Tel. +44 (0)20 7287 4414
Tel. +44 (0)20 7287 4414
The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.
The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.

Bruges Group Blog

Spearheading the intellectual battle against the EU. And for new thinking in international affairs.

Autumn Statement: Think big or enter the great darkness


So this is what it's like with the grown-ups are in charge. After some £55 billion in tax rises and spending cuts, the Trussian mission for reformation of the state is most definitely over and the entrenched consensus, for now, has won the day and forced the hand of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Jeremy Hunt.

The common conclusion, is, that it's one of managed decline. A reduced threshold on the top rate of tax, taxes on EVs, a new 45% levy on electricity generators: the list goes on. There's no doubt the need to balance crucially bruised books; every economy has to handle this and it isn't pleasant for anyone, anywhere. With the decision to hike taxes and cut public spending round the corner, the government has sent the clearest message that it's turned the page on the Truss era.

When the demand for investment at home couldn't be greater, taxes are raised; when the need to wean off foreign gas exporters couldn't be greater, energy companies are facing a tax hike. When the need for greater supply-side reforms instead of reliance on FDI became more apparent, both were shunted and ignored. The rhetoric of austerity, some said, but is it something worse? Is it the necessary medicine and pain that will take Britain into the sunlit uplands? Will, perhaps, the Chancellor's wish for 'Scandinavian quality alongside Singaporean efficiency' be miraculously met?

Going by the OBR's numbers, not for now. A 1.4% reduction in GDP in 2023 and sluggish growth into 2027, and a 3.3% decline in real household disposable income in 2023. 'Difficult decisions' is easy to say when ducking for cover, despite the fact they're not 'consequence-free' decisions – but 'effective decisions? We're not so sure. We needed growth and this medicine seems headed for stagnation without a promise for change. We welcome the promise to cut waste in vital sectors of our public services, particularly for the NHS – but no promise for a radically imagined alternative or solid proposals to do so. A war in Ukraine driving energy prices up, but almost surrendering the issue and its effects on the United Kingdom's domestic economy, with no proposed solution in sight. The decision-makers can dream as they wish, but the cake ain't coming, and these circles need to be squared.

We welcome the government's reaffirmation of making the most of post-Brexit opportunities and the need for supply-side reform which, while there is little substantive action in this Statement, we hope to see implemented.

This supposedly-necessary pain inflicted in the name of sensible government, pursuant to an orthodoxy of managed decline. The only G7 country with an output not recovered to pre-pandemic levels, one notes the need to pursue radical solutions to curb this frightening decline, notably:

  • A National Employment Plan to get post-Covid benefits claimants, particularly those left unemployed by the pandemic, back into employment.
  • Housing and Planning Reform to expand affordable housing and reduce the burgeoning cost of living for residents, particularly the young, especially in brownfield sites – as per Rishi Sunak's summer leadership campaign promises.
  • A sovereign wealth fund, distinct from Labour's promised 'Wealth Fund', in that it'd be designed to offset the need for public sector borrowing and expand the UK's influence worldwide.
  • Energy Supply Reform from the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, to review means of domestic energy production: the government's position on Sizewell C

These core policies could provide home-made solutions to Britain's woes and buckle the attempts by the very real and very loud 'anti-growth coalition', and the Tories may be well on their way to implementing them. People did not disapprove of Liz Truss only to give the thumbs up to austerity and high taxes. With the promised land not in sight, the old, now further empowered orthodoxies could take us to a new iteration of a Great Darkness.

The Great Darkness, or 'La Grande Noirceur' was a period in the history of the Canadian province of Quebec marked by the social conservatism and corruption of then-Premier Maurice Le Noblet Duplessis and his conservative Union Nationale government. His government took a pro-patronage, anti-trade union, and anti-communist line, with a tinge of anti-British soft nationalism added to the mix. Of course, the story is much longer than that, but its effect on conservatism of any sort remained. In Quebec, Conservatives haven't been able to run the government to the same extent they did under M. Duplessis (his two successors as Party Leader and Premier never scored the majorities he did), with a succession of mostly Liberal and ardently socialist nationalists in power, perhaps until some 4 years ago when the current Quebec conservative government's reign began. In other words, the myth had taken its effect, and its impact, and that of the policies that professed to undo this 'Great Darkness', best known as the 'Quiet Revolution', put the province on a very different path to the one the conservatives had imagined.

This idea of a 'Great Darkness', of course, was the culmination of several myths by the conservatives' then-opponents about the way Quebec was run and of course, the issues Britain faces are a very different kind of great darkness. The government cannot be one who has run out of ideas, and it cannot become one whose legacy is determined by its opponents, because that will become its true undoing. The prediction from the Economist, that 'austerity may also provide the closing credits' for the government is a haunting one – much of the commentariat have decided who has lost this election. If the government chooses to prove them right, they will unleash a very different kind of 'Quiet Revolution' from the one in Quebec, and it may not be so quiet at all. The Great Darkness can be stopped, and the road to further decline and pain can be curbed, and it starts with the vision to reform what's broken in Britain – from energy supply to housing.

Making tough decisions and acknowledging a tough landscape is necessary, but with no proactive solutions, an acceptance of fate will prove destructive. We hope the need for reform which was noted by the Prime Minister upon taking office is not forgotten. 

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Director : Robert Oulds
Tel: 020 7287 4414
Chairman: Barry Legg
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The Rt Hon. the Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven LG, OM, FRS 
Vice-President : The Rt Hon. the Lord Lamont of Lerwick,
Chairman: Barry Legg
Director : Robert Oulds MA, FRSA
Washington D.C. Representative : John O'Sullivan CBE
Founder Chairman : Lord Harris of High Cross
Head of Media: Jack Soames