JEFF PRESTRIDGE: Dear whoever is our PM… it’s time to stop this chaos

JEFF PRESTRIDGE: Dear whoever is our PM… it’s time to stop this chaos – hopefully we will get someone focused on putting economy back on track

Heading for the door: Former PM Liz Truss

What a mess – an utter mess – our fine country now finds itself in. Although I’m not a doomster, I fear our economy will sputter unless our political masters stop squabbling and unite to tackle the immense financial issues impacting households. 

The taming of rampant inflation – yet again above 10 per cent – must be an absolute priority for the next Prime Minister. Double digit inflation is eroding spending power and putting many household finances under extreme pressure. 

The extent of this financial strain was highlighted last week when the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) took time off from its real job (regulating) to inform us that 7.8million people are struggling to pay their bills, an increase of 2.5million on 2020. That is probably an underestimate given the analysis was conducted between February and June (the regulator is always behind the curve). 

Since then, mortgage rates have ratcheted up and the economic backdrop has deteriorated alarmingly, as proved by last month’s 1.4 per cent slump in retail sales. 

Indeed, further upward pressure on mortgage rates is very likely, especially if the Bank of England increases the base rate on the third of next month (as widely expected). 

Higher mortgage rates might come even earlier if the Chancellor Jeremy Hunt is forced to delay his Halloween Budget to allow a new Prime Minister to bed in and vet his plans. Financial markets will not take kindly to procrastination – they will want evidence as quickly as possible that the Government’s finances are back under firm control. 

Besides quelling inflation, there are plenty of other issues the Government should tackle urgently. Surely, it is time it helped resolve the longstanding dispute between National Rail and the unions on pay. It is unacceptable that strikes – three more scheduled for next month – continue without anyone in Government acknowledging the disruption they are causing. 

Although one of Liz Truss’s last acts as Prime Minister was to publish plans to ensure a minimum level of service is maintained when transport workers strike, these won’t help commuters caught in the current stand-off. A solution to the dispute should be found – it is time for political grandstanding on all sides to end. An economy cannot work properly without a fully functioning rail network. 

It’s also crazy that the Government has done little to address the issue of a tight labour market that is inhibiting the ability of many businesses – from farmers to retailers – to operate effectively. Rarely a day goes by without me walking past a shop that closed temporarily because of staff shortages. The future we face is uncertain, that’s for sure. 

Whatever Nicola Sturgeon and Sir Keir Starmer say, now is not the time for a General Election. That would result in yet more upheaval and uncertainty – music to the ears of our increasingly belligerent and aggressive political enemies in Russia and China. 

Hopefully, come this Friday, maybe earlier, we will have a Prime Minister fully focused on putting the economy back on track. A uniting leader who, between now and January 2025, is able to remind the public that a Conservative Government can act in the best economic interests of the country. 

Nothing else will suffice. The alternative is far too scary to contemplate.