Forgetting the rest of the trick

Bill Keegan, the Observer‘s economics commentator, tells a nice story about how the Labour Leader, Michael Foot, lampooned Sir Keith Joseph, Margaret Thatcher’s policy guru, in the early 1980s. Foot, says Keegan, gave

a virtuoso display in a speech which had both sides of the Commons in stitches. He was referring to Sir Keith Joseph, who had played the role of John the Baptist to Thatcher. Foot was speaking when, as now, the Conservatives were conducting a frontal assault on the fabric of British society. He had long tried to recall, said Foot, of whom the right honourable gentleman (Joseph) reminded him. It had suddenly come to him: in his youth, Foot had gone to the Palace Theatre in Plymouth on Saturday nights, where a “magician-conjuror” used to take a gold watch from a member of the audience, wrap it in a red handkerchief, and smash it “to smithereens”. Then, while the audience sat there in suspense, a puzzled look would come over his countenance, and he would say: “I’m very sorry – I’ve forgotten the rest of the trick.” Foot concluded: “That’s the situation of the government.”

Well, I suspect that is also the position of the present government. Thatcher at least had the excuse of fighting double-digit inflation. This government has invented an excuse – namely that the cuts are required to avoid the treatment that the bond markets have been meting out to Greece, Ireland and Portugal.