The Don’t-Care State
By Gwydion M. Williams
- a) Back to Front on Basics
- b) Ill fares the land, if welfare falls apart
- c) Controlling fate, at least sometimes
- d) Labour problems
- e) Wealth without nations
- a) The social mainstream
- b) Why capitalism is not bourgeois
- c) Capitalism – value without values
- d) UK Ltd-very limited
- e) The Nation and the Misery Index
- a) Victorian values, ‘dinkies’ and ‘sinks’
- b) Monkeys and hairy mammals
- c) Sex as a human right
- d) Tory “conservatism”
Gwydion M. Williams has produced a critique of the New Right policies pursued by the Governments of America and Britain over the past decade and a half. The methods which Margaret Thatcher pioneered to reduce the role of the State in social production in Britain have been copied all round the world. And her simplistic and unreal ideology about the creative potential of the unrestricted free market is wrecking havoc all round the world – particularly in the formerly socialized economies of Eastern Europe. where the mass of the people used to have a secure, if unspectacular, standard of living and a life free from the terrors of destitution and crime.
Mr Williams argues that the 1945 Labour Government bit on the best available formula for conducting modem life and produced the form of society whose positive example won the Cold War for the West. He shows that the Welfare State built by that Labour Government, using the concepts refined by Beveridge, enabled civilised life to continue after 200 years of capitalism had damaged traditional social structures beyond any chance of recovery.
Thatcherite Toryism is wrecking those structures by basing itself on the destructive elements of individualist self-interest that remained the weakness in the structures she inherited. She never really halted the economic decline that bad been occurring ever since other nations learnt bow to run modern industry. But her policies accelerated the decline of traditional British values. She created an ever more unsocial society.
Problems of Communism Committee. January 1995
Toryism is an odd phenomenon. People call it reactionary, yet it has been a ruling party during more than three centuries of unprecedented change. It calls itself conservative. And yet what has it conserved, apart from its own existence?
Thatcherism marketed itself as a return to traditional values. Astonishingly, this was to be achieved at a reduced cost to ordinary people, and without loss of the fast growth and general prosperity that had been characteristic of the post-1945 era, and never seen before then.
As well as saving money, Thatcher’s new system was supposed to produce a spontaneous return to traditional values. Or rather, to what the 1980s generation considered traditional values ought to have been. This was left vague, to appeal to as many people as possible. No one proposed removing the right to divorce, even though the Gospels do very clearly forbid it for non-adulterers. No one proposed a recriminalisation of homosexuality – that would definitely not have suited a great many of those prominent in Thatcherism. No one proposed a renewal of those restrictions that had once confined women strictly to home and family circles, denied them property rights and given their fathers and husbands an unrestricted right to beat them.
Thatcher herself was a beneficiary of the work of many generations of radicals who had successfully undermined traditional society. The bloodless revolution of the 1960s was merely a public recognition of what had already happened. And hardly anyone truly wanted the old system back. They liked the appearance of a return. No seriously reactionary social proposals were ever offered. It was all supposed to happen spontaneously, once welfare was taken away from the “undeserving”.
What Thatcher offered was of a kind with the miraculous slimming drugs that will let you eat what you like and still lose weight. And like those ‘miracle drugs’, the only thing that actually gets slimmed is the bank balances of the decent ordinary person who trusts slick con-persons offering such an improbable package of goodies. ‘Middle England’ put its trust in Thatcher and her followers, and has paid a terrible price for it. ‘Middle England’ has fared much worse than if it had stuck with the post-1945 settlement. ‘Middle England’ is now just one more region of Europe.
English elite education is very good at producing people who seem to know what they are doing, regardless of whether or not they do in fact know. It used to be the traditional ruling class that played the game best. But after two world wars and a massive decline in Britain’s place in the world, very few people still had deference for the remnants of that once-great ruling class.
A new sort of leader was needed for a new age. People free from the traditional accents and outmoded trappings of power – people like the ‘Cambridge Mafia’ who are so prominent in present-day Toryism. They were classless in both the good and the bad senses of the term. Callously indifferent to the plight of those less fortunate than themselves, because these new upwardly-mobile characters considered that they’d earned their privileged positions. Pigheadedly ignorant of the traditional rules that had more or less held Britain together across three centuries of unprecedented change. And if things somehow did not work out as they’d hoped, it was definitely not their fault. Their theme-tune should be that old Tom Jones pop-song, I’m Not Responsible’.
