I blinked. I rubbed my eyes. I frowned. Was I seeing some devilish apparition — some ghost from the horrors of Britain in the 1970s — before me?
The spectre was the main story on the front page of The Times on September 11. Prompted by a new report from the Public Accounts Committee of the House of Commons, it was headlined "Growth fund condemned for failing to boost regions". The first two paragraphs of the story were factual. According to The Times's deputy political editor, Sam Coates, the MPs' message was that "business" had received only a fraction — a mere 5 per cent — of "the £1.4 billion allocated to the Regional Growth Fund since its creation in June 2010".
So what, you might ask? What was it that made me blink, rub my eyes and frown? The answer was in the first sentence of Mr Coates's next paragraph, which read, "The report, which raises questions about Whitehall's ability to revive the private sector, comes as Vince Cable sets out today the Government's vision for an industrial strategy." Two propositions are being advanced here: that "Whitehall is able to revive the private sector" and that "the government should have an industrial strategy".
Perhaps I am naive, but I have in the past 20 years lived under the impression that Britain enjoyed something called "the Thatcher revolution". This revolution was allegedly based on the insights of (among others) Friedrich Hayek, particularly of his celebrated 1944 classic The Road to Serfdom. In matters of economic organisation, its essence was that the government was invariably a problem. Private sector individuals were therefore best left alone to find solutions for themselves. Almost by definition, Whitehall could not revive the private sector and the government should not have an industrial strategy.