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You’re fired!

Inside Politics – The Policy Exchange newsletter (London), 13 June 2008

If TV programmes reveal anything about a nation’s state of mind, then we should be worried about Britain. There are TV chefs who need to consume two bottles of red wine while preparing a simple pasta dish; property experts who can explain that no budget is ever high enough to fulfil your dreams of a decent home; and then, of course, there are the candidates on The Apprentice.

Promoted by the BBC as the UK’s toughest job interview, it was meant to find a new assistant for Sir Alan Sugar from more than 20,000 applicants. The person who eventually got the job was not only creative about his own education record but also about orthography. He wrote on his CV that “Today’s goals will be different from tommorrows until I finally fulfill my ambtion to be recoingsed (sic).” Regardless of the spelling mistakes, it is a statement so meaningless and dull it could have been solemnly uttered by the Prime Minister. Apart from the winning candidate’s impressive impersonation of a “reverse pterodactyl” his performance was remarkable only for its mediocrity. We have to assume he was hired for being a nice chap.

TV shows are not real life, least of all The Apprentice. But if cheating on your CV combined with contempt for the English language can get you instant fame and a £100k job, we probably have a problem – appearance has become more important than substance.

In a way, this is the story of the British economy. For many years we have been told what a great success it has been. Britain was proud to be at the forefront of the post-modern age, any doubts about its brilliance were brushed aside. Our gigantic trade deficit? But manufacturing was so 19th century! Our growing indebtedness? But that was all invested in property and house prices were rising! Our budget deficit? It will still meet the Golden Rule in the long run!

As we now know, this was all part of a great illusion. This week brought more bad news from the construction industry; the European Commission has begun an investigation into the UK budget deficit; and unemployment figures are up with the Bank of England predicting further economic gloom in the coming years.

In the long run, economic fundamentals cannot be ignored and sound economic policies are more important than short-term illusions of wealth. Politicians who long pretended otherwise only deserve one verdict: “You’re fired!”

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