The traditional ruling class did on occasion ‘do the decent thing’, though not as often as they pretended. For this new lot, the only decent things are fame, power, money and pleasure. The sense of honour that gave some dignity to the old ruling class just does not exist any more. It is neither a genuine aristocracy nor a true meritocracy. A new word is needed for them – ‘grabocracy’.
If you want to understand the ‘grabocracy’, forget about what they say. Look at what has actually occurred during their period of power. Ignore what they promise to do for you next year. It will always be positive, but their promises do not bind them. And they will never ever accept any responsibility for anything that goes wrong. ‘Innocent even if proven guilty’ is their slogan.
People were promised lower taxes for ordinary people, decent care for those who needed it and a return to traditional values. None of this was true. Even before the Clarke budget of 1993, ordinary people were paying a sum total of direct and indirect tax well above what they had been paying when the Tories first came to power. Families bore the heaviest burden. More and more people were taking advantage of Thatcherite nihilism to simply ignore traditional expectations of how they should live their lives.
Welfare that is ‘targeted’ can very easily miss those who actually need it. If everyone gets what they need without any suspicious questioning of their means, the needy will not be neglected. But when there are credits and kudos for those who cut the budget by refusing or driving away the allegedly undeserving, what would you expect to happen?
Thatcherite ‘reforms’ have given us a worse public service that is also more of a burden to everyone except the richest 5%. The richest 5% have done very nicely, and they tend to call the tune, both in the Tory party and in the media. The media they mostly own and control now that the notion of public service is largely extinct. For the richest 5%, the 1980s have been lovely, and they hope for more. But the poor have· already been squeezed to an embarrassing extent. There is not a lot more that can be wrung out of the poorest 10%. Short of establishing humane death-camps, what more can anyone do to them?
The British economy remains pretty weak and sickly. The value of manufactures has actually gone down under Thatcher, while ‘service industries’ earn relatively little in the global market. Extra goodies for the top 5% can only be taken from the mainstream of society. So the problem is to persuade ordinary Britons to vote themselves a lower standard of living, as ordinary “middle class” Americans did under Reagan and Bush. Can the mainstream of society be persuaded to give up their established rights as UK citizens, on the pretext of helping the needy substratum that has already been squeezed dry?
People ask, ‘can we afford the welfare state?’ It is seen as some sort of horrible unreasonable burden. We today are far richer than previous generations that did support a total system, yet still people try to dump their social responsibilities.
But the wrong question is being asked. It is not really ‘can we afford the welfare state?’ It is rather ‘can we afford Britain?’
At a time when the cotton industry is a mere memory, the bulk of merchant shipping has moved to foreign flags and coal is being butchered at great public expense, the answer would seem to be no. Rich people are voting with their wallets. In the abstract, they are always very patriotic. But actions speak louder than words. Britain as a viable independent economic unit has gone. Options that were open twenty years ago are no longer available. There are just two serious choices remaining to us. Civilised values in a European Union. Or a market-led barbarism that does not meet the economic needs of ordinary people.
[It never occurred to me in 1995 that moves to quit the European Union would actually win majority support. That those hurt by the New Right would be so neatly tricked into blaming those who had mostly helped them.
[As at November 2019, Brexit seems likely, and will indeed be ‘market-led barbarism’.]
After the defeat of Fascism, lots of people said ‘never again’. They had also said that after World War One. But after World War One, the same people who had led us into war were trusted to get us ‘back to normal’. The old normality had been wounded beyond hope of cure by the war itself. ‘Back to normal’ in the 1920s and 1930s led to more and more chaos, totalitarianism and war.
After World War Two, things were different. Fascism and Communism had been able to look after the basic needs of their people by ignoring conventional economic wisdom. Why should democratic societies not do the same? There was a general determination to make a better world, and a better world was made. And made without the need for miracles or dictatorship or ‘great leaders’.
Ignoring the wishes and the wisdom of the ruling class, the Left in Britain and America built the best and most stable socio-economic system the world has yet seen. It was very much the work of the left – the Labour Party in Britain and the New Deal Democrats in America. The process had in fact been pioneered in the 1930s in America, lifting that country out of the deep depression which had been created by speculators and by business-dominated Republican governments. Now the whole system of social reform was repeated on a much larger scale, especially in Germany and Japan. Those two countries were remodelled with a much greater freedom than Labour Party people or American New Dealers could ever have had at home. And both Germany and Japan have benefited greatly from the changes imposed on them by the occupying powers.
