Charles Dickens wrote of the French Revolution, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...”
The same can be said of many periods of history, perhaps all. Trials and tribulations are constants in life, and there is no avoiding them even in times of general prosperity. There are also individuals who prosper even in times of adversity. Those who are suffering like to complain about it and to hear others complaining – because if everyone is suffering, it implies it is not their fault. Those who are prospering tend, if they are wise, to keep quiet.
So Harold Macmillan, then the Prime Minister of the UK, was criticised in 1957 for saying, “Let us be frank about it: most of our people have never had it so good”.
That was in fact an accurate statement as far as most Britons were concerned in 1957, but the minority to whom it did not apply objected to being told they were better off when they were not.
It was therefore unwise of Lord Young, Britain’s “enterprise czar”, to use almost exactly the same words on Friday, even if they were technically accurate: most are benefitting from increasing GDP per head. It was even more unwise to speak of “this so-called recession”, despite the fact that the UK is indeed officially out of recession.
People prefer politicians who “feel their pain” to those who actually tell the truth.
The truth is that the global economy is still on the edge of a volcano but seems at least to be recovering from the last eruption. Interest rates are low, which is not in itself a sign of economic health, but which is indeed good news for businesses with large borrowings ... and home owners with large mortgages. That was the point Lord Young was making.
The fact that was the truth was not enough to save him and his “resignation” soon followed.
Lord Young is only the second incumbent – and is the second to alienate people by his insensitivity. His predecessor, Lord Sugar, made an even worse impression, but it was almost impossible to get fired for incompetence under the previous government. This government, by contrast, may be too eager.
We are generally sceptical about these so-called czars, however we did give a cautious welcome to Lord Young’s appointment. Our dilemma is that czars are at best ineffective, yet someone needs to tell our clueless leaders how to help business pull us out of our economic woes.
We had hoped Lord Young would be the man. After all, he was appointed to be “brutally honest” – it seems he was fired as soon as he started being so.
A personal tragedy for Young is a greater tragedy for Britain. No one in government is either able or willing to hear what needs to be done.