29 APRIL 1989, Page 24

Coming down to land

WALKING a precarious tightrope while preserving an open mouth is not the obvious way to achieve a soft landing. Nigel Lawson's tightrope is a metaphor supplied by his inquisitors on the Com- mons' Treasury Committee, but the mouth is, of course, his own. The technique of open-mouth monetarism — threatening to put up interest rates, rather than actually putting them up — saw him through some sticky patches in the run-up to this week's trade figures, even when the Bundesbank was unkind enough to use the opposite technique, putting up its rates without warning. The figures proved, by today's standards, respectable, though of course not by any previous standards. Though the view from the tightrope may be dizzying, there are more and more signs — a dull CBI survey, no takers for mortgages — that the walker is on his way to some sort of landing, and the question now is what sort. The nasty little rash of strikes now breaking out presents symptoms worth noting. Here and there — the Under- ground, or on the docks — we may see a traumatised reaction to attempts to run these enterprises, rather than just let them happen. The BBC always shows pain when confronted with the same laws of econo- mics as apply to other people. (It has its own inflation rate, which is higher than yours or mine.) The private sector, so far largely immune, will start itching when more companies realise that their profit margins will not automatically go on rising to let wages do the same. Whatever sort of landing we get, those margins will be underneath it.