You might think that it is not asking much of a government to, as the old medical saying goes, “First do no harm.”
But we have a government that is positively pursuing policies that do the exact opposite, they are deliberately harming the British economy. If they just sat on their hands and did nothing for the next 18 months, it would be an improvement on current policies.
Leave aside Brexit, just take one other policy, immigration. The right wingers of the New Conservatives are trying to end visas for care workers. They are doing this simply because it would help to bring down the overall level of immigration.
There is no apparent thought given to how much harm this would do to the sector, how dependent this sector and dozens of others are on immigration, or that the economy is being held back by a lack of workers and a lack of skills.
The headline figure is high, it must be reduced, so the government must just make arbitrary and costly decisions to heap pain on the economy until the number falls.
This is not an economically neutral policy or even inertia, this is positively setting out to damage the economy to hit an arbitrary political target.
The same applies to immigration and education, one of the shining stars of the British economy. Foreign students keep many higher education institutions afloat. They pay huge fees, they spend vast amounts when they live here, they have to speak English, they learn to love the country, they gain British qualifications and take British standards of education back home. But they count as immigrants, so the government is trying to make it harder for them to come here.
They should be welcoming them with open arms, telling universities to fill their boots, offering help to attract as many foreign students as possible, advertising the opportunities available at embassies and consulates around the world. But no, they count as immigrants and so they must be reduced because reducing the headline figure is all that counts.
It would make far more sense to change the way the figures are calculated and only count as immigrants those who don’t go home after three years, which would be a small minority of the current total and exactly the kind of people we should be encouraging to stay anyway.
This government’s policy is not therefore an economically neutral one, let alone one that would help the British economy. It is setting out to damage the economy, for spurious party-political advantage.
If these were the only two instances it would be bad enough, but there are dozens more: haggling rather than getting UK universities straight back into the Horizon programme; not agreeing to abide by EU standards and creating uncertainty and huge cost for British industry; NHS under-investment; the rail network’s pitiful state; the apprenticeship levy; the pathetic under-investment in utilities; or discouraging home building and stopping wind turbines to placate Tory Nimbys in the Shires.
Some would cost money to fix, but many would cost nothing or make money and encourage growth and improve productivity.
But all are being held back by a government that can’t even manage to “First do no harm”.