Photo credit: David Rose

In a revealing interview with the Sunday Telegraph newspaper, on the topic of the economy, Foreign Secretary William Hague declared “There’s only one growth strategy- work hard! And do more with less- that’s the 21st Century… We’re trying to rescue the work ethic in the nick of time”. Yeuch.

Unsurprisingly, his words have angered many and led to criticism of the Foreign Secretary as “out of touch”. On top of his Minister’s salary, Hague earned £390,000 during his two years as a News of the World columnist, and charges £25,000 for after dinner speeches- more than the average annual wage in the UK for what can surely amount to little more than a few hours work, at best. Of course there will be those who say that Hague came from a relatively modest background compared to many of his cabinet cronies, and that he can command such fees is testament to hard work earlier in his career.  I find this a little hard to accept, after all, consultancy is hardly coal mining, or being a carer (for example). Even if it were a fair assessment, his success has clearly given him an inflated sense of self- when was the last time Mr Hague worked for minimum wage, I wonder? When was the last time he, as he so bluntly puts it, had to “do more with less”? He could never have been considered on the breadline, unlike almost one fifth of the population living under the poverty line in the UK today. It smacks of hypocrisy that he has never had to follow his own advice, but is so quick to say that he has found the root cause of our country’s continuing economic woes.

The UK has some of the longest working hours in Europe, and workers clock up an estimated two billion hours of unpaid overtime each year. With 2.6million unemployed and his government responsible for 300,000 job losses in the public sector (with an expected 410,000 more to come), it does seem breathtakingly arrogant to suggest the lack of growth in the economy is down to the work ethic of the average Brit, and not the actions of his government.  How much harder would Hague like us to work? I would wager that there are many people who do want to work harder, but the opportunities for employment are just not there for them. In Richmond, William Hague’s own constituency, there are four job seekers for every vacancy. Clearly it is Mr Hague who needs to “work harder” at fulfilling his duties as an MP and government Minister.

When asked if he considered his advice to be the modern equivalent of Norman Tebbit’s famous bike remarks, Hague responded- “’Get on a plane! Go and sell things overseas, go and study overseas’. It’s much more than getting on the bike, the bike didn’t go that far. ‘Get on the jet’”. Now, maybe I’m missing something, but there’s two things about this statement that strike me. One, is it not the role of the government to secure growth, a good education system and employment within their own state? And two, how exactly is migration en masse going to help the British economy? Even if those that followed his advice became wildly successful in their adoptive countries and regularly sent money home to the UK, they would still be injecting money into the economy elsewhere as consumers, creating jobs elsewhere as businesses. That’s not even taking into account the logistics of actually emigrating- uprooting your family, the cost, potential language barriers or immigration criteria to fill in your host country, compounded by the difficulties of starting and maintaining a successful business. That’s not to say migration is inherently bad, just that it is hardly a sure fire route to economic recovery.

If the secret to growth really was as simple as “work harder” or “go abroad”, does Mr Hague still think we’d be in this mess? Perhaps such sneering superciliousness having become commonplace within the coalition recently accounts, at least in part, for their dismal performance in this month’s local elections. Maybe if Hague et al considered a period of dignified introspection before blaming the fact we’re now in an avoidable double-dip recession on the work ethic of the public, we might actually see some growth before the end of their term in office. But then again, that might require some hard work on their part, and we know it’s only struggling members of the public who have an issue there… Oh wait.