Wednesday, 23 September 2015

The Theory and Practice of Recent “Socialism” in Britain. – Tim Veater

 The Theory and Practice of Recent “Socialism” in Britain. – Tim Veater

The decade of Labour Party political control of British government (1997 – 2010)
was a strange mix of populist libertarian, versus authoritarian moralist;
egalitarian socialist versus hedonistic capitalist. The reality was often the
very opposite of the rhetoric.

This has been very confusing for the elector and in the longer term deeply
damaging to confidence in a civilized, pluralistic, tolerant democracy. The fact
that even when you vote for something at a general election, you get something
quite different, rather undermines the principle and breeds a deep level of
cynicism. It has  reflected itself in turnout and/or unpredictable voting

Suffrage, whilst being progressively widened has not compensated for the
disillusionment felt by particularly younger age groups that now have to
experience far worse prospects and have in consequence abstained from
participating in elections, whether they be local, national or European. “Ode to
Joy” does not accurately reflect the mood or confidence in the European ideal or
Parliament, which if anything affords even less respect than national
parliaments and the politicians that occupy them.

This means that the views of this cohort of younger people is under-represented,
its interests not as protected in policy decisions. It is also  surely a factor
in the rise of “UKIP” – effectively so far a one-man party of protest but it may
mature and become electable. After all look at the Scottish Nationalists. What
cannot be denied is that the stance and statements of the UKIP leader have
struck a genuine chord with a segment of the British electorate. The European
elections will test how reliable this is. If polls are accurate, we could be
represented in Strasbourg by individuals who do not want to be there!

The  politically correct, crony, corrupt and a disconnected political elite has
been prepared to sacrifice deeply ingrained “Englishness” (for want of a better
term) to supra-national government and globalisation. That Britain may not be a
“Christian Country” any longer (even an ex-Archbishop of Canterbury thinks so)
the ethos, and allegiance is deeply engrained in philosophy, history, attitudes
and emotion, proved in times of crisis and the ritual of church and state so
distinctive of Britain. People may be too busy or sophisticated, too doubting
and modest to claim to Christian dogma, nevertheless it permeates the English
psyche to such an extent it cannot be dismissed nor its achievements gainsaid.

So the Labour Years were hardly socialist at all. Government was famously “very
relaxed” about personal wealth as Mr Blair subsequently demonstrated. In
contrast to the libertarian agenda pushed hard in government and its
subsidiaries of “equality and inclusion”, mainly for those of different sexual
and religious persuasions, in many cases positions became more entrenched and
sexual malpractice in high places covered-up at the expense of those from
largely deprived backgrounds, who were taken advantage of. Meanwhile the
historic stable basis of “the family” has been undermined and challenged, with
wider society picking up the pieces and cost.

Despite extolling the principles of “freedom” more was done in those years to
curtail it, both here and abroad, than ever before. Fundamental changes to the
power of detention, fortunately largely rejected, were made. Downing Street
became a gated enclave guarded by automatic rifle-wielding policemen that even
Cabinet members would have difficulty getting past. More criminal offences were
added to the statute book than ever before. Smoking bans were imposed, even in
premises and on people who wanted to continue, whilst confusingly the rules on
alcohol consumption were so relaxed as to cause major disruption, damage and
death. Calls for greater police powers and weapons – including a useful little
device called the “Taser”- and the deployment and training of armed officers,
became far more common. Even tanks at one stage, were deployed at Heathrow
Airport, although for what purpose has never been explained. Were they intending
to shell a terrorist?

An inconsistent and arbitrary approach was taken to reforming or just
interfering with the English Constitution. It became the play-thing of a Prime
Minister lacking historical or constitutional insight and perspective. In former
times at least this would only happen after a thorough examination or Royal
Commission. Now at his whim, one of the oldest offices in the land, the Lord
Chancellor, could be swept away, and the House of Lords ransacked before a
suitable alternative had been agreed. (Now the chief law officer does not even
have to be legally qualified!) Similarly Local Government was meddled with,
moving it towards often unwanted regional arrangements, whilst continuing the
process of removing its functions and undermining its status and ancient
dignities. It was an ad-hoc approach to local government that was rejected in
the North East at least and so not even offered to other areas other than in the
form of the Regional Development Councils and in combining the emergency services.

Wales and Scottish  devolution in isolation to the rest of England is now
witnessing the break-up of a union that has worked reasonably well for three
hundred years, and which if the Scots vote for independence will see the demise
of the Labour party as a political force in England for the foreseeable future.
Even this possibility appears to have failed to galvanise the existing Labour
leadership. So both at local and national level the purpose and functions of
government have been undermined.

As to Britain’s contact abroad, it was paradoxically a “socialist”
administration that oversaw Britain's involvement in two major military
aggressive actions and several other less significant ones. This might be said
to have been a personal crusade on the part of the Prime Minister for which he
is unrepentant and recalcitrant. Whether they have been worth the human and
financial cost is subject to debate.

