funds.
The Sunday Telegraph editor Allister Heath has in no way rowed back from his view of Kwarteng’s mini-Budget as the “best I have ever heard by a British chancellor by a massive margin”.
What is especially curious about these people is that they would not disagree that what is happening, at long last, is proper Brexit; the one they reckon people actually voted for, and they are not dissuaded from this opinion by the clear fact that the direct consequence of it has been the complete abandonment of the party that’s doing it.
This really is what people voted for, and that’s why it’s given the Labour party and its Remoaner-in-Chief leader – Keir Starmer – a 33-point poll lead.
Now these people have got everything they wanted – and it’s turned out to be a thousand times worse than even the worst of the gloomsters imagined – it is, unsurprisingly, the same old people to blame. It is especially amusing to see hedge funds, currency speculators and financial markets generally come in for a kicking for the crime of doing what they think will most maximise their newly-uncapped bonuses. Watching the actual free market turning on the supposed “free marketeers”, who are actually just journalists and politicians who don’t understand anything.
Truss and Kwarteng, meanwhile, will not be dissuaded from their having had enough of orthodoxy. They went to meet Whitehall’s independent budget analysts, the Office for Budget Responsibility, on Friday, and the conclusion from the meeting is that their independent analysis of what Kwarteng has done will not be published for two more months.
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Kwarteng has, for a very long time, been the most highly self-regarding person in Westminster. Being the cleverest boy in your year at Eton has a tendency to make you believe you are the cleverest person in the world. If your ideas wipe out your country’s economy, there must be something wrong with your country’s economy, rather than you.
To return to Lord Frost, he thinks the problem is that sound economics have been undermined by poor communication. That Kwarteng and Truss should be out there selling their vision. Truss, of course, tried this on Thursday and ritualistically humiliated herself in seven-minute intervals in every corner of the country.
But Frosty, in his own way, does have a point. If Truss and Kwarteng can’t defend themselves, they leave the job only to the people who are prepared to do so – which so far is Allister Heath, Daniel Kawczynski and Lord Frost himself. Both outcomes are of course terrible, but it’s possible Frost is right in his own accidental diagnosis: that if the prime minister can’t defend herself, he’ll have to do it, which will only make matters even worse.