Home Business The solution to bringing down inflation is a political nightmare for the Tories

The solution to bringing down inflation is a political nightmare for the Tories

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Many Conservatives are looking for a scapegoat, but working out simply where to point the finger may not be enough at the next election, writes deputy political editor Sam Coates.
Deputy political editor
Wednesday 21 June 2023 21:52, UK
People in government tell me they think the governor of the Bank of England is failing in his job, but cannot do anything about it. 
That Andrew Bailey is under pressure is not in doubt.
Today’s 8.7% year-on-year inflation rise is a painfully long way from the governor’s 2% target – meaning tomorrow, the Bank will raise interest rates again.
Core inflation is rising in the UK, but dropping in the US and Germany, making it harder to maintain this is all a global problem.
There is no doubt some Tories are looking for a scapegoat in the face of a looming political nightmare.
Yet it is also true the charge sheet that many cite against Bailey is long: the Bank starting interest rate rises too late, not raising them fast enough, doing too much unnecessary quantitative easing during the pandemic and for too long, and for not being clear enough in his communications.
The anger felt by some Tories towards the governor is palpable.
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Many felt justified at the turn of the year relying on the Bank’s reassurances that inflation would tumble by the end of this year.
But, as the chair of the Treasury Select Committee Harriet Baldwin pointed out in the Commons this week, this hasn’t happened as predicted.
However, Mr Bailey seems untouchable – and not just because of the nominal independence of the Bank of England.
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In reality, this is yet another of the uncomfortable legacies of the Liz Truss era, when the government and Bank of England were at odds, pulling in different directions, meaning the global markets took fright.
As a direct consequence, Rishi Sunak’s government has decided there cannot be any public question about the future of the governor for fear of spooking markets again at a time when debt costs are at recent highs.
With that in mind, some in government were checking recently when Mr Bailey’s term expires, only to discover he is staying in place until 2028.
The unusually lengthy term is another legacy of Tory reforms.
After Gordon Brown nearly refused a second four-year term for Mervin King as governor, George Osborne extended the period to eight years when he appointed Mark Carney.
Now his successors are trapped with a man that some do not want handling the biggest challenge facing government.
For across Whitehall, they are acutely conscious the nightmare inflation is causing – but that the main lever to deal with it, raising interest rates, is not working.
Interest rate rises are meant to increase costs, reducing households capacity to spend and hence, cool the economy.
Yet few are on variable rate mortgages and feel the pain immediately, and many have no mortgage at all.
For those remortgaging this year, it’s often a disaster, and the overlap here with Tory voters is massively politically problematic.
But the bigger problem for government is that not enough people are feeling the squeeze, so curbing spending and thereby cooling the economy. And if the economy keeps overheating, inflation rises and then interest rates will keep going up.
The traditional levers have failed.
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Meanwhile, the cry from Tory backbenchers is for more help for homeowners, perhaps mortgage tax relief or other schemes – or even blanket tax cuts.
In the short-term, however, ministers fear this will stoke the economy and lead to higher inflation, making the problem worse.
The economy seems in a vicious spiral, and many Tories want someone to blame.
Yet, the solution to bring down inflation involves deliberately inflicting economic pain on households in the run up to an election.
Working out simply where to point the finger may not be enough.
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