A socialist government saw manufacturing collapse and unemployment swell. As a
final flourish a socialist government allowed an unfettered capitalism to bring
the whole economy to a point of collapse, whilst protecting the banks and their
capitalist managers. It even started to dismantle the national heath system by
seeking private capital at extortionate rates. All these “achievements” continue
to have profound implications for the economy and society generally.

The lesson we can take from this is that it is not always those who claim to be
working in the best interests of the population (shall we call the them the
working and middle classes?) actually do. That good intentions are not
necessarily a guarantee of good results. That “socialists” are no less prone to
the temptations of the flesh and the seven deadly sins than are “capitalists”,
as recent events in the Co-op have demonstrated. That high profile “image” of
national  figures cannot be relied upon for good character. That the common
temptation to append “good” and “bad” to Labour and Conservative respectively,
should be resisted for the fallacy that it is. That  not even relying on what
someone thinks “is right” can be relied upon for an outcome that is more good
than bad.

So are there any imperatives for the future or is all lost? Does it really
matter if there is an United Kingdom, sovereign and distinct, or should we all
be comfortable with the notion of it gently disintegrating and fading away as
all empires and human institutions must, being instead merely a constituent
region of a greater European union? If the latter is to be our chosen objective,
then why bother with Monarch, House of Lords and Commons? Hundreds of millions
of pounds could be saved by abolishing them. We could revert to our much older
and competitive regions, all looking to Brussels for our protection and
political leadership in the big wide world. In some ways we would just be
returning to a situation a thousand years old, when most of Europe was unified
under a common church and common empire, yet not without its internal feuds and
tensions. Who knows we might even return to speaking Latin as well?

The problem is that government has lacked strategic thinking, or if not, it has
failed to communicate it to,  or intentionally mislead, the public. How many for
example in 1974 would have voted for accession to the EC if they had been told
quite honestly that eventually political union was intended  and not just a free
trade area? How many at the time of Enoch Powell’s “River of Blood” speech would
have backed the government if it had plainly stated what the relaxed immigration
policy would entail? Who would have voted to join the Common Agricultural or
Fisheries Policies had they known how it would decimate and ruin both industries
and hand them over to others? And this as much by Conservative as Labour

What we cannot be sure about is what would have happened to the British economy
had we not joined the EEC (now the EC). Would it have thrived as did the Swiss
and Norwegian economies based on oil extraction, banking, instrumentation and
drugs, or would it crash as did the Greek one based on shipping and tourism.
Would Britain have still been chosen by international firms, particularly motor
manufacture? Would we have closed the coal mines? Would our manufacturing sector
have thrived or fared even worse? Would the links with the Commonwealth have
been retained? Would trade with Europe and the rest of the world been encouraged
or shut off? What has been the net cost of membership of the union and was it
worth it?

Scottish Independence, if it happens will bring the matter to a head. England
will have to address the issues and its long term future. Where and what does it
want to be? Will foreign investment dry up? Will foreign-owned manufacturing
plants close or move elsewhere? What if we vote to leave Europe, and Scotland
either remains or joins – depending on how you look at it? If we left the EC
would that entail an ever closer relationship to the United States, and if so
would that be better or worse? Would separateness from the EC enhance or detract
from our world role in the UN and elsewhere and would it matter much anyway?

The reality is that the period in which Labour was “in control”, huge amounts of
private debt has been transferred to the state and taxpayer with little hope it
will ever be paid off. (We can argue whether it was responsible for this state
of affairs or merely unwilling victim) Rather like Harold Wilson’s “pound in
your pocket” phrase, that in one sense was true but essentially not, so selling
the rescue of the banks as being pain-free for the population was and is a lie –
and a pernicious one.  Allowing those in charge of banks to continue walking
away with vast rewards whilst the rest pick up the bill cannot be acceptable.
Allowing them to argue that they should be exempt from the pain, resisted. That
if not left alone they will bring the economy to ruin, shown to be the heinous
blackmail it is.

We know, don’t we, that the only way the debt can be repaid is by reducing
public services and the standard of living, increasing taxation and de-valuing
capital, being the difference between inflation and interest. The “pound in our
pockets” has definitely been affected.

Insofar as those reaching retirement in the future are concerned, state pension
will be deferred, private pension will be worth less, health and social care
will cost more, even if available. It is this cohort, shall we say the twenty to
fifty year-olds, that might be justified in expressing its disenchantment, even

Politics if it is to have any future at all, needs to start addressing these
overarching issues. The British Constitution may not be the hottest topic in
the pub, church or health club, but very soon the Scottish Independence issue
will force government, institutions and people to address the issue. Both Labour
and Conservatives may rue the day their apathy allowed the Scots to become
disillusioned with them. It may be Mrs Thatcher’s final contribution to the
break-up of an enduring and mutually beneficial arrangement. So perhaps we
shouldn’t blame EVERYTHING on the Blair/Brown partnership!

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