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The “Hobbits” can’t go on calling the shots

Tolkien’s vision of England in Lord of the Rings

Britain is “nowhere near as rich as it thinks it is”, says Adrian Wooldridge in Bloomberg. Real incomes haven’t increased for 15 years; the average UK household is 20% poorer than its neighbours in northwestern Europe. “On current trends, the average Polish family will be richer than the average British family by the end of the decade.” But members of the ruling class, who “float through life in a bubble of affluence”, can’t see the problem clearly. They tend to live in the South East, where most of the country’s wealth is concentrated, and are educated and employed by a “handful” of world-class British universities and companies.

The problem is that the UK’s economic growth has stalled. Brexit has played a part, reducing investment by 25% in the five years to 2021, according to the Bank of England, and distracting politicians “from the mundane work of fixing day-to-day economic problems”. The “noisy merry-go-round” of prime ministers in recent years hasn’t helped either, while the Tory Party increasingly relies on an “anti-growth coalition” of older homeowners. These voters are more like “Hobbits comfortable in their sandy burrows” than Margaret Thatcher’s “self-reliant entrepreneurs”, and routinely oppose the building of new houses and infrastructure that might spoil their views. We know how to get UK growth going – ease planning laws, upgrade vital infrastructure and “loosen the dead hand” of the penny-pinching Treasury. The problem is getting political support. Given that Labour relies on poorer, younger voters who have little stake in the status quo, it may be a future Keir Starmer government that has the best chance of “unblocking the system”.