In 1957, the then Prime Minister Harold MacMillan didn’t actually ever say ‘you’ve never had it so good’. That’s how he’s quoted now, but as is often the case, this was the work of a headline writer in the following day’s newspapers. Some anonymous sub-editor made this one of the most famous political utterances of the 20th-century.
What MacMillan actually said was
“Go around the country, go to the industrial towns, go to the farms and you will see a state of prosperity such as we have never had in my lifetime – nor indeed in the history of this country. Indeed let us be frank about it – most of our people have never had it so good.”
The thing about that is, in 1957, it wasn’t exactly untrue. A post-war economic boom had seen dramatic rises in the standard of living in the UK. Despite rationing, the war was over, the country was building new homes, and modernising bombed-out cities. Industry was increasing production of steel, coal, and new affordable cars, which in turn drove up wages, exports and commercial investment in the UK.
That was 1957. This is 2010. We’re not in a post-war economic boom, we’re in a post-recession economic dip of massive proportions. We’re not looking at a rise in the standard of living in the UK. We’re staring into the abyss of the biggest spending cuts since the great depression. We’re looking at a drop in the standard of living for a huge number of people in the UK.
So that would make it a particularly stupid time for a politician to try to re-invent one of the most famous misquotes of all time. And yet, that’s exactly what Lord Young, Baron of Graffham, did when he said
” For the vast majority of people in the country today, they have never had it so good ever since this recession – this so-called recession – started… If you actually look at the cuts after four years we will be back with Government spend(ing) the same as it was in ‘07. Now, I don’t remember in ‘07 being short of money or the Government being short of money..So, you know, I have a feeling and a hope that when this goes through, people will wonder what all the fuss was about.”
Saying that makes Lord Young, who I told you yesterday had just won Peer of the year at the Spectator Parliamentary Awards, seem callous and unaware of what’s happening in the real world. That would be fine if he was just any 78-year-old retired person. However Lord Young isn’t retired. He’s not even just a member of the House of Lords. He’s David Cameron’s enterprise adviser. If he thinks the country has never had it so good, I’m worried for the advice the PM is receiving.
Young has now apologised David Cameron admitting he had been ‘insensitive and inaccurate’. However, anybody following the story will be well aware that he has issued that statement because Conservative Central Office told him to, not because he believes it is true.
This is damage control to hide the belief of the Tories that all is well and return to the message – appearing increasingly false – that the cuts are ‘harsh but necessary’. That one of Cameron’s advisers could say such a thing tends to show a disregard for the people who will suffer because of the cuts beginning to bite now. These cuts are more about ideology than they are about necessity, and as the public come to see that more and more, so Cameron will find it increasingly difficult to carry the country with him.
Lord Young has shown the true feelings of the Tories, Team Cameron and a number of the Liberal Democrats. He didn’t mis-speak, he didn’t believe he was being insensitive or inaccurate. He was saying what he thought to be true. And what the Tories believe to be true.
** Update – 12:13pm – Lord Young has now resigned his post as an adviser **