9/06/2019

The strange death of Tory economic thinking

"The Home Office, by contrast, hardly thinks economically at all. As Will Davies pointed out early in the PM’s tenure, it’s a department dedicated to keeping good people safe and to keeping bad people in check. It has lots of employees it can get to do things directly, and these employees preside over impressive, solid things like prisons and border posts. It appeals to strong emotions like patriotism, community spirit and fear. It deals with victims and with wrong ’uns. Not for the Home Office the nuances and nudges of the clever, pale young men and women at the Treasury. The Home Office doesn’t do incentives: it Cracks Down, it Tightens Up, it Sends a Strong Message.

A story from the early days of the May premiership brought this home to me. For some reason, a number of senior Downing Street advisers had a discussion about business issues. The discussion turned to issue of late payments to small businesses. The fact that big businesses often pay their invoices late is a perennial issue for the business department, but successive governments have regarded as a hard problem to solve, given the state’s limited ability to intervene in commercial practices. A former Home Office spad now at Number 10 thought about this problem briefly and suggested “couldn’t we make late payment of invoices a criminal offence?” Everyone else was speechless, but that’s the way they roll in the Home Office."