The Sketch: If the DTI's ministers ate each other, the economy wouldn't notice

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The Independent Online

Five years ago, the Department of Trade and Industry had, for obvious reasons, two ministers for competitiveness. We were fourth in the league table of international competitiveness. Now we have no ministers for competitiveness. We have a minister for efficiency (Stalin had one of those). We have a minister for extending competitive markets (what's his job description?). We have no minister for competitiveness and we are 11th in the league.

It makes you think. If it makes you think wind is caused by trees waving their branches you should apply for a job in the DTI.

This stupid ministry has half a dozen ministers. The man occupying the chair for the moment (and waiting for the music to start again) is Alan Johnson.

He says that every one of his colleagues is essential for the running of the economy. Of course, if they all ate each other this weekend in a cannibal ecstasy the economy wouldn't notice at all.

Who have we got? Frankly I can't tell you. The names escape me. The faces are fleeter still. There's some nervous sounding individual who's in charge of trade with China. He seems to be more for it than against it. But the idea of him helping anyone trade with the East is a remote one.

For instance, the Conservative MP Richard Ottaway pointed out that bad debts were a problem for exporters to China and that the legal system over there isn't up to dealing with it. What was the minister going to do about it? He was going to have lunch with the Chinese ambassador and he'd bring it up. What? The lunch? Please don't be facetious.

Let me give you two dinner table facts about the enormity of globalisation. 1) India is now out-sourcing production to China. 2) A suspension rod that costs £60 in the West Midlands can be made in China and delivered to Hong Kong for £2.50.

These two pieces of information should change the way we think about the world. They are very far beyond the institutional reach of any government. So far beyond it, in fact, that you might as well put an impotent pipsqueak "in charge" of it as he won't do any worse than the most powerful and brilliant administrator.

David Willetts is the new DTI shadow. He complained about the million jobs lost to British manufacturing. The Tories are as far behind this game as the government.

The economy has been doing so well over the past decade because we got rid of our manufacturing early. This is the world our leaders should be preparing us for. What delinquents they are; how well we deserve them.

NB: May I, as sulkily and gracelessly as I can, correct the record? Emily Thornberry's children do not, in fact, go to a private school, as claimed in this column some weeks ago. My spiritual coach has advised me not to go into the matter further.

simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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