By the time that right-wingers came to power in Britain and America, the new system was basically in place. A system of unprecedented state power, higher taxes and state expenditure, much more personal freedom for ordinary people and economic advance for all. For several decades, the Right added little and removed little. And with good reason. In those days, it would have been electoral suicide for any right-wing party to have promised to demolish the new world order and try to return to the past. The only major British politician who seriously thought about it was Enoch Powell. And he had little support among Tories even before he took his stand on immigration. (Mr Powell was remarkably silent when the main wave of immigrants were arriving, having been invited over here by the government in which he was serving.)
The post-1945 system was not capitalist. At least not as the word had been understood up until then. ‘Roses’ might become ‘bananas’ if enough people chose to call them that, but would still remain flowers rather than fruit. The fact that the new post-1945 system came to be called capitalist does not mean that it was anything like the abstract rationalised and mathematical capitalism of the economic textbooks. It’s doubtful that even classical capitalism was really like that – but that’s another story.
Nor was the new system “bourgeois”. In the 1940s, the classical bourgeoisie and the middle class had lost a lot of ground relative to the working class. And they were pretty much resigned to this loss. It was at first only as a matter of left-wing propaganda that the new system was called capitalist and bourgeois. But once its success was obvious and its newness half forgotten, right-wingers declared that the post-1945 system was what capitalism had really always been about. For a time, actual historic capitalism was dismissed as some sort of unfortunate pre-history.
The New Right pushed this argument to the point of absurdity, and beyond. The post-1945 system was identified as capitalism. And since it was successful – increasingly more successful than the Leninist alternative – it was cited as proof of capitalism’s merits. On the other hand, it was also recognised that the system was not entirely capitalist. They used the success of an actual mixed social system to prove the merits of an abstraction called ‘capitalism’. They then deduced that all of the virtue came from the market and profit-making elements. The non-capitalist elements must always and without exception be considered to be defects. Much as if someone decided that they could brew a better sort of coffee by getting rid of that awful gritty dry black stuff that was so unreasonably expensive, and also a minor component compared to the nice cheap water.
The New Right had borrowed a great deal from Marxism. Every single successful political movement in the 20th century has borrowed a great deal from Marxism. No serious or effective politics seem to be possible without it, although the purest Marxists have also often been the least serious or effective. But the New Right would be nothing without its lapsed leftists.
Marxism is the only modem politics that will allow someone to ignore conventional wisdom with some hope of success. But it is also rather less than a complete truth. In particular, the simple identification of capitalism and the bourgeoisie is a vast oversimplification of a very complex relationship.
Capitalist relationships were pioneered by the “bourgeois”, burghers or dwellers in a borough, the prosperous element in the towns and cities of Western Europe. In the confused fragmentation of feudalism, they were able to make a separate life for themselves, independent of the sur-rounding rural areas. These “bourgeois” or burgers tended towards Protestantism, which in tum aided the rise of capitalist markets – this was understood for at least a century before it became an “original discovery” by Max Weber.
That is history as it actually happened. But the New Right “knew” from a variety of sources that the spirit of the market was the spirit of the bourgeoisie. ‘Natural Man’ as envisaged by Rousseau was actually the semi-detached suburban Mr Jones. Demolish all of the excrescences of the welfare state, allow free reign to the market, and a return to authentic bourgeois values was an absolute certainty! When they promised a free, easy and libertarian “back to basics”, they really did believe what they were saying.
The real world was never likely to be that simple. Putting dough into an oven will tum it into bread, but nothing will tum bread back into dough. Putting grain into the soil will under the right circumstances produce plants that sprout forth new grain, but that is a very rare and special relationship, produced by thousands of millions of years of evolution. As Stephen Jay Gould showed in Wonderful Life, the processes that created us were very much a lucky accident. Individual, social and cultural forms are even more so.
The way of life of the original bourgeoisie was intensely local and particular. This need not have been incompatible with a slow and gradual rise to a more sophisticated society. And this was exactly what happened in Switzerland, which preserved the way of life of free peasants and cities and town dwellers. It has kept four separate nationalities in peaceful coexistence, and achieved a GDP per head twice that of Britain and comfortably ahead of the USA. (The staff of The Economist reckon average Swiss prosperity as $34,610 as against $16,300 and $25,687, according to The World in 1994.)
