Guest Post From Richard Bailey
I am irritated. I am in fact sufficiently irritated to resume blogging after nearly two years.
The source of my irritation is my beloved political party. A decent bunch of genuinely motivated, interesting and intelligent people have finally emerged from the Ashes of 1997 and despite finding themselves facing an old and tired government, they seemingly lack the killer instinct, and worst of all, the best opportunity to demolish the current political ideology is fast slipping away.
I have the clear and unmistakable onset of toothache at the moment, and it struck me as I read my Times this morning that this was the perfect analogy through which to find the best narrative to describe the right Conservative response to the financial crisis we face.
Why they can’t do it for themselves is beyond me.
After all, the one fatal mistake Thatcher made was to forget to put in place the political “nursing staff” to provide the aftercare to her (very necessary) open-heart “surgery” of the mid 80’s. You’d have thought we’d learn, eh?
Anyway, Tony Blair obligingly accepted the role of pampering matron and the rest is history, so to speak. We sit here today, all of us, knowing that the ache in our mouth was a long time coming. We know that we have been lazy and inattentive; we have partied too much, come home late and just not bothered to clean our teeth.
We have eased the occasional twinge with paracetamol and, temporarily free from pain, carried on as before. After all, there really is no point going to the dentist yet. I mean nobody goes through the pain of the dentist until they have reached the point at which the pain of staying at home is much greater.
And so it is with our finances. We have had a spectacular decade or more of spending and borrowing, easy credit, and liberal repayment schemes. Every now and then we hit the buffers, we knew we were on borrowed time but the solution was there – if I just borrow a bit more, I can get back on track.
But here I am this morning with a very distinct signs that the worst pain is just around the corner. My tooth is sensitive to hot and cold extremes, I can’t chew on it without little twangs, and I have a dull ache that, while not overly painful yet, isn’t going away. I am in that agonising moment. I know what’s coming. I know I deserve it. I know that trip to the dentist is going to be emotional. But even now, I still need the pain to be so much greater before it drives me to do what needs to be done. You see it is not the pain I want – it is the relief from pain. I want a short sharp shock, but I want to know that I will be cared for afterwards and helped to recover.
And so it is with the economy. The parties are now clearly divided. Labour advocates pain relief. They say we don’t have to visit the dentist, they say we can control the pain with evermore borrowing and that nobody has to face the horrors of pulling the tooth out. But we know deep down that soon enough, neighbouring teeth, already damaged by plaque, will start to ache too and then we will be left with a worse problem than now. More than that, we know that the solution will have to be considerably more drastic.
The Conservatives however, say let’s get it over with quickly. Let’s go to the dentist and let’s get that tooth out no matter what the pain. It will be a shocking pain, but it will be short lived. People will lose their jobs, and their homes. But everyone will recover quicker and with more confidence.
The Conservatives position is admirable and more significantly, right. So here’s the thing. Why won’t they tell us more about the recovery? If we have to play the part of the hated dentist, why can’t we describe the aftercare – the soft, warm duvet, the smiling nurses, the new chances, the sun shining down on our faces?
Cameron spent years culturing the caring, compassionate image and just when we need it most, he chucks it out. Brown has seized the chance to paint him as a traditional hardnosed, dispassionate Tory and raise the spectre of Thatcher and the early 80’s.
Mr Cameron, everything you have worked for these past three years has been building for this moment. Don’t bottle it now.
Be the dentist. It is the right thing to do, but line your shadow ministers up with policies galore for the recovery, like beautiful nurses with soothing tonics and fluffy pillows.