By Christopher Booker
Four huge shadows hang over this claustrophobic election, about which the three main parties will be trying to say as little as possible. The first, obviously, as part of the catastrophic legacy of 13 years of Labour misrule, is the barely imaginable scale of the deficit in public spending.
This is now growing so fast that it is difficult to find ways of bringing home how stupendous it has become. The Taxpayers’ Alliance has tried to do it by pointing out that public debt is rising by £447,575,342 – virtually half a billion pounds – every day. With the Government’s own projections showing that within four years the National Debt will have doubled to £1.4 trillion, I recently used figures from the Institute for Fiscal Studies to show that by 2014, in only four years’ time, it will be costing us the equivalent of £60 a week for every household in the land just to pay the interest on the debt – let alone paying off the debt itself.
The implications of Gordon Brown’s doubling of public spending in the past decade are so hard to grasp that it is hardly surprising the parties don’t want to talk about it, because none of them really has the faintest idea what to do about it. The utter unreality of this debate was illustrated last week by the Tories’ claim that they could cut spending by £12 billion, when it is now rising by that figure every month. Meanwhile Labours boasts that, having trebled spending on the NHS, to no great effect, it could save half a billion a year by cutting out NHS waste – when our public debt is now increasing by that amount every day.
The second shadow over this election is the unprecedented damage done to our politics by the expenses scandal, which has degraded the standing of Parliament to its lowest point in history. More than anything, these revelations have reinforced the realisation that we are ruled by a political class in which the three main parties are blurred indistinguishably together, almost wholly divorced from the concerns of the rest of us. Never have MPs or peers been so diminished in stature, at the very time when the bloated apparatus of the state has been intruding on our lives more obviously than at any time before.
A third, closely related shadow which the political class has been only too keen to hide away has been the still barely understood extent to which it has handed over the running of our country and the making of our laws to that vast and mysterious new system of government centred on Brussels and Strasbourg. Nothing better exemplified how our politicians are caught by this system, like flies in a spider’s web, than the shifty means whereby each of the three main parties weaselled its way out of keeping the manifesto promises of the last election that it would give us a referendum on the EU constitution, otherwise known as the Lisbon “reform treaty”. Here was another great surrender of Parliament’s power to decide how our country is run, and the MPs of all parties were not only happy to agree to it, but treated us all with contempt as they lied about it.
As I have often observed before, one of the consequences of this abdication of their responsibilities by our politicians has been the way in which vast tranches of policy-making which used to be the stuff of debate have simply passed into a limbo, where they are no longer properly discussed or even explained. Farming and the countryside, the fate of our fishing industry, our immigration rules, our laws on employment and how businesses are run, on the environment, on food safety, the regulating of our financial services, including the operations of the City of London – the key decisions in all these areas, and many more, have been handed over to a form of government which is unconcerned with our national interests and almost wholly unaccountable, with consequences which in almost every case have proved disastrous for Britain.
Yet on all these hugely important issues our political class remains virtually silent, because it no longer has any power to decide what happens. All our political nonentities are left to bicker over at election time is that ever shrinking area of policy-making still under our national control: schools and hospitals, crime… that’s about it.
Few issues have given rise to more bafflement and grief since the last election than the utter shambles we have made of our once efficient system for disposing of our rubbish. Yet because this is essentially driven by the EU’s landfill directive, the political class prattle about “recycling”, which is largely a cynical farce, and mutter about “bin taxes”, but otherwise have stepped aside from a process they scarcely understand. We are left having to put up with a mess which is soon going to cost us hundreds of millions of pounds a year, for failing to meet EU targets far more damaging to us than to any other country in Europe.
A final huge shadow which will barely be discussed at this election, because the main parties are all but unanimous on it, is the way our politics has become permeated by everything which can be related to global warming, from soaring taxes to the propaganda dished out in our schools, from the wishful thinking that we can spend £100 billion on building thousands more useless wind turbines, to the disastrous distortion of our national energy policy by the “green” obsessions of both the EU and our own political class, which threaten within a few years to turn Britain’s lights out. (Although next week I hope to reveal an unexpected way in which this might be averted.)
This flight from reality was never better exemplified than by the 2008 Climate Change Act, committing Britain, uniquely in the world, to reducing its carbon emissions by more than four fifths. Even the Government admits that this will cost us up to £18 billion every year for four decades, making it by far the most costly law in our history. Though its target could only be met by virtually closing down our economy, such is the bubble of unreality in which our political class lives that our MPs voted for this insane law almost unanimously, without having any idea of its practical implications.
By the time of the next election the scale of the disaster which has befallen us will be apparent. This election, meanwhile, is little more than a painfully empty charade – while our national debt continues to increase by half a billion pounds a day.