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Ian McConnell: This political circus is tiresome



Not to be outdone, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has also waded in, perhaps glad to be getting involved with an issue that does not relate to the terrifying diatribes of now former home secretary Suella Braverman.

And, to top it all, we had a return of David Cameron to front line politics, something that evoked memories of one of the more fanciful plot twists in Dallas.

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Mr Cameron has returned as Foreign Secretary, a role in which he thankfully does not have an economic remit.

However, it is worth remembering he and former chancellor George Osborne made a real pig’s ear of the economy when they were at the helm.

Sadly, of course, this pair’s legacy has been permanent, with the savage austerity programme they kicked off back in 2010 continuing in earnest. This programme, as well as causing enormous damage to society, has weighed grimly on the UK economy for so many years now.

To return to curious analyses, we have of course had to get used in recent years to some quite fantastical views on the UK economy from the Conservatives.

Politicians of all hues, unsurprisingly, seem to like a bit of spin when it comes to economic data and this has probably always been the case.

However, in a UK context, the Tories have in recent years taken things to a whole new level.

It has been most obvious in the Conservative Brexiters’ pathetic attempts to portray a hard departure from the European Union as something that has been good for the economy when the folly has of course proved incredibly damaging on this front, as was inevitable.

We have seen plenty of this nonsense from Mr Sunak, in his current post and when he was chancellor.

And Mr Hunt has seemed willing enough to join in the ruling Tories’ fantasies around their hard exit from the EU, even if this has been in a less zealous way than, for example, former minister for Brexit opportunities Jacob Rees-Mogg. Mr Rees-Mogg’s former Cabinet post has disappeared, which is surely no surprise given the absence of such opportunities.

All of this considered then, it should have come as no shock to anyone at all that Messrs Hunt and Sunak have been attempting in recent days to claim credit for a fall in UK inflation which has precious little to do with them.

Mr Hunt, who became Chancellor last autumn, declared on the X social media platform on November 10: “High inflation is the single greatest barrier to economic growth. The best way to sustainably grow our economy right now is to stick to our plan & knock inflation on the head.”

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He gave this peculiar take on the UK’s predicament after figures from the Office for National Statistics showed the country’s economy stagnated in the third quarter.

And we did not have to wait long for the next instalment.

READ MORE: Ian McConnell: Nauseating behaviour from Tory stunt-pullers

On Wednesday, after ONS data showed annual UK consumer prices index inflation fell from 6.7% in September to 4.6% in October, Mr Hunt took to X to declare: “Beating back inflation has been this Government’s number one priority. It’s now half what it was – down from 10.7% to 4.6%. That’s thanks to deliberate action we’ve taken – being disciplined on spending, helping people into work, and resisting calls for additional borrowing.”

And, from Rishi Sunak’s office, we had this post: “In January, the Prime Minister @RishiSunak made halving inflation one of his top priorities. Today, that’s been achieved – with inflation now at 4.6%.”

Yet there is only one clear thing the Conservatives have done on the inflation front, given it is the Bank of England which has independence in setting UK base rates. Whether the Bank has gone too far in raising UK base rates from a record low of 0.1% in December 2021 to 5.25% is even more up for debate after last week’s inflation figures and the longstanding inevitability of a fall given base-year effects but that is another matter.

The thing the Tories have surely done is exacerbated the UK’s inflation crisis. Brexit sent food prices surging. Sterling’s plunge in the wake of the 2016 Brexit vote and the currency’s continuing weakness have made imports more expensive than they were. And the loss of valuable free movement of people between the UK and European Economic Area has fuelled the labour and skills shortages crisis, putting upward pressure on inflation.

The misery from price rises we have already seen is permanent. Millions of households and many in business are having a tough time, through absolutely no fault of their own.

And consumer prices are still rising at a grim rate.

So the political circus around the inflation numbers is, from a business editor’s perspective, somewhat tiresome and also crucially something that you hope will be seen for what it is, given the importance of governments being accountable for what they have actually done.

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