The year is 1979, and rubbish bags are piling up in Leicester Square. Lorry drivers are striking leading to queues at fuel pumps, and Brits are panic-buying bread. Prime Minister Jim Callaghan returns to Britain from a conference in Guadeloupe and declares airily that “I don’t think other people in the world would share the view that there is mounting chaos.”
The morning after those fateful words, The Sun ran the headline ‘Crisis? What Crisis?,’ and Callaghan’s career in No.10 was all over bar the counting.
The Conservative government is not quite in the same place as Callaghan’s embattled administration, but the sunlit upland rhetoric of Rishi Sunak’s speech at Conservative Party Conference felt oddly out of place yesterday.
Other than a throwaway reference to supply chain disruption, the speech barely touched on a cost of living crisis which is surely set to be the defining political issue of the next year – nor on the impact of wage growth, inflation, and spiking input costs on Britain’s businesses.
Make no mistake: it’s hard out there.
In one sense, this is all much of a muchness; Tory party conference is a festival of the converted, and Sunak’s political standing will have been improved by his assured performance.
But looking on from outside, businesses will be right to wonder whether Downing Street – both No 10 or No 11 – quite understand how difficult the next year is set to be for British businesses. Long-term vision is fine; but short and medium-term solutions are more pressing. It is not a cause for celebration that UK growth is set to return to plodding trend growth of less than 2 per cent in just a few years.
Rishi Sunak has not made many missteps in his 18 months as the Covid-19 Chancellor.
But if the cheerleader act yesterday blends into complacency tomorrow, he may come to regret his Panglossian optimism.