The British joke factory runs on politicians’ blindness to their comedic aspects. Kamikwasi Kwarteng and Librium Liz are the factory’s two most recent manufactures. They refer to two people whose positions at least would render them ripe for comedic send-up, if not their actions and attitudes.
Remember, satire and parody have long run alongside contemporary politics, showing up grandiose gesture, grandiloquent language, great-man-or-woman cosplay etc. In ancient times, there was Horace and Aristophanes. Today, there are stand-up comics, cartoonists and the Twitterati, all toiling away in the great joke factories, all engaged in the noble and seriously important job of reminding politicians they are really quite absurd. Or that we see you as you really are.
So, to Kamikwasi.
Kamikwasi, of course, because Britain’s chancellor or minister of finance, barely three weeks in the job, is accused of piloting the economy in a hair-raising suicide swoop towards the ground. (The ground is coming up fast to meet us!)
On September 23, Mr Kwarteng became Kamikwasi because he delivered a “fiscal event” that was actually a maximalist mini-budget. That “kwasi-budget” (see what the clever political jokesters did there) announced Britain’s biggest tax giveaways in half a century. It put cash in the pockets of millionaires and City of London bankers. Dressed up as a growth-oriented “fiscal event”, it was expensive, entirely uncosted and the British finance ministry’s workings were not shown. That’s to say the Office for Budget Responsibility, a non-departmental public body that provides independent economic forecasts and independent analysis of the public finances, was not asked to do its usual job. This was legally possible because Kamikwasi was delivering a “fiscal event” and not a budget.
Clever, huh? Not so much.
The pound started to slide precipitously. Kamikwasi took to the airwaves to assure he would continue on course, possibly bringing in even more tax cuts. The pound dropped a bit more. The UK’s 10-year gilt yield rose to its highest level since 2008 as the markets recoiled in horror. Domestic interest rates started to rise further and faster. Banks started to pull mortgage products off their websites. Even politically tuned-out Britons started to pay attention: Would their houses become unaffordable? Would pension funds become duds? Would there be a run on the banks? Would the pound become useless junk?
God forbid, is Britain on course to be a Greece or a Sri Lanka? Or is it Lebanon?
As it turns out, former US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers thought Britain was none of those, but possibly even worse.
“It makes me very sorry to say,” Mr Summers told Bloomberg, “but I think the UK is behaving a bit like an emerging market turning itself into a submerging market.”
That’s would be a pretty subtle joke on Kamikwasi if the course he has set as pilot were not quite so terrifying.
Next up: Librium Liz