- Lawrence Bailey
The simple truth about pie in the sky
We’re all familiar with the phrase “pie in the sky” to describe something as being very unlikely.
What you probably don’t know is that it was coined by Joe Hill, a US labour organiser. Hill was part of the Industrial Workers of the World movement, commonly known as the Wobblies.
In 1911, he wrote a parody of the hymn “In the Sweet Bye and Bye” about broken promises made to working people of better times to come and which ended with the refrain of “You'll get pie in the sky when you die”
Boris Johnson’s newly formed administration has been making its fair share of promises. We’ve so far had half a dozen or more new proposals - none of which are catered for in existing budgets or spending plans.
After a decade of yada-yada about “no money tree” and “living within our means”, ministers are now making oblique references to how low interest rates could help boost the level of government borrowing (currently standing at £1,821 billion).
But what should really set off the alarm bells is the news that chancellor Sajid Javid is looking to ‘simplify’ the tax system. In Whitehall-speak, that means raising revenues by dipping into someone else’s back-pocket .
His recent predecessor Phil Hammond tried a similar tack when he attempted to ‘simplify’ matters by hiking National Insurance payments for three million self-employed workers. The proposal was thrown out by his own backbenchers.
In reality, the only way the government can fund new spending without rejigging tax revenues is to offset the level of existing or future outgoings.
No surprise then a report by the Centre for Social Justice, a nominally ‘independent’ centre-right think tank founded by former tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, is pressing for the state pension age to rise to 75 over the next 16 years.
Such a ‘simple’ move would save the exchequer tens of billions of pounds and help pay for all the marvellous new initiatives – and we’ll all get pie in the sky when we die.
------- Back to the future for Brexit Britain As the prime minister continues his Brexit negotiations, using the same dexterity in which you fix a wristwatch with a cricket bat, you get the impression that the aim is one of deliberately setting out to fail.
However, the problem with turning the UK clock back to1973 is that the EU will stay in the present - and keep all the internal trade advantages built up over the decades. That means that farmers, for example, could have to pay a tariff on stuff exported to the EU for the first time ever.
Some guy took me to task when I mentioned this on social media. He was all for home-grown solutions but a little vague when I then asked about the drug insulin. My reason being that almost the entire UK pharmaceutical supply is imported.
His grasp of the situation can be summed up by his response that “we will learn to do without as we did during the war”, followed by some incoherent reference to “collaborators”. The guy appears to be in his late thirties, by the way.
No-one can dispute that Brexit (in whatever guise) will mean imports getting scarcer. This is turn will see prices go up with demand. It will be a golden opportunity for extensive profiteering at public expense.
Such actions in wartime are considered a crime. In Brexit Britain though, it’s simply government policy.