Friday, 24 July 2015

Thatcherism

"The kind of Conservatism which he (Sir Keith Joseph) and I...favoured  would be best described as ‘liberal’, in the old-fashioned sense. And I mean the liberalism of Mr. Gladstone, not of the latter day collectivists". - Margaret Thatcher

When Margaret Thatcher took office, in fact before she became Britain's Prime Minister, she hijacked the old Conservative party turning it into her vision of what is in fact old fashioned liberalism or, as some would have it, libertarianism. One thing it wasn't was the 'one nation Toryism' of Disraeli or Macmillan. It was a distinct move away from that ideology and a leap toward monetarism. 
The one nation ideology was central to Disraeli's term as Prime Minister where he oversaw considerable social reforms. This philosophy was held throughout the post war years until the rise of the new right led by Thatcher. It was an end to paternalism and a move toward the old liberal ideal of  free market capitalism. Enter Friedrich Hayek.




“Economic control is not merely control of a sector of human life which can be separated from the rest, it is the control of the means for all our ends.” Friedrich Hayek

Both Margaret Thatcher and Sir Keith Joseph were acolytes of renaissance man Friedrich Hayek. His views on government and taxation were accepted by both. He was not apposed to progressive taxation because it was inefficient but because he believed it immoral, that it violated equality before the law. 

“From the fact that people are very different it follows that, if we treat them equally, the result must be inequality in their actual position, and that the only way to place them in an equal position would be to treat them differently. Equality before the law and material equality are therefore not only different but are in conflict with each other; and we can achieve either one or the other, but not both at the same time”  Freidrich Hayek

Hayek dismissed conservatism in favour of classical liberalism rejecting conservatism for its moral and religious ideals suggesting they were not  “proper objects of coercion”. For Hayek cultural and social evolution was much like natural selection. He believed that no matter how logical the system we have created, no matter how efficient the mechanism, it was prone to unpredictability. He thought it technically chaotic rendering stock prices little more than random guesswork made by the experts.

Hayek was a consequentialist, he believed totally in economic freedom. He liked Pinochet or rather he liked what Pinochet did with Chile. He wanted the Iron Lady to move faster in cutting public expenditure. He suggested she balance the budget not in five years but in one. He even wanted interest rates raised so as to kill off inflation in an instant.  It's an old fashioned liberal thing. It was he who admire the Chilean dictator's policies. It was Thatcher who flinched at the thought realising our fragile democracy would not tolerate such methods.
And of course it was Hayek who didn't believe in society. It was Hayek who gave The Iron Lady one of her most infamous sound bites: ‘There is no such thing as society’.

   

John Major's impotent attempts to re-harness conservatism to its 'one nation' roots failed in no small part by those Thatcherites gathered in his party. A great lump of neo-liberalists seeking to canonise their favourite female leader flayed alive any hopes Mister Major may have had for softening the Tory stance. John Major was a Thatcherite by default for even if he didn't seek to follow his predecessors liberalist policies his predecessors liberalist policies followed him. 

"We are all Thatcherite's now."  Peter Mandelson
 

When I voted for Tony Blair back in 1997 it was with a view to having someone who would begin the process of softening down the effects of Mrs Thatcher's radical changes. Someone who would not hasten us down the road to privatisation nor, for very obvious and tactical reasons, swing a nation back under a left agenda. It was patently obvious the country did not want, was not in fact, remotely left. Britain was, by and large, Social Democrat.
 
Blair was in my view Thatcherite but with a heart. His policies were less strident. It was he who returned a modicum of power to the unions. He spent more on policing and the NHS than previous Tory governments even if he didn't go far enough with softening the hardships inflicted on so many by those earlier administrations. Being supremely tactical he elected to use stealth by way of making social changes to a nation wrapped up in accruing wealth, a nation whose primary concerns were the economy rather than  equality. He appeared to be chipping away at the established ways rather than overtly smashing them. His way was to lay a path whereby future Labour governments could build a socially fair society.
 
Nonetheless, he, Bair and his partner in New Labour, Gordon Brown, failed. The financial crash of 2008 only hammered the final nail in their New Labour coffin. Would Labour have done better had Blair still been Prime Minister? Yes, I think they would have beaten off the Coalition.
 
"We are all Thatcherite now but I am not a Thatcherite." David Cameron
 
Whether he likes to believe it or not David Cameron most certainly is Thatcherite. Shortly after her death he made the statement, following Peter Mandelson's earlier quote, that 'we are all Thatcherite now' only to refute that view weeks later. He appears to want to be seen as an old fashioned 'one nation' Tory. Unfortunately, having the inept George Osborne as Chancellor, a man who has borrowed far more money than his predecessor George Brown, a man who is mainlining Thatcherite fiscal policies unable to dream up a better solution, 'one nation' Toryism is very much a thing of the paternal past.
 
If Mister Cameron is anything he is a watered down John Major. A Prime Minister who has fashioned himself in Blairite style with Thatcherite policies. Unable to lead a party swinging ever further to the right, through neo-liberalism onward to right wing libertarianism, he can only hold fast to his desire to be the one thing he isn't, a good leader. His position as both party and national leader is a thing tenuous at best. His election victory gave him insufficient majority to allow him the muscle he requires to make the changes his party desire to put in place. For once I, a grassroots democrat, am thankful to the House of Lords who seem the only body, apart from the SNP, to stand up to this wishy-washy Thatcherite government.
 
Socialism forecast that capitalism would pass through a series of boom and bust's, that we would see times of great wealth before yet another recession struck. They prophesied that capitalism would crash and burn by the close of the twentieth century. They, much like the weather forecaster's, were a little out of whack with their timings. Capitalism is failing now but continues breathing as long as the iron lung of Thatcherism supports it.
 

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Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

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