British ‘loafers’: How a 2012 attack on the UK’s work ethic could haunt Liz Truss | Liz Truss

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IIn an awkward moment during the first televised Conservative leadership debate, Liz Truss was questioned about a passage from the book Britannia Unchained, which she co-wrote in 2012 when she was a new back-to-back MP -ban seeking to make his mark as a next-generation Thatcherite.

The passage in question is infamous, as it reads: “Once they enter the workplace, the British are among the worst idlers in the world. We work some of the lowest hours, we retire early and our productivity is low. While Indian children aspire to be doctors or businessmen, the British are more interested in football and pop music.

Siding with British workers has long been safe Conservative territory. To assert that such people do not exist was a risky proposition.

The passage, leaked by an avid publicist before the book was fully published, has earned the authors – Truss, Dominic Raab, Kwasi Kwarteng, Priti Patel and Chris Skidmore – the kind of attention ambitious backbench MPs crave, even if the book’s broader ideas of a shrinking state, national decline and enterprise are lost in the attack on the British people’s laziness and penchant for superficial cultural waste.

The book received further publicity when four of the authors received large portfolios in Boris Johnson’s first cabinet, suggesting it showed the ideological framework of his administration. The unlucky Skidmore was cast in the role of the fifth Beatle becoming only Minister of State.

But the mixture of contempt and near-contempt for the British character implicit in the fragment clearly pissed Truss off. Asked about it during the debate, Truss said she did not write the offending chapter, gently accusing Raab, a Rishi Sunak supporter, instead.

Sunak said he recalled the authors of the book taking collective responsibility for its contents, a reasonable point given how the five were consciously offering their ideas at the time as a decisive alternative to the mushy coalition Conservatism offered. by David Cameron in Harness. with Nick Clegg.

They were all members of the Free Enterprise Group, wrote a collective introduction to the book, wrote a more normative second volume, After the Coalition, and came across as offering a cohesive overview of what Great Britain is about. Brittany needed. seek renewal.

Given the one-dimensional nature of the conservative leadership race, conducted entirely within the parameters of the conservative right, many of the ideas in the book will hardly seem controversial. Weakening labor laws, shrinking the size of the state, lower taxes, less dependency on welfare, raising parents’ expectations, more science in schools – these are small changes during the campaign Conservative election. They are hardly the equivalent of floating private health insurance in liberal Democratic circles, which David Laws, a Clegg acolyte, did when he contributed to The Orange Book, an equally controversial if less cohesive work. , published in 2004.

The risk in Britannia Unchained lies not so much in individual policies shocking this current narrow electorate, but rather in your own tone as a whole, shocking in a time when the general public after the pandemic and in a time when fuel prices rage learned to see the state as a source of protection, not oppression.

Written by the cream of the Class of 2010 inhabiting largely wealthy and secure seats in the south of England, the tone may also play less well in the ‘red wall’. MPs with small majorities may turn pale, for example, when they read: “We should stop engaging in irrelevant debates about the division of the pie between industry and services, north and south, women and men. Instead, we should focus on making it easier for companies to recruit companies and lower the tax burden.

The book is littered with calls for ever tougher medicine. “We must stop bailing out the reckless, avoid all risk and reward laziness.” “The fact is, the only successful approach to poor performance turned out to be hard work.” “The average Singaporean works two hours and twenty minutes longer a day than the average Brit.” “There’s no need for a controlled decline, but Britain will only get there if people are willing to take the tougher options.”

The Science Museum is being chastised for trying to make its exhibits relevant. Media studies are anathema. In contrast, Korean students are praised for “directly spending long days at school studying all evening and on weekends.” And that’s all before we get to the chapter on work ethics. The Joy of Living is not that. Under Truss, it will be double counting every day.

Many insights appear to have been gleaned from conversations with “industrious London taxi drivers,” ironically an industry wiped out by Uber, the kind of American tech company praised by the authors.

The other worker held in high esteem is the Polish migrant, but unfortunately their work ethic has also been lost to the UK labor market – thanks to UK state regulation. The possibility that low productivity is related to low capital investment or poor management is not explored. Despite the book’s self-proclaimed optimism, it is relentlessly negative about powerless Britons.

The authors’ refreshing determination to learn from overseas economies – as long as they aren’t European – leads Truss and his fellow authors to gloss over authoritarian states, a subject that now drives him.

“As British politicians, we find it particularly useful to learn from the successes of China and other emerging economies. China’s rise has been accompanied by rigorous educational standards and an intense competitive spirit. The most remarkable aspect of China’s leaders is not their politics, but the fact that so many are engineers. Dubai is praised for its lack of regulation. In the pursuit of prosperity, human rights deserve no mention.

A long chapter praising the optimism of Brazil had not foreseen the advent of Jair Bolsonaro. Russia definitely gets a mention. Israel’s tech startups are praised as if the state has no role. American technology is praised and the dominance of technology in children’s lives is reprimanded, with no connection made.

But the creeds and tracts written a decade ago to attract attention come with these inherent risks. Most politicians’ ideas are ephemeral and quickly pass their expiry date. No problem. The same cannot be said if a book reveals such a nuanced Darwinian attitude, an accusation sometimes made against Truss.

Indeed, it is quite possible that in the next elections, two competing visions of the state will be challenged. Do you want an arm around your shoulder or a kick in the back? If true, Britannia Unchained could prove more of a hindrance and less of a source of release for the Conservative party.

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