Jesse Norman gained Hereford and South Herefordshire at the general election from the Liberal Democrats and began his maiden speech last night by comparing the state of the economy bequeathed by Labour to the situation he witnessed in eastern Europe around the time of the fall of communism:
“I was in eastern Europe at a time when civil society was the subject of constant political oppression. Economic activity was shackled by commissars and petty regulation, and industry was funded by an open chequebook from Government. The result was colossal debt and economic stagnation.“
He went on to call for a ”new economics in our Government” where people are seen as “bundles of human capability”:
“The idea of revolution is never dear to a conservative, but even Edmund Burke would agree that we need a revolution in how we think about economics in Government. Over the past two decades the British Government have become steeped in a 1970s textbook caricature—a view in which markets are always efficient, prices reflect perfect information, and institutions are nowhere to be found. One would be tempted to call such a view neo-liberal, were we not in a time of coalition government.
“Worse than that, the deep assumption remains that human beings are purely economic, rather than social, animals. This dismal gospel regards the human world as static, not dynamic—as a world of fixed social engineering, not one of creation, discovery and competition. In policy terms, this textbook economics takes power away from local people. It encourages centralisation and top-down meddling. It pushes us towards an inefficient, inhumane and factory-style view of public services. It is absurdly risk averse. In its apparent inevitability, it stifles public debate about other, more thoughtful approaches. Above all, it actively undermines the ideas of public service, public vocation and public duty—ideas which, I know, lie close to the heart of every Member of this House.
“Now is the moment to re-examine these assumptions. Politics is not a subset of economics, and economics is not a subset of the financial sector. GDP growth is important—goodness knows that is true now—but so are flexibility, resilience and, above all, entrepreneurship in our economy. We need a new economics in our Government, not the desiccated economic atomism of the old textbooks, and we need to see people for what they really are, as bundles of human capability, creative, dynamic and fizzing with imagination and potential.
“If we do this, and only if we do this, we can revive our economy on a huge billow of human energy, one that is barely conceivable within our current conventional economic models, and we can help to restore the trust and the mutual respect that our society so badly requires. It was that great—and rather conservative—economist, John Maynard Keynes, who once warned politicians not to be the slaves of some defunct economist. So let us all cry freedom and move on.”