But the leader of the Liberal Democrats told a meeting of the American Chamber of Commerce in London that action was still required to improve market efficiency, the effectiveness of capital, and workforce motivation.
In a wide-ranging speech, which included criticism of a 'dreadful' bank service and the scope for a 5p cut in income tax that would come from full taxation of company car benefits, he said: 'The last 13 years have not been without value.' The Tories could claim improvement in some of the terms of trade, the trade unions had been reformed, some internal markets had been liberalised, and enterprise had been encouraged.
But he added: 'The question that really matters for Britain is not where we are, measured against where we were, but how well are we doing, measured against the performance of our competitors?' The answer to that, he said, was'rather depressing'.
The recession had been longer and deeper than that suffered by competitors, investment had fallen again, wage increases were an intractable problem, and manufacturing continued to decline.
Mr Ashdown said he was not asking for a macro-economic kick- start. 'For years, politicians have tried to stimulate increased economic growth by pulling the lever and pushing the buttons. They should kick the habit.' John Major and the Chancellor were right to reject unilateral devaluation; 'the nuclear option' that no one dared use.
But he urged action to promote competition in the capital and labour markets, and he called for a break-up of monopolistic utilities such as BT.
He also said that while the Citizen's Charter had attempted reform of public services, little had been said about consumer choice and accountability through decentralised government.Reuse content