Debate on the Address

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:34 pm on 20th November 1980.

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Photo of Austin Mitchell Austin Mitchell Opposition Whip (Commons) 6:34 pm, 20th November 1980

In speaking about Her Majesty's most Gracious Speech, we are in a sense talking about an interim agenda for the Government, because the struggle is apparently still going on in the Cabinet. As the struggle is not yet over, we are not aware of the full agenda.

On the Speech so far, the score would appear to be wets, 2; stumblebums, 1. From the accounts that are appearing concerning the struggle going on in the Cabinet, I wonder whether we have government not by the Prime Minister but by Brian Walden. When the sacred text from "Weekend World" has to be trundled into the Cabinet discussion to quote the Prime Minister's promises on pensions against her present intention to cheat the pensioners, one realises that the centre of power is slipping away from the Cabinet Room to a television studio. That is the indication from leaks. Indeed, everything that we learn about the Government seems to come from leaks or written answers. I was hoping that the Prime Minister would make a commitment today not to declare war against any Power and announce it by written answer to the House of Commons at 11 o'clock at night.

We look forward to more written answers and leaks as the Government's inner turmoil comes out drip by drip. So far as I can see from the praising with faint damns that has constituted the speeches of Tory Members in this tumultuous Assembly, there appears to be a re-enactment of the Caine mutiny as, one by one, the mutineers shuffle off and Mrs. Queeg is left alone on the bridge, clicking balls.

All this entertainment, entertaining as it is, is tragic when contrasted with the hopes invested in the Government and the hopes that the Government hold out in the Queen's Speech: The need to bring down the rate of inflation and create conditions for a sustainable growth of output and employment remains the prime concern of my Government. Those hopes are the prime concern of a Government who have decimated output. Industrial output must now be 10 per cent. below the 1973 level, despite an investment of about £26 billion in machinery and equipment in factories since that time. Those are the hopes of a Government who are leading us remorselessly to 3 million unemployed. I see nothing—the palliatives are nothing—to stop that progress towards 3 million unemployed. Those are the hopes of a Government who have doubled inflation and have no hope, for at least another two years, of getting it down to the level at which it stood when they took office and who can fight inflation only by creating a wilderness and calling it stability.

That reality, contrasted with those hopes in the Queen's Speech, is the economics of cloud-cuckoo-land. The whole situation is getting very much like the South Pacific cargo cult about which we used to read. The witch doctors told the people that faith would bring the cargo. They held out promises based on faith. The idea was that if the people would abandon economic activity—whether catching fish or ploughing fields—and observe the diktats of the witch doctors, whether that be building pretend airstrips or whatever the cargo cult dictated, the cargo would come. Of course, when the people do that and the economic activities are abandoned, the cargo does not come and the whole thing collapses into ridicule. We are coming very near to that point as the cargo cult of monetarism collapses around the Government's ears. There can be few Governments in British history who have so sadly deceived the people and irresponsibly rushed into a disaster on this scale with such headstrong folly.

In contrast to what the hon. Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer) said about this being part of a world depression, why should we, the only industrial country in the world that is self-sufficient in oil and has the prospect of breaking out of the straitjacket of a balance of payments constraint that has stopped every attempt at expansion that has been made since the war, be plunged into the deepest depression that we have had since the war? Why are we, with all those prospects, in the worst situation of all industrial countries? The answer lies with Government policies. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe (Mr. Brown) may reply later if he wishes. I hope that he will. I shall be interested to hear his argument in defence of the Government's policies. Indeed, if I remember rightly, the first thing that the hon. Gentleman did when he entered Parliament was to table a motion criticising attempts to provide jobs by the temporary employment subsidy and the short-time working subsidy as camouflaging unemployment. Well, now the hon. Gentleman is trying to camouflage unemployment and is supporting a Queen's Speech that is doing the same thing. I shall be interested to hear his contribution later in the debate.

We find ourselves now up a well-known creek without a paddle. The Government are desperately pretending that the mire into which they have led the country and plunged its people is a beneficial, even enjoyable experience and that good will come from wallowing in it. It is a kind of nostalgie de la boue, I suppose, which affects all Governments but affects none more severely than the present Government, because the mess into which they have led the nation is deeper.

As the Prime Minister read and at times gabbled through her apologia pro catastrophe sua, I thought at times that her main skill must be accounted as the skill of prating—prating to the TUC about the need to hold wages when, for the last few months certainly, the pound has been rising in value faster than earnings have been rising; prating to the CBI about the need to cut Government spending when we all know that if Government spending is cut further the only effect will be to reinforce and to deepen the depression into which this country has been plunged; and prating to the people of the country with her piggy-bank economics, which have produced such a disaster in economic management in Britain.

The Prime Minister is rapidly becoming the original prating mantis. I would say "praying mantis", but when she prates the rest of us have to pray.