Economy and Trade and Industry

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:36 pm on 18th November 2002.

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Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt Shadow Spokesperson (Education) 7:36 pm, 18th November 2002

I am delighted to have the opportunity to contribute to what has already been an excellent and interesting debate. It was opened with characteristic ebullience by the Chancellor, but he seemingly has a certain amount about which to be ebullient. It would be a poor commentator on British public affairs who did not recognise that the public perception of the Labour Government and their handling of economic matters are completely different from that of previous Labour Governments. And yet, as in all classical tragedy, there is a moment at which the greatest strength can start to become the greatest weakness. At a moment of apparent control, having weathered the storms of public perception about what a Labour Government could achieve in relation to the economy, those little things that appear, on the horizon, to be no bigger than a man's hand start to take on greater and greater importance.

The Chancellor was well and successfully challenged by my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Howard on some of those issues. Labour Members then listened to my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Clarke in a very different way from the way in which they had listened to their own Chancellor, because my right hon. and learned Friend began to drive home to them that this was a moment of real uncertainty for the British economy, and that all the ebullience in the world will not prevent the Chancellor from missing the problems that will come to dominate the economy.

Those problems will include not noticing that a very difficult public pay dispute that is being massaged towards some sort of a conclusion is being carefully watched by others in the public pay round. They might also include the glossing over of the problem of the very low savings ratio in this country, and not being overly concerned about the steady increase in taxation. At the moment, with all the plaudits ringing in the Chancellor's ears, those things probably seem sufficiently far down the line not to be of concern. They are all, however, matters that will come back to haunt him.