Oh Lord, Won’t You Buy Me…

There are a few banker cliches that I grew up with. I’m sure they’re not unique to the banking fraternity, but they were certainly retold at every Conference I attended. Lately, they’ve started reappearing, and I’m not sure how I feel about it.

The first tale told is that the Director driving a BMW is displaying ambition, whereas the Director driving a Mercedes is displaying achievement. As infantile as this is, there are many who give this consideration when purchasing their cars. I’m a BMW guy, SAD!

As I heard this said again recently, I remembered another boast of the Mercedes man. As a young subordinate, I was “privileged” to drive to one of these Conference’s with one of these Directors. Sitting inside the brand new Mercedes E Class was like stepping inside an Apple Store long before the advent of the iPhone.

I must have looked impressed, because the Director told me that if I look at the features of the car (and there were many) that I’d see them in about ten years time on a Ford Mondeo. Technology, much like neoliberal economics, is a trickle down process.

The same can be said for Irish Politics. When Tony Blair swept to power in 1997, he became the first Tory leader of the British Labour Party. He ran on a promise that “things can only get better” and aimed his message at what he identified as “Mondeo Man”. Blair cleverly re-branded this move away from social democratic values to free market economic ones as “New Labour“.

The party replaced promises of delivering equality for the libertarian myth of equality of opportunity. They moved away from the idea of government delivering social justice, to a free market that would improve economic efficiency.

They spoke of hand ups, not hand outs. In essence they Out Toried the Tories. And Mondeo Man loved it. Under the New Tory Labour things did indeed, for a while, get better.

Without rehashing the disaster that became the “free market” financial crisis and the other lingering global aftershocks, we know now that the New Labour “third way” was used to build an economy based on Rent Seekers and very little innovation. Many historians are now pointing to the New Labour phenomenon as the birthplace of the Brexit phenomenon.

Much like the Mercedes features take years to filter down into the less salubrious car manufacturers, so to does political ideology. Particularly here in Ireland. Leo Varadkar has said he is not Right Wing, but had he been born in Britain he’d have been a Tory. Simon Coveney is Fine Gael is royalty.

Both men advocate that the free market will improve economic efficiency and therefore provide equality of opportunity down the line. This is despite all the recent economic data running contrary to this.

The Budget Projections for 2017 said that unemployment would fall to 7%, it’s down to 6.2%. Yet Income Tax is a few hundred million below expectations. The government are said to be perplexed.

Fine Gael are demanding that the Revenue Commissioners investigate this and get back to them, post-haste. But in truth there is no mystery. The income tax levels are behind because the real economy is growing on lower paid workers and the Gig Economy.

It’s important that we realise that New Politics is old New Labour. It’s crucial that we see that our candidates for Taoiseach are economically Tory Blairites. Only then can we have a honest conversation about the type of society we want to build.

Do we want to a fairer society, where everybody is afforded access to social justice, or do we want a country where a few drive new Mercedes and the rest sputter along in a 20 year old Ford Mondeo, that will never pass an NCT?

“Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz”

Tony Groves May 2017

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