Bernard Ingham: The heroic struggle to get us back to sound finance

IF its services do not improve, I shall soon be getting more from Barclays Bank in sweeteners than in interest. After my revelations last week about my trials with them, they have credited £100 to my account, making a total of £125 over the past year.

While I would prefer a trouble-free service, I feel somewhat mollified by Barclays, if not by finance houses generally. This brings me to that alarming revelation by the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) that no sooner could the nation be balancing its budget than we face going into the red again in the 2020s because of the cost of an ageing population.

In other words, the Government’s ambition to eliminate the deficit by the next election is heroic. This causes me to wonder what is the point of its legislation to require governments generally to cover their costs.

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After all, the OBR says we have run a budget surplus in only five of the last 40 years and in three of those economic activity was at an unsustainable level – hence our £1.5 trillion debt mountain.

Nobody – apart from Scottish, Welsh and Irish Nationalists and loony Lefties – can argue about it being overdue for governments to stop over-spending. The issue is whether they can.

Well, the Tory and Liberal Democrat coalition delivered only something between a third and a half of its undertaking to eliminate Gordon Brown’s £156bn budget deficit by now.

But then we must recognise that both the last government and this have tended to reach for the skies under David Cameron. He came to office in 2010 determined to return us to the black while improving education, the NHS and national security, reducing benefits to get people off welfare and into work, drastically containing immigration and, of course, cutting carbon emissions.

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The best you can say about his performance is that it is all work in progress, if you ignore immigration and energy policy. Immigrants are still pouring in and the queue to reach these shores lengthens alarmingly. It would be even longer if poor innocents were not being conned by pitiless crooks into paying for the privilege of drowning in the Mediterranean.

And the nation still lacks an energy policy that dare speak its name. It’s all wind and water, with a touch of the sun.

But work in progress or not, Cameron, now driving the nation without Lib Dem brakes, is legislating not merely for a referendum on our relationship with the EU but also for perpetual national financial continence.

You have to admire the chap for his chutzpah. What are his chances of success in containing national expenditure and supercharging growth to create the taxes to help eliminate the deficit?

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In truth he is the only political leader (apart from his de facto deputy, Chancellor George Osborne) who could – with a fair wind and oodles of luck – do it.

I would not give any candidate for the Labour leadership a snowball’s chance in hell. How on earth will they cope with limited cash if the no-deficit rule gets on the Statute Book?

Meanwhile, just think what Cameron is trying to do. It is to cut spending drastically and raise growth without any cross-party support in a nation that regards the NHS and some parts of the welfare state as sacred cows, can’t educate its children adequately in state schools, is deeply split over EU membership and has to cope with – Muslim terrorism apart – a Left fifth column that only riots when the Tories are in power. Beware next Saturday’s grand demo against “austerity” in London.

I reckon that Cameron will qualify as a political genius if we are a solvent, better run and more secure nation in 2020.

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It would help in one way, though it would not fire the economy with consumer spending, if we could get into the saving habit again. But what incentive is there with a seemingly permanent 0.5 per cent interest rate and financial institutions that behave with unspeakable greed towards pensioners?

Of course, Margaret Thatcher will be blamed for this greed. In fact, she would have deplored it as much as she mocked bosses who lavished rewards on themselves (as they still do) while denying the poor bloody infantry.

This is why, though I feel happier with Barclays, I have not finished with financial institutions. David Cameron has to teach them Thatcherite responsibility to their fellow men. They are there to serve, not rook pensioners, of all people.

Hercules and his twelve labours had nowt on Cameron’s task.