None dare call it a general strike, but let’s not quibble about terms. Britain has been brought to a standstill by a massive strike involving 500,000 public sector workers.
Since 300,000 of them are teachers, it stands to reason the Education Secretary Gillian Keegan had to share her thoughts with BBC Breakfast. Nor was it out of order that The Mail had to comment on Mrs Keegan’s statements.
Those sounded sensible, and I don’t think any serious economist would find fault with what she said.
Having accepted the validity of the teachers’ complaints, and expressed the requisite sympathy, Mrs Keegan added: “What is not realistic is for us to be looking at inflation or inflation-busting pay rises. We cannot risk fuelling inflation with inflation-busting pay rises. We have to look after everybody in the economy.”
Actually, I assume she meant ‘inflation-boosting’, not ‘inflation-busting’, but then Mrs Keegan had to work her way up from very modest beginnings that didn’t include expensive education. Hence I’m not sure about her qualifications for her particular post, but nevertheless, assuming she did mean ‘inflation-boosting pay rises’, her statement bespoke a sound grasp of economics.
The above should give you an idea of how I would begin an account of Mrs Keegan’s BBC appearance – and also provide a hint at how I would continue. I’d probably talk about the deadly perils of a high inflation rate, an enemy more destructive than even a recession. If recession is the price to pay for lowering the inflation rate, then even that is worth paying.
At a weak moment I might even have proposed a way out of the deadlock, such as the government’s ironclad commitment to ratchet up its current 5 per cent offer once inflation has been brought under control. But I wasn’t the one writing that Mail piece.
Whoever did write it led with this paragraph: “Education Secretary Gillian Keegan wears her £10,000 Rolex watch as she tells striking teachers to be ‘realistic’ with their pay demands on a day of industrial action bringing the UK to a halt.”
One gets the impression that Mrs Keegan’s ownership of that timepiece disqualifies her from discussing the strike and the potentially detrimental consequences of inflation-boosting (not ‘busting’) pay rises. This faulty assumption in no way diminishes my admiration for the author’s eagle eye, capable of making out the brand and price of the watch from a distance.
This is a recurrent theme of our politics, and it isn’t hard to identify its moral provenance: envy, one of the seven cardinal sins. It seems to have become one of the cardinal virtues.
It’s impossible to open the papers these days, even conservative ones, without reading things like “health secretary used a private clinic 12 years ago” or “education minister sent his children to a public school” or “housing minister owns a property in France and a flat in Westminster” or “prime minister doesn’t understand the plight of common folk because his wife is rich.”
(So far I haven’t seen a lament that a justice secretary isn’t qualified to discuss prison reform because he has never served time for a felony, but I’m sure that’s still to come.)
What are government ministers supposed to do? Appear on TV wearing burlap sackcloth and shoes with holes big enough for their toes to stick out? Try to flog a copy of The Big Issue while they are at it?
One is amazed how Britain became one of the most successful countries in history and managed to build the greatest empire ever at a time when she was almost exclusively governed by wealthy aristocrats.
When the Spencers, Cadogans and Cavendishes ran England, French visitors were astounded how wealthy English peasants were. While in France most peasants lived in mud cottages at the time, their 18th century English counterparts had brick houses with tiled roofs and glass windows.
So fine, most ministers of the crown lived in sumptuous mansions. But they still did their best for the country.
One doesn’t have to be destitute to understand the plight of the poor; moribund to relate to the needs of patients; illiterate to tackle the miserable education provided by our schools. One does have to possess the ability to govern a great country, and that commodity doesn’t depend one way or the other on what our ministers wear on their wrists.
This isn’t the first time that Mrs Keegan has been brought to account for displaying that offensive item, which was her husband’s gift for her 50th birthday. In December, she had to defend herself in a radio interview: “I guess I’m supposed to never have made anything of myself, never have made any money… I don’t know. It’s like an inverted snobbery or something.”
Actually, it’s much worse than that. It’s envy, and the politics based on it, elevated to the status of orthodoxy. No wonder socialism has emerged victorious in British politics, with the main parties only quibbling about the extent of it.
While few politicians today can boast noble lineage, most of them are successful people. Let’s not hold that against them, shall we? Let’s criticise them for venality, incompetence, sleaziness, not knowing the difference between boosting and busting. These are in sufficient supply to provide enough targets for our venom.
Let’s not even criticise them for the poor taste of displaying oversized status symbols. It’s as if Mrs Keegan’s watch were reciting the popular ditty: “The working class can kiss my arse, I’ve got the foreman’s job at last.” But hey, she’s entitled – as long as she is a good education secretary.