Apart from wealth and peace and security, and apart from the Red Cross, the lands that are now Switzerland produced Calvin, the other great Protestant teacher besides Luther. Calvinism did a great deal to generate both capitalism and science elsewhere in Europe. Switzerland later produced Rousseau, who defined a new and secular way of life after the collapse of Christian intellectual authority in the Enlightenment. Switzerland also produced Carl Gustav Jung, with his strange notions of collective unconscious and the equally original but now much more familiar concept of extrovert and introvert personalities. The land also provided the setting for Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and gave a refuge to Voltaire, Einstein, Lenin and many others. That one small stretch of mountains produced or nurtured a disproportionately large proportion of the interesting and worthwhile products of European civilisation. Though not the cuckoo clock – that was German.
The original bourgeoisie were the product of controlled markets and regulated trade. In Britain, they were also very much under the thumb the state. This left them vulnerable to a ruling class that suddenly decided that free trade was a good idea. For that lax, libertine, lightened and pleasure-loving ruling class of the 18th century, free trade worked out OK, raising them far above their European rivals for couple of centuries. But free markets were not such a good idea for e bourgeois, even though they too gained unprecedented prosperity.
‘Free Markets’ sound nice. Everyone is in favour of freedom, are they not? But the main freedom involved in free trade was a freedom from responsibility for the likely results of your own actions. A freedom from social responsibility, that will be copied by other sections of society. Free trade has always led to a radical alteration of all established relationships, including those that the Free Traders would have liked to reserve.
A proper understanding of the matter would have told the original bourgeoisie that market freedoms would not be good for them in the long run. Not everything can be bought; a society is largely defined precisely by those areas where cash relationships are not allowed to apply. The bourgeoisie should have resisted the more destructive changes. But a large section of the British bourgeois were Puritan and nonconformist, not allowed to impose their own form of social theocracy on the ‘ungodly’, and thus not worried by what their new-born 1dustries were doing to conventional social relationships. Self-righteous and short-sighted, they produced a society that grew ever less favourable to their own way of life.
Thatcher, a Methodist and the daughter of a prosperous and respectable grocer, forms a fitting end-piece to a long history of folly and wicked- 1ess carried out in the name of God.
In a market, relationships between people are fluid and subject to constant change. If you are trying to sell potatoes, you would be as ready to sell them to a man distilling illegal liquor as to a woman trying to feed 1er children. You go for the best price; that is what market freedoms are all about. It need not always be negative; maybe the mother trying to feed her children will offer the better price. But it is in the nature of markets to be unpredictable, a dissolver of :everything old and familiar, and not necessarily even very good at creating wealth. Free markets blundered freely into the slump of the l 930s. Protectionism is nowadays blamed for his little lapse. But the most protectionist 1ations were generally the most successful economically. And can anyone explain how protectionism could have caused the Wall Street Crash?
Most of the things that were nationalised in 1945 had begun in the Free Market, and had failed there. Railways, for instance – the free competition between dozens of railway companies left London with a shell of numerous medium-sized stations, when two or three really big ones would have been vastly cheaper and more convenient. In the fairy-tales of the New Right, the development of London’s Docklands should have spontaneously sprouted transport links, and market forces should automatically have connected the Channel Tunnel to the rest of the country. Many people told them that this was foolish. And the wise men of the New Right were quite sure that all such warnings were foolish talk from outmoded people. And we all know what that led to. Magnificent feats of engineering that no one can get to or use without great trouble and delay.
Markets of a sort have existed since the Bronze Age. But always controlled markets. Either you control the market, or it controls you. And outside of New Right fairy tales, markets are both blind and stupid. People do indeed communicate their needs via market mechanisms, just as the New Right say. But not all of their needs, and very little of their care, sympathy or sense of duty. ‘Pecunia non olet’, money does not smell. Cash can hide its actual origins, disguise the actual effects that it is having in the world. Owning shares in a tobacco company does not give you lung cancer. And if your only demand as a shareholder is for good dividends, it is predictable that professional managers will devise cunning strategies to spread tobacco and attendant ill health to new markets. If smokers back home are a dying breed, try the increasingly prosperous masses in the Third World.
A market let loose in a society is very much like a bull in a china shop. People who only want a nice cheap hamburger or a pleasant-looking bit of furniture may unknowingly be fuelling a process that destroys the rain forests for teak veneers and cheap grazing for cattle. It was recently discovered that the selected high-priced woods used for guitars are prompting the destruction of whole swathes of woodland just to get a few highly profitable trees. Trees used to make musical instruments for people who would then sing songs of protest against the destruction of the rainforests. Only state regulation would allow the rainforrests to be used and developed in a balanced way.
