Oberon Houston is a Conservative blogger and regular contributor to ConservativeHome.
Our economy is a mess. The two main political parties are in agreement on this, but are reduced to sparring on the pin-head of how quickly to reduce the deficit. A common misconception, however, is that the solution to our economic woe is reducing the deficit – but it's not.
Running any deficit means spending more than you earn, and reducing it most certainly isn't the same thing as spending less. In other words, debt will always increase whilst there is a deficit. So why concentrate on it? Well, the situation in which we find ourselves is so unutterably bad that we can't contemplate reducing spending to anything like a balanced budget level – regardless of your political persuasion – as that would mean a form of armageddon that renders political rejection the least of one's worries. Yet the other option, spending like there isn't a problem, is unsustainable too; just look at Greece to see where that path leads.
So where does that leave us? Well, our fragile hopes are actually pinned on the messiah of ‘growth’. Only the sustained and strong growth of our economy can deliver us from the evils of recession. Only a growth greater than the burgeoning debt we continue to accumulate will eventually deliver us from the abyss of fiscal deficit, spending cuts and, more importantly, the misery it inflicts on individuals and families across Britain.
Easier said than done. Last week the OECD downgraded its forecast for UK growth and warned that deficit reduction may need to slow, the hard-place spectre of unacceptable cuts outweighing the burgeoning rock of debt. That we are in a bind make no doubt, whichever way one moves spreads the rot. The single fact remains that only a healthy economy can save us. Only an economy which flourishes and strengthens can reinforce and underpin our failing foundations, delivering us from this terrible recession and the untold misery it spreads amongst us.
So what if I said that there was a move that Parliament could rush through in a matter of weeks, one which is simple, costs us nothing, creates thousands of jobs, and boosts our economy to the tune of billions of pounds, driving up orders and reinvigorating efficiency? A move that could go a long way to kick-starting our battered economy and allow us to avoid many of the cuts our public services may face. A move, furthermore, which would have the popular support of the vast majority? No I hear you all cry! You lie!
Except there is such a miracle my friends, and it's called abandoning Sunday Trading Laws. This archaic regulation means our biggest and most popular retail outlets remain in the doldrums on one of the most popular trading days of the week. Poor shoppers now even turn up half an hour before the tills open for 'preview time' so shops can maximise the paltry six hours they have been allowed to function. Food shopping is a Soviet-style contest of the fittest, or most organised, (deliveries on a Sunday are also restricted), consigning most of us to dry bread, ugly duckling fruit and dodgy bagels.
Outlets normally open for sixteen hours or more a day are confined to six, a paltry 37% of any other day. Retailers normally open for 24 hours have to close on Saturdays to maximise their Sunday slot. Worse, thousands of unemployed people sit at home idle when they are willing and capable of work, indeed would leap at the chance, but instead are consigned to repeats of Cash in the Attic instead of taking the first important steps to becoming financially independent. Businesses, farms and depots which supply retailers run at less than full capacity or stop altogether, the infrastructure which delivers them remains idle.
If there is one thing the Conservative Party should stand up for, it's the right of people to go about their lawful business, one which doesn't impinge on others and embraces the central pillars of our philosophy; the rejection of ideology, embracing the ‘what works’ attitude, and coming up with constructive and practical solutions to our problems. Surely there is no more practical solution designed to boost growth in our darkest hour than abandoning our archaic Sunday trading laws? A simple solution at a time when all other options are so painful and unpopular.