Today we have a fairy story.
Once upon a time David and George worked hard so David could become King. After five years toiling, one day the people acclaimed David as their new King. He put on the crown, and invited his old friend George round for a drink. He wanted to look after his old friend, but he also needed his help.
“I will make you the second most important man in the kingdom, George” he said. “I would like you to be my Treasurer. I need someone I can trust to collect in the taxes and look after all the money we now have.”
“Thank you, Dave” said George. ” I am grateful , but I am also very worried. You see, I have found a note from the outgoing Deputy Treasurer, telling us there is no money left. I am afraid that if I am Treasurer I will become very unpopular. The people will expect me to pay the bills, but I will have to tell them I cannot, as there is no money. ”
David was concerned for his friend, but he needed him to do the job. “Well”, he said ” we always told people we would spend the proceeds of growth. What we have to do is to get plenty of growth and then we will have money again. I will help you”.
George was still worried. Some of the soothsayers, always a pessimnistic bunch, were saying there wasn’t going to be much growth either. “I am not sure they are going to buy that idea” said George hesitantly. “It will also make you less popular as well” he said, more defiantly.
That got David’s attention. “I want you still to be my best friend. I will help you. When I became King they showed me a magic lamp. They told me when I was in trouble I could rub the lamp and a genie will appear. The genie will put in any policy I want quickly, so I can get out of whatever fix I am in. I can use the genie on five occasions in my reign. As we are both going to be in this together, and you are my main adviser, I will let you tell me what to ask the genie for”.
George was much relieved at that thought, and willingly said yes to his friend.
Early on George and David decided things they had inherited were so bad they needed to use the genie to get off to a good start. After discussion David liked George’s idea that they should ask for a low carbon policy to be put in. George knew David liked that sort of thing, and George dreamed of lots of low carbon jobs.
Together they had read the small print on the magic lamp. There were fading printed instructions, well thumbed from past use. It told them they could ask for policies, but could not ask for the wider solutions they wanted. They could not ask the genie to make all the voters happy or rich. They had to ask for things that might bring that about. As the small print said, they could ask for the very difficult but not for the impossible.
They thought this was all very reasonable. Then they saw scribbled at the end a modern addition to the rules. It said they also had to take into account the fact that the genie was just a UK genie. His powers were now subject to limits from more powerful European genies who were no friends of our dynamic duo. They decided not to worry too much about that. They thought the Eurosceptics went on about that type of thing far too much.
A low carbon economy was just the ticket, they thought. It was modern and trendy. The European genies liked it. They summonsed their magic genie. He was charming. Soon the UK was sprouting windmills everywhere. Energy prices went up to put people off creating so much carbon. People had to drive less as petrol was so dear. Carbon dioxide output fell. Far from making George popular, the people did not seem to like their low carbon economy very much. Whilst the green jobs they wanted did come, they found they lost lots of other jobs that needed cheap energy.
George said to Dave that they needed to do something more to make them popular. He said what we need to is promise people that the government will keep their interest rates low. That way people with mortgages will be better off. Companies that need to borrow money will find it’s cheap.
The genie frowned when he heard. “Don’t you know the Bank of England fixes interest rates, and they are said to be independent. I should not be able to do this for you. But it may surprise you to learn that when my last master fixed the Bank he allowed the genie to interfere, so you are lucky. Once again, master, your word is my command.”
And so it proved. For month after month the Bank kept interest rates on the floor. Lucky people with some mortgages paid very little interest. But still the economy did not grow, and still many people were not happy. All the savers – and there are many more of them than mortage holders- were up in arms because they got so little for their savings, and had less money to spend.
So George said to David, “We need to ask the genie to do more. I think we need to ask him to print us some money, so we can spend more on all the things people say they want”. King David was worried about this. “Doesn’t that upset the Bank of England” he asked. “Why haven’t people just printed it before, if is so easy?” George reminded his friend that the last King had printed lots, and nothing bad seemed to have happened- or at least nothing bad because of that. All the bad things that happened happened before he ordered the printing. Reassured, they summonsed the genie.
“Your word is my command, master. Your predecessor made sure he and I had power to instruct for more money printing. Consider it done”
And so it was. The genie had printed £200 billion for the old King. This time he printed £207 billion for the new King. It made it easier to pay all the king’s bills, but still the economy did not grow.
Despairing, our heroes decided they had to summon the genie one more time. It would still leave them the fifth wish for later, if things got worse. This time they said to the genie “We know bankers, journalists and rich people are very unpopular. Do things that show we don’t like them, so we are on the side of everyone else, the decent people”
The genie looked concerned and said ” Once again master, your word is my command. I will do as you say, and can do as you say. I look apprehensive, because wishes are usually best when they are positive and happy. Your wish is negative. Consider it done”
Before they pair could reflect they found themseleves with the Leveson report into the press, with rich companies threatening to move abroad, and rich people hiring better accountants and lawyers to avoid their taxes. or simply working less. None of it seemed to make them more popular.
They had managed to find things for the genie to do that did not clash with the powerful European genies, hoping that they would stay quiet. Unfortunately, the European genies kept appearing, demanding that they did more and more. What could be done about that? Couldn’t they just put all that off for a few more years?
This fairy story is not yet over. I leave it to you, dear readers, to suggest your own finale. Will our duo use their last wish to get it right? What should they ask the genie to do for them now? Will patience bring its reward? Are things better than they look? Will it come right? Or do you want a miserable ending to our magic tale?
(The Bow Group recorded a version when I read the story for them. It will appear soon on You tube.) ( www.youtube.com/watch?v=liQtluB877l)