Home Money ALEX BRUMMER: Vision is lost during the general election campaign

ALEX BRUMMER: Vision is lost during the general election campaign

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Head to head: Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer fail to introduce any inspiration or optimism about the country's future into the general election campaign.

In a time of fiscal constraints and fractured public services, it is no surprise that taxes have become the overriding issue of the general election campaign.

Whether Rishi Sunak was right or wrong in criticizing Labour’s alleged £2,000 tax bomb, he pushed the issue to the top of the election debate.

It is clear that Labour’s promise not to increase personal taxes on British workers by adding income tax, national insurance or VAT is meaningless.

There is no shortage of other taxes, such as limiting pension funds, increasing capital gains and closing loopholes – including those related to VAT – that would help close a black hole. That is, if there is. It can be argued that public finances are not the basket case that has become conventional wisdom, and there could be room to stretch them further.

The most frustrating aspect of all this is the petty nature of the debate, much appreciated by BBC Verify but no one else.

Head to head: Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer fail to introduce any inspiration or optimism about the country’s future into the general election campaign.

So far, what is missing in action is any inspiration or optimism about the country’s future. There is a notable absence of the memorable phrase in the tradition of Harold Wilson’s “the white heat of technology”, Ronald Reagan’s “shining city on the hill” and Tony Blair’s “a new dawn has dawned”.

Or, as Boris Johnson observed: “The doubters, the pessimists, the pessimists… are going to be wrong again.”

So far the only major person to look above the parapet, without falling into a fiscal rabbit hole, is Aviva chief executive Amanda Blanc. In an op-ed in the Financial Times, the insurance chief demonstrates vision.

It goes far beyond the empty letter signed by a second division of business bosses in support of Rachel Reeves.

Blanc advocates certainty about “infrastructure.” I have long considered Rishi Sunak’s worst moment (and there have been several bad ones, including his early exit from D-Day commemorations) to be his decision during the 2023 party conference to scrap HS2.

With proper management and willpower, the northbound high-speed rail link was the real answer to leveling up.

You only have to look at the £10bn or so of new investment heading to Birmingham or the surrounding area to see how transformative HS2 can be.

The Aviva boss also acknowledges something that Reeves, Starmer and Angela Rayner seem blissfully unaware of.

Even if they managed to overturn existing planning rules and overcome “Nimbyism”, they would encounter obstacles.

Local authorities are generally good at picking up litter (the overthrown Brighton Green Council was the exception), but they don’t have any of the brilliant planning and design skills to get the job done.

His third suggestion is to create matching capabilities that focus investment funds on large projects.

It is possible that Labour’s Great British Energy could fill this gap around net zero projects. There are fears of costly waste by politicians who ignore the needs of companies.

Focusing on what is wrong – from potholes to NHS queues – has left no room for what is right, such as science, technology, creative industries and business services. What is missing in action is what the late George HW Bush called “the question of vision.”

lynch squad

I admit to being among the commentators who did not defend Autonomy boss Mike Lynch when he was extradited to the United States, despite questions about the treaty that led to his trial in California.

My view was that Americans take financial justice more seriously than we do in the UK.

If, as alleged, Lynch had manipulated the figures before the £11bn sale of his company to Hewlett Packard, there was a better chance he would pay the price on the other side of the Atlantic than here. Unadorned capitalism demands stricter enforcement.

No one can repay Lynch for the roughly twelve years he was stuck in a legal quagmire. But it is fantastic that American justice, in the form of a jury trial, managed to save the founder of Autonomy.

As a true technology pioneer, you can now hold your head high again.

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