In less than five months, Canadian Mark Carney will succeed Mervyn King as Governor of the Bank of England. It isn’t difficult to see why such a unorthodox appointment was made – Carney has been Governor of the Bank of Canada during a remarkable period in the Frozen Dominion’s history.
Carney became governor in 2007, just in time for the global financial crash to wreck the economies of Britain, Europe, America and…Canada? Well, no, actually. Under his stewardship, Canada has emerged as the only developed nation with its finances still in tact following the crash.
Why? Well, I’m sure Carney had a lot to do with it but it’s worth remembering that under a Westminster system, Parliament reigns supreme. And, only a year before his appointment, Conservative Party of Canada leader Stephen Harper became Prime Minister. Unlike in Britain and the United States, there were no bailouts, spending was cut and with them, taxes.
After two minority parliaments pursuing these policies, Harper’s Tories were rewarded by the electorate with a majority in the House of Commons. But the government’s fiscal record was not the only reason for the party’s resurgence. It was also due to a change of strategy. As Daniel Hannan pointed out at the time, the party stopped reaching out to floating voters and reached out to the 40% of Canadians who had stopped voting altogether.
The party was recast as an anti-establishment, anti-politician, decentralist, tax-cutting party; essentially the kind of classical liberalism Canada’s Liberal party had long abandoned. And, by appealing to solid traditional Anglosphere values of property rights, free contract, parliamentary supremacy and common law, were carried to victory in 2011 partly by ethnic minorities and recent immigrants – a trick Britain’s Conservatives failed with their appeal to multi-cultism.
But Canada, and indeed the New World generally, has one other advantage over the Old; class distinctions are far less pronounced and even, it could be argued, nonexistent in the way we understand them. And, while this blog is broadly supportive of the Coalition Government, I am more and more of the opinion David Cameron and George Osborne shy away from the red-blooded Conservatism of our Canadian cousins because of an acute sensitivity about their backgrounds.
Cameron’s attempts to hush up his upbringing and education, particularly his involvement in the infamous Bullingdon Club, were mocked for being as ridiculous as they were futile. Tellingly, very few actually criticised him for that upbringing, the line of attack being he felt the need to do it at all. Okay, fair enough, you might say – he won’t be the first prime minister self-conscious of his image. For example, despite never being seen in public without it, Harold Wilson preferred cigars to his iconic pipe in private. But pipes were more working class.
The problem arises, however, when this sensitivity affects policy and strategy. The Chancellor headed the general election campaign in 2010 on a programme designed to reach out to floating voters and, bizarrely, those on the liberal left. The results were predictable.
Worse, in more recent times, both the First and Second Lord of the Treasury appear to have been exorcised by a Roy Jenkins-like possession to ‘squeeze the rich until the pips squeak’ – zealously trumping about the world stage with their mission to close global tax havens and making naked threats to companies trading in this country for operating perfectly legal tax avoidance schemes. That is something we in the Conservative party just do not do.
And, while Stephen Harper has essentially pursued policies akin to Thatcherism, Cameron and Osborne have deliberately steered the party away from our greatest peacetime leader’s legacy. Rather than empowering the poor and the strivers and setting the rich free, the leadership has managed to get the Government in a situation whereby it is alienating voters on both ends of the social scale.
Despite increasing both spending and borrowing, front-line public services are being cut to the great detriment of the poor while providing political ammunition to Labour-run councils. At the same time, the Governments growing bloodlust for the wealth and earnings of the rich and of businesses is threatening whatever minor recovery might result. Both are angry at the Chancellor but, guess what? The rich can move, leaving the poor and the strivers to pick up the tab.
But the anger against the Chancellor is revealing; it is directed at his policies, not his background. Nobody outside of certain circles of the Labour party and the loony left care about his education, his baronetcy or his membership of the Irish aristocratic ‘Ascendancy’, just as they didn’t care about Alec Douglas-Home’s earldom when he polled 200,000 fewer votes than Wilson in 1964. Likewise, the voters didn’t much care for Labour’s class-war campaign against Edward Timpson in the 2008 Crewe & Nantwich by-election; turning a 7,078 Labour majority into a 7,860 Tory majority.
Boris Johnson, ironically rather poor as a child (despite being a descendant of George II), has shown a politician comfortable in his own skin can win over voters of all stripes despite being almost a caricature of ‘posh’, Eton-educated and unapologetically Thatcherite. But Boris is busy being Mayor of London so if it’s okay, Canada, can we have Stephen when you’re done?