Thursday, June 13, 2024
HomeEntertainment NewsALEX BRUMMER: Vision for the UK's future missing during General Election campaign

ALEX BRUMMER: Vision for the UK’s future missing during General Election campaign

At a time of fiscal constraints and fractured public services, it is no great surprise that taxation has emerged as the overriding issue of the General Election campaign.

Whether or not Rishi Sunak was correct to hammer away at Labour’s alleged £2,000 tax bombshell, he thrust the issue to the top of the election debate.

It is clear that Labour’s vow not to increase personal taxation on working Britons by adding to income tax, national insurance or VAT, is meaningless.

Head-to-head: Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer are failing to introduce any inspiration or optimism about the country’s future into the General Election campaign

There are no shortage of other levies, such as capping pension funds, raising capital gains and closing loopholes – including those around VAT – which would help close a black hole. 

That is, if there is one. There is a case to be made that the public finances are not the basket case that has become conventional wisdom, and there could be room to stretch them further.

The most frustrating aspect of all this is the pettifogging nature of the debate, much loved by BBC Verify but no one else.

Missing in action, so far, is any inspiration or optimism about the country’s future.

 There is a notable absence of the memorable phrase in the tradition of Harold Wilson’s ‘white heat of technology,’ Ronald Reagan’s ‘shining city on the hill’ and Tony Blair’s ‘a new dawn has broken.’

Or, as Boris Johnson observed: ‘The doubters, the doomsters, the gloomsters – they are going to get it wrong again.’

So far the only significant person to raise their eyes above the parapet, without tumbling down a fiscal rabbit hole, is Aviva chief executive Amanda Blanc. In an opinion article in the FT, the insurance boss demonstrates vision.

Letter: Aviva boss Amanda Blanc has written an opinion article in the FT

Letter: Aviva boss Amanda Blanc has written an opinion article in the FT

She reaches well beyond the vacuous letter signed by a second division of business chiefs in support of Rachel Reeves.

Blanc argues for certainty on ‘infrastructure.’ It has long been my view that Rishi Sunak’s worst moment (and there have been several bad ones, including his early exit from D-day commemorations) was his decision during the 2023 party conference to axe HS2.

With the right management, and willpower, the north-bound high speed rail link was the real answer to levelling up.

One only need look at the £10billion or so of new investment heading into, or around, Birmingham to know how transforming HS2 can be.

The Aviva chief also recognises something of which Reeves, Starmer and Angela Rayner seem to be blissfully unaware.

Even if they were successful in smashing through existing planning rules and overcoming ‘nimbyism’, they would hit obstacles.

Local authorities are generally fine at picking up the rubbish (the ousted Green council in Brighton was the exception) but have none of the brilliant planning and design skills to get the job done.

Her third suggestion is the creation of matchmaking skills which marshal investment funds into great projects.

It is possible that Labour’s Great British Energy could fill this gap around net zero projects. One fears a costly boondoggle by politicians who are ignorant of what business needs.

The focus on what is wrong – from potholes to NHS queues – has left no space for what is right, such as science, technology, creative industries and business services. Missing in action is what the late George H W Bush famously called ‘the vision thing’.

Lynch squad

I admit to being among the commentators who failed to defend Autonomy boss Mike Lynch when he was extradited to the US, in spite of questions about the treaty which led to his Californian trial.

My thinking was that the Americans take financial justice more seriously than we do in the UK.

If, as alleged, Lynch had fiddled the figures before the £11bn sale of his company to Hewlett Packard, there was more chance of him paying the price across the Atlantic than here. Unvarnished capitalism demands tougher enforcement.

No one can give Lynch back the dozen years or so he was bogged down in a legal quagmire. But it is terrific that American justice, in the shape of a jury trial, came through to save the Autonomy founder.

As a genuine tech pioneer, he can now hold his head high again.

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