That Was The Week That Was

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The BBC TV satire show That Was the Week That Was became one of the most popular TV shows in the early sixties. 

It was a late evening political satire which ruthlessly, but humorously, poked fun at politicians and Britain’s class-ridden society of the time.

It was hugely influential and how we need its sense of humour right now because it is quite a challenge to see the funny side of all that’s gone on this week. 

The BBC show was presented by legendary broadcaster David Frost who I’m sure would have made mincemeat of this week’s quite astonishing political shenanigans, from which no-one emerged smelling sweetly.

At times it was more like a political pantomime although it still seems odd that a Prime Minister with an 80-odd seat majority and popular appeal has been unseated but he was perhaps the architect of his own downfall.

Former PM Harold Wilson is attributed with the phrase, “a week is a long time in politics” and how right he was.

A week ago could we have guessed that over 50 ministers and aides would have resigned, Boris Johnson would have called it a day and the world wondered what we were up to. I suspect not.

One positive aspect is that we’ve seen the return of letter writing as a hobby for disgruntled politicians who’ve found a new way to combine old and new media. Write a letter then post it on Twitter. A hybrid resignation if you like.

So many politicians who kept their feelings about Boris Johnson and his leadership so well hidden that few knew, perhaps not even Boris.

So what’s next? Well an election for a new leader of the Conservative Party will take place in the near future. The only debate is when.

And it’s good to see the country has not quite collapsed. The ministers may have run away, or at least a good proportion of them, but the civil servants have kept things going, remote working or not.

Looking at financial services, most of the key ministers resigned at some point in the week. Many were sad to see long-serving Pensions Minister Guy Opperman quit and stalwart Treasury Chief Secretary Steve Barclay move on too. 

Pensions Ministers in recent years have come and gone quicker than football managers so Mr Opperman, an amateur jockey in his spare time, was a stand out rider. Many pensions expert will have been disappointed to see him go.

For what it’s worth I suspect many, if not most, of the ministers who have resigned will return under a new PM but in the meantime any major changes to financial services policy is on hold.

Boris Johnson’s exit was almost inevitable after losing the support of his ministers, the “herd instinct” as he blamed it, and it will take some time for a new PM to get back on track. It is too early to predict what he or she will do but the country faces so many challenges it is almost impossible to list them all. 

The direction of economic policy, however, is hard to guess, but the Conservatives are committed still to a number of manifesto policies and will be expected to at least try to pursue those.

We know that Mr Johnson and Mr Sunak seemingly had some “fundamental differences”, as Mr Sunak alluded to in his resignation letter. We cannot be certain what these are but we know that there is often tension between Chancellor and PM. Mr Sunak, who seems set to run for PM, will need to make clear what his economic vision is. Just offering higher taxation will not be a vote winner.

Some of the most pressing economic issues for the country will require a good degree of co-operation and agreement and some common sense. It seems almost insensitive to demand more tax relief for well off pension savers, for example, when many of the poorest in our communities will be struggling to heat their homes this winter.

Getting the priorities right will be the first duty for any incoming new Prime Minister and help for the most vulnerable must come first.

 

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