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A general election cannot come too soon

Allister Heath
IF only life were this easy. So the markets are saying that the budget deficit is far too high? Simple, you pass a law stating that it must be cut and then abolished over the next few years (when you are no longer in power) &ndash; and then make speeches extolling your own virtues and praising yourself for having tackled the problem so courageously. No need for difficult negotiations or tough decisions: it is the law, so the next government will take care of it. Easy-peasy. <br /><br />George Orwell would have been proud. The nonsense about the budget deficit was contained in Labour&rsquo;s so-called Fiscal Responsibility Bill, a gigantic misnomer if ever there were one from a government that overspent in the good years, repeatedly ignored its own fiscal rules and allowed the public finances to spiral so badly out of control that they now resemble those of one of the more troubled Latin American states. <br /><br />It is hard not to feel sorry for the Queen, whose reading out of Labour&rsquo;s legislative programme yesterday was even more half-hearted than in previous years. Very few, if any, of these proposals will make it to the statue book before the next election; even if they go through proper procedures in the House of Commons, they will surely be held up or defeated in the House of Lords. It was all a waste of time, a mere declaration of intent by a government seeking to create dividing lines with the Tories. The country is now in a destructive state of limbo: we desperately need a programme of revolutionary reforms to tackle all aspects of policy &ndash; the deficit, tax, regulation, education and just about everything else &ndash; yet nothing of any substance will be achieved before the next election. It cannot come too soon.<br /><br /><strong>NOW FOR SOME CHEER<br /></strong>Westminster was grim yesterday; but things in the City were more upbeat, thanks to a couple of excellent appointments. Marc Bolland, who is trading in the top job at Wm Morrison to become CEO of Marks &amp; Spencer, is one of Britain&rsquo;s best retailers and one of the few who might actually be able to turn around M&amp;S. Good on Sir Stuart Rose for managing to entice him over. Bolland should be warned, however: sorting out Morrisons was a massive logistical and managerial undertaking rather than a strategic nightmare, which is what he is facing at M&amp;S. He will also have to pursue an aggressive foreign expansion, unlike at the UK-centric Morrisons. <br /><br />The other great appointment was that of Archie Norman, the former Tory MP and another great retailer, to the chair of ITV. Norman, who sorted out Asda in the early 1990s, was scandalously under-used in politics. He needs to find a new CEO for the firm. It is also time for a bonfire of regulations in broadcasting (and the rest of the media) and Norman, with his familiarity with politics, may actually be able to make some headway. <br /><br />Talking of retailers, I bumped into Andy Hornby, the former CEO of HBOS and now boss of the KKR-owned Alliance Boots, at a party last night. Hornby is the City&rsquo;s greatest survivor: he took full responsibility for HBOS, made sure he stayed with the firm until the Lloyds deal was completed and then turned down a massive pay-off for failure, before disappearing from the limelight. A few months later, he made a spectacular comeback. There is a lot to learn from this: saying sorry can work &ndash; but only if, like Hornby, you actually mean it. <br /><br />allister.heath@cityam.com