The standard joke is that Sir John Major is the ultimate grey man, as if Charles Pooter had been painted by Wilhelm Hammershoi in particularly pallid light. But the pea-eating caricature of yesteryear was not in evidence on the Andrew Marr Show this morning. There was something calm and old-fashioned about Major during his interview; even his platitudes carried an air of wisdom. The former Disability Minister praised the Olympic and Paralympic Games, revelling in the fact that the games had revived aspects of our national character which he had assumed dead.
The conversation was about old times: his father’s career in Music Halls during the early years of the 20th Century, past battles with the European Union and the legacy of Black Wednesday. He said that the lesson of that calamity was to look for green shoots in the darkest of places. He reminded Andrew Marr that Norman Lamont had been proved right when he saw the beginnings of recovery in the midst of disaster. Major went on to say that he ‘thinks’ we are on the road to a slow recovery; that austerity is working. He rehearsed arguments which the economic commentator Hamish McCrea and others have made: the figures do not add to a contraction. Major pointed to rising employment, rising industrial productivity, modest growth in the stock market as a sign that the economy is growing and that the confidence fairy has returned to these shores. He could have mentioned falling inflation and the promise of a rise in disposable income next year, as reported by the Sunday Times (£).
He was undoubtedly cautious, but equally optimistic; hopeful that we are through the worse. Irritatingly, Andrew Marr did not ask what the government should do if Major proves to be correct: should it continue retrenching or loosen the spending tap once more as the electoral cycle turns towards the 2015 election?