Theresa May has finally announced her resignation. How can we capture the flavour of her tenure in office?
This can be found in the dry and measured content of the Economic and Fiscal Outlook from the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR).
The OBR stated in its latest publication in March 2019 that: “the tax receipts-to-GDP ratio ends the forecast in 2023-24 slightly higher than its 2018-19 level”.
Of course, this is a forecast, and all the usual caveats need to be attached. But, remarkably, it was the intention of a Conservative government for taxation to be higher in five years’ time than it is now.
Already, taxes are high. Taxes as a percentage of GDP in 2018/19 were higher than at any time since 1979, the first year with Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister.
Gordon Brown effectively ran economic policy from 1997 until 2010. Even at the time, he was satirically referred to as the Great Helmsman, a name bestowed upon leaders of centrally-planned economies such as Joseph Stalin.
Brown could not resist detailed meddling of the most microscopic variety, exactly as if he were in charge of a Five Year Plan in the old Soviet Union. But during his long reign, taxes as a percentage of GDP remained lower than they are now.
And it’s not just taxes but regulation too where the government under May is behaving in a decidedly un-Conservative manner.
Despite what the Tories like to say, the culture of interference seems to have got even worse under May.
A rather minor issue symbolises the mentality of the May regime. This is the Cats’ Bill, a private member’s bill sponsored by Rehman Chishti, Tory MP for Gillingham and Rainham. Michael Gove has described the bill as an “inspiration”.
There is undoubtedly a problem with cats being hit by motor vehicles. Campaigners estimate that 250,000 are either killed or injured every year in this way. These incidents create a great deal of stress and unhappiness for the owners. It would obviously be good if the number could be reduced.
The bill would force owners to microchip their cats so that they could be identified. This seems reasonable. But Chishti proposes that a motorist hitting a cat should be required not just to stop, but to report the incident to a vet, on pain of a fine of up to £20,000.
The bill is brought in with the very best of intentions. But it will simply create another regulated industry.
Vets will demand that the motorist pay a fee for their effort in making a record of the accident – even better, that they get a special subsidy from the taxpayer.
Civil servants will be recruited to check that the vets’ forms are correctly filled in. There will be demands for new regulations on vets to ensure that they are trained to comply with the new law, and a way to enforce these rules for drivers.
None of this seems to have occurred to Chishti. For him, a problem exists, and the way you solve it is by state intervention.
Another way, of course, is for owners to take more personal responsibility for their cats, but that doesn’t seem to occur to politicians.
From cats to taxes, May essentially created a social democratic government, not a Conservative one.
As published in City AM Wednesday 29th May 2019