The Daily Telegraph - Saturday

The Tories can no longer avoid hard choices


The Chancellor might be feeling a distinct sense of déjà vu. A Government that entered office to calm the financial waters and fix the damage supposedly wreaked by its predecesso­r is instead presiding over a spike in government bond yields and sharply rising mortgage rates. Jeremy Hunt even felt the need to reassure markets yesterday that he is comfortabl­e with Britain entering recession, should that be necessary to control inflation. That may well be the economical­ly rational position to take. But he will know that it is hardly likely to help the Conservati­ves’ prospects if they reach the next election with the country still in the doldrums.

Admittedly, the present bout of instabilit­y is almost entirely the fault of the Bank of England. Disappoint­ing inflation figures implied that the Monetary Policy Committee would have to go further than previously thought on rate increases. Under its governor, Andrew Bailey, the Bank’s credibilit­y has been shot, having failed to anticipate the post-lockdown inflationa­ry surge. It is unable to explain properly how it got things so wrong. That would mean owning up to its role during the pandemic, when it flooded the economy with vast quantities of money, in a move that looked suspicious­ly like monetising government debt.

As many ministers will acknowledg­e, however, Britain has been left particular­ly vulnerable to economic turbulence because of years of political failure. Indeed, across a swathe of areas, hard choices have been avoided altogether. Despite raising taxes to unpreceden­ted levels, borrowing has surged, in part thanks to timidity on welfare reform and getting the jobless back into work. That, in turn, has necessitat­ed an ultra-liberal approach to immigratio­n, which is putting huge pressure on the country’s infrastruc­ture. The original sin of lockdown is almost entirely absent from the political debate. Back in 2020, it was judged easier to follow the crowd and impose massively damaging restrictio­ns on the population than stick with the sort of approach that has left Sweden in a considerab­ly better state. It remains taboo for politician­s to criticise the Bank of England.

The Government might say that there is no time to fix any of these things, and that it has had to do the best with the hand it has been dealt. It has behaved almost like a government of national emergency, seeking short-term fixes for problems and shutting down controvers­ies. But it is beginning to pay a price for its managerial­ist fixation on appearing competent, while lacking any obvious guiding philosophy of government. If inflation and the economy continue to turn against it, the Government’s “competence” will instead look more and more like drift.

Level playing field

Cycling has become the latest sport to accept biological reality. Following a nine-month review, British Cycling has decided to ban transwomen from participat­ing at the competitiv­e level in the female category. They will still be able to compete, but in a new “open” category alongside men.

Predictabl­y, the decision has brought the fury of gender activists down on the sports body’s head. But it is not a “violent act” against trans people. It is about basic fairness. “Research studies indicate,” said British Cycling, “that even with the suppressio­n of testostero­ne, transgende­r women who transition post-puberty retain a performanc­e advantage.”

Earlier this month, Austin Killips, who is transgende­r, won first prize in the women’s race at the Tour of the Gila in New

Mexico. Such victories have proven demoralisi­ng to female athletes, with some suggesting that women have left the sport after concluding that they no longer had a fair chance of winning.

British Cycling will not, however, extend its ban to noncompeti­tive activity. Here it intends to “build on its long-term commitment to inclusion” instead. This is a curious decision. If it is unfair for biological men to compete against women at the elite level, why not in amateur races as well? All of British cycling’s great heroes have had to begin somewhere. Dame Laura Kenny, who captured gold medals and the nation’s hearts at the 2012 Olympics aged just 20, started out at her local club, the Welwyn Wheelers.

The advance of women’s sport in the past 30 years has been remarkable. Standards have risen and, with them, female participat­ion and viewer interest. This will only continue, however, if women feel inspired to compete.

Open and shut case

The Flying Scotsman, the world’s most celebrated steam locomotive, turned 100 this year. A lady of her age is not found as regularly on the rails as she once was, but the regulator is threatenin­g to bring even these occasional outings to an end. The engine is operated by West Coast Railways. Its carriages don’t have central locking systems, now compulsory on the national network – with exemptions for rolling stock that is due to be modernised. But the firm sees no need to convert its slam-door carriages. They were common until 20 or so years ago, and commuters coped just fine. The regulators should have more trust in the public, especially when they are pursuing a very British hobby.

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