Controlled markets won the Cold War for the West. Classical capitalism in Britain and the USA had never managed to average as much as 2% annual per capita growth over the decades. The USSR under Stalin did better than that for a couple of decades. Leninism ruthlessly organised a whole society as if it was a single huge corporation, and managed much faster economic growth than classical capitalism had ever managed. At a time when classical capitalism was not even managing ‘business as normal’, Stalin’s system looked like the best practical alternative to a great many sincere and idealistic people.
It was only the post-1945 system of Welfarism and a highly controlled market that could meet the challenge of Stalinism. Welfarism did just as well economically, while offering vastly more personal freedom. Even so, the struggle between the two rival world systems remained very uncertain for many decades. And no one dared to touch Welfarism in the West until a confused mix of liberalisation, dictatorship and market-orientated reforms had reduced the Leninist half of Europe to an incoherent mess.
Even classical capitalism was not entirely based on free markets. Labour legislation and Trade Unions were necessary, because otherwise employers in a competitive market would literally work their employees to death. Early, unregulated capitalism destroyed men, women and children among the labouring poor. The system produced a flow of cheap goods for the Middle Classes, but debased and impoverished the bulk of the society.
No one supposed that such a thing could happen again. But as social controls over markets have been removed, all of the old forgotten evils are returning. Beggars in the street. More crime. More violence. More prostitution. Certain sorts of “Victorian Values” are very much with us once again.
New Rightism is a creed of greed, based on a simple logical error. The existing social reality of a mixed economy was used to justify the abstractions of capitalist theory. And then these abstractions were used to justify a thoroughly reactionary alteration in the system. Reactionary in the strict and proper sense of the term: the sale of public wealth, the lowering of direct taxes and the raising of indirect taxes reversed the trend of decades. Thatcherism produced a shift of wealth away from the poor and towards the rich.
The nonsensical theory of ‘trickle-down’ was loudly trumpeted during the early years of Thatcherism. Shifting money from the needy to the greedy was supposed to generate so much extra wealth that there would be plenty for everyone. In the real world, the complex and infinitely subtle world we actually find ourselves living in, the only real trickle-down has been the poor getting pissed on.
This reactionary alteration in the post-1945 order led to the worst slump since the 1930s, as essential elements of the post-1945 system are casually destroyed. The Tories always label their changes ‘radical’. But this is simply not true. All of the time, they are trying to return to old forms that were abandoned for very good reasons. Private railways, private coal mines, health care based on money rather than need – all of these are a return to the past.
Tories are trying to replace the Welfare State with a ‘Don’t-Care State’, a social system in which people are neglected and only property is looked after. You get talk of a ‘welfare society’. In so far as such a thing· ever existed – and it was never all that effective – it was based on a collection of separate communities where a neighbour had an unquestioned right to call on your aid, just as you could call on theirs. It was based on extended families where almost the whole of the population lived and died within a few miles of each other, and knew each other from cradle to grave. That was real ‘communitarianism’.
The neighbourhood and the extended family were broken up several decades ago, replaced by the American innovations of a mobile car based society and the nuclear family. These were radical new forms based on new technology and an enlargement of market-based social relationships. There was no sound reason to think that these non-traditional forms would prove stable or successful for most people. No reason to suppose that the break-up of traditional family structures would have any stopping point short of the totally fragmented individual
Fifteen years of Tory rule have brought us very much closer to being a slurry of atomised individuals. And this is a perfectly natural response to free markets. Markets are very good at responding to “I want”, as long as you can back your wants with cold cash. Markets are deaf to such sentiments as “I care” or “I have an obligation”. Such soft sentiments simply do not register, unless they can somehow be translated into “I want”. Which is why social controls are always needed, if you want to keep your society functional.
When the Tories undid the post-1945 social controls and tried to go back to the past, they found that people were only interested in shedding social responsibilities and paying less tax. There is only a small remnant of the socially concerned middle classes that once built social structures regardless of state power. And almost all of them are to be found in the Labour or Liberal stratum that this government has designated as enemies. The middle-class Guardian-reading liberal-left know enough to realise that a voluntary return to “Victorian Values” is neither possible nor desirable.
The past is dead. Digit up again and you only get some rancid old bones .
In any case, Toryism is not at heart a reactionary social movement. Even under Thatcher, reactionary policies were followed only when they were useful for transferring money from the public purse to the pockets of the Overclass, the richest 5%. There was no serious attempt to rebuild the old order. only a mindless vandalistic destruction of what already existed. To go any further would have destroyed the infrastructure that industry needs. Or else curbed the freedom of the pleasure-loving louts of all classes who are a vital part of the Tory vote.
The Thatcherite hope for the future rested on the notion that I mentioned earlier – if the state was curbed, older values would ‘spontaneously’ regenerate. That is exactly what has not happened. And only a fool or a reactionary would have been expecting it.
Toryism makes use of reactionaries, just as dairy farms make use of cows and just as chicken farms make use of hens. Chicken farms are not run for the benefit of the poultry. Dairy farms are not run for the benefit of the cows. The Tory Party is not run for the benefit of its broadly reactionary rank-and-file. It began as an upper-class clique that drew on the genuinely reactionary forces in the society for the benefit of the Stuart dynasty. But the Stuarts were radical about everything except their own power. They made use of reactionary forces, but always in their own interests. And always with the intention of sacrificing such people to the march of progress as soon as their usefulness was over.
Tory political wisdom has followed the Stuart example, refreshed from time to time by refugees from other political traditions. Toryism needs non-Tory input. People like Edmund Burke, an Irish Protestant Whig. Or Benjamin Disraeli, a Jewish Radical. Or the Liberal Unionists of Joseph Chamberlain, who had been a highly radical and successful mayor of Birmingham. And even Winston Churchill, though he began and ended his career as a Tory, first made a big name for himself as a Liberal minister in the government of 1905. That was the government that destroyed much of the remnants of the old order and introduced the beginnings of the Welfare State.
The historic function of Toryism has been to further Enlightenment values while appearing to be reactionary. It only adopted the name ‘Conservative’ in the 1830s. And it has never really merited it. While there is a functional radical party, the reactionary side to Tory politics is a hollow sham. It became something else, a Radical-Right creed, only because of the weakness of the left. Only because of the failure of Labour to carry through the radical social reforms that everyone was expecting in the 1960s and 1970s.
Why did Labour fail? There were many factors:
- Trade union power grew beyond what the post-1945 system could accommodate, while having less and less idea what it wanted beyond the Status Quo. Possibilities like workers control and a socially just incomes policy had some support, but not enough.
- The Labour Party’s attempts to find a place for this expanded power were each time defeated. In part by right-wing traditionalism. In part by short-sighted far-left opposition that played on working class fear, conservatism and uncertainty. Both sides cried ‘wolf’ so often and so loudly that too few people noticed or cared when the real Thatcherite wolves turned up.
- The increasing globalisation and integration of the world economy meant that there were some advantages to be gained from dissolving the sovereign nation-state. A large part of the business and managerial class began to doubt if they really needed the nation.
- Capital also became very mobile – meaning that capitalists could mess up any policy that they felt badly about. Since business people have traditionally been right-wing, it is hardly surprising that left-wing policies alarmed them and led to currency crises.
- People had been prosperous for a very long time, and had forgotten just how bad a normal capitalist economy could be for the majority of the population. They didn’t realise what they stood to lose.
When traditional politics failed to cope with these problems, the way was open for non-traditional solutions to be tried. Particularly since Trade Unions in the 1970s went beyond the framework of existing society. Part of the reason was a simple desire to do the best for their members. But those who were far-sighted enough to see that end- less wage rises could become self-defeating were also influenced by the Marxist-Leninist model of society and history. They assumed that if the existing society could be disrupted sufficiently, it would automatically transf01m into a socialist utopia.
Only the left in Britain could have successfully messed up the post-1945 system. The right had neither the courage nor the imagination. They merely benefited from widespread working class disgust at endless, pointless, self-defeating trade union militancy. What could you make of a movement that disrupted everything and backed away from serious reforms like workers’ control and an incomes policy? The Social Contract was an optimum for Trade Unionism. But Trade Unionists destroyed it.
A stalemate was created in the 1970s. Serious advance on a left-wing basis was prevented by the left itself. This deadlock could only be broken by a militantly right-wing government. Someone had to reduce trade union power to the point where society could start functioning again. And the Tories are still trading on their success in so doing. They are now doing far more damage to British society than any of the left-wing militants ever managed. Destroying the society so as to save it – American ideas have had a very big influence.
Toughness without justice is the essence of brutishness. Punishments that are not generally accepted as just have little effect on people. Criminals are only copying the sort of behaviour they see the rich getting away with.
