Opinion

After Jeremy Hunt's clash with James Dyson, I have an idea that could fix the political vacuum

Reinvestment in public services from money generated by those services could help growth, without seeing money trousered by a gilded few

James Dyson leaving 11 Downing Street, 13 Mar 2024. Image: Tayfun Salci/ZUMA Press Wire/Shutterstock

I like the spat between Sir James Dyson and Jeremy Hunt. According to insiders – you know INSIDERS! – the chancellor didn’t take Dyson’s criticism of his economic policy well. The pair met in Downing Street a week or so ago.  

Dyson has been very vocal in support of Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng’s disastrous mini budget. I suppose if you’re a billionaire you’re somewhat insulated from crippling mortgage rises. 

According to a source – you know a SOURCE! – the bagless vacuum king has been so annoyed recently at government fiscal plans, and at corporation tax deadweighting growth, that he has been writing “quite aggressive letters” to the treasury. So Hunt had him in for a meeting. On a sidenote here, if you’re not getting responses to your letters to government, keep going! You never know! 

Anyway, the meeting didn’t go well. According to somebody familiar with the meeting – you know FAMILIAR! – it was “fiery” and ended up with Hunt telling Dyson if he thought he could do a better job of being chancellor, well, why didn’t he bloody go and do that then. Or words to that effect. At this point, in my mind, big Brexiteer Dyson made a catty remark about the hand dryers at No 11 being useless and flounced out. Though there is no evidence for this. 

I quite like Hunt’s impatience. It doesn’t say much for a coherent fiscal policy, but at least shows a human side and one that, in a moment of frustrated clarity, probably illustrates that the chancellor himself realises he has run out of road. 

And maybe Dyson has a point. There isn’t going to be much growth in the engine until you do something to get the engine running. Dyson speaks as believer in entrepreneurship being the solution. There is nothing wrong with entrepreneurship, but eventually that does rather help the entrepreneur, or at least the shareholders he grows to serve, and perhaps not the population as a whole. 

Rachel Reeves, who is looking most likely to move into No 11 after the election, has been saying she is, essentially, going to go for a slow and steady approach. Because, as we all know, voters love politicians who can illustrate they understand the moral of one of Aesop’s Fables. But that doesn’t feel like it’ll cut any mustard, certainly not with the quite aggressive letter writer. 

How about somebody stands up for social democracy. I know it’s a bit out of fashion, something of a commitment to full or close to full employment, honest and fair redistribution of taxes, properly functioning, rather than punitive, welfare state, essential utilities in public ownership for the greater good, proper comprehensive education at a level that works across the board and good and available social homes.  

There are elements of social democracy as a political plan returning. Recently, mayor of West Yorkshire Tracy Brabin and Glasgow City Council announced they would follow the lead of Andy Burnham, Greater Manchester mayor, and look to bring buses back into public control. This is clearly a good thing and preserves essential routes, is better for the environment and helps keep costs down for users.  

The list of recently failed private train companies who had to be bailed out by the public purse is long. Rail provision as a publicly owned utility always plays well in opinion polls. 

Reinvestment in publicly held services from money generated by those services could help growth, without seeing money trousered by a gilded few. 

Alan Bennett once wrote about never having had to tread the “dreary safari from left to right”. At present, with an election looming, the move in the other direction is one that a lot of people will make, but without as much enthusiasm as they might wish to have.  

Imagine if shackles were loosened and a radical, deliverable, plan for social democracy rose up. Quite aggressive letters would just float away. 

Paul McNamee is editor of the Big IssueRead more of his columns here. Follow him on Twitter.

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