Simon English: Memo to the Tory party - people need food on the table, not a conservatory

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The Independent Online

Outlook In observing the folk from the Tory party at either work or play, it's often easy to assume they are being satirical. They've plainly got to be mucking around, you think. Imagine if they actually meant what they just said!

Those guys kill me.

Then you realise they aren't kidding, and suddenly you find yourself shuffling your feet and trying to avoid eye contact with a nice chap called Charlie who has read a supply-side book on economics once and is therefore very sure he is right.

He doesn't mean to be so disparaging and ignorant about the realities of most people's lives, but he is, so that's how it comes over.

Yesterday, the Government unveiled its new, big plan for rescuing the moribund economy. Lips were wet in anticipation. There were drum rolls.

And here it comes. The Government is to "consult" – so it may not even happen anyway – on a three-year relaxation of planning rules on extending homes and business premises.

At present you can extend your home by three metres without planning permission, but under the exciting new plans (if approved) you shall be able to extend it by six metres.

Satirical-wise, this is hard to extend by even one metre.

There's been a five-year financial crisis caused or exacerbated by loose bank regulation, which has led to a seemingly terminal recession, a debt and a eurozone crisis. Bankers ran wild; we picked up the bill.

The Conservatives response: if you want to make your house bigger, we shall reduce the paperwork.

Other measures were announced too, in fairness, but they all start from the assumption that the problem with the economy is that wealth creation is stymied by regulation.

The obvious truth is that people aren't doing house extensions because they don't have any money, and are unable or sensibly unwilling to borrow from the bank to pay for something they cannot afford.

In economists' speak it is a demand problem rather than a "supply-side" issue.

If you were serious about helping, if you remotely cared, making big houses in Surrey bigger would be underneath the bottom of the to-do pile.

Here's some words from Morrisons' half-year results statement yesterday explaining just how squeezed its customers are: "In this environment shoppers are changing their behaviour. Those that have discretionary income are electing to pay down debt rather than spend. We are seeing more customers than ever carefully searching for value. They are putting fewer items in their baskets, buying only what is needed and seeking to avoid waste."

Let's read that back: people are so stretched they are eating less food. In more than a few cases, say charities, parents don't eat at all so that the children can at least get some oven chips inside them.

The Government's (partial) response to this is to make it easier to build a conservatory.

The Prime Minister said: "We're determined to cut through the bureaucracy that holds us back. That starts with getting the planners off our backs, getting behind the businesses that have the ambition to expand and meeting the aspirations of families that want to buy or improve a home."

Make it up? We wish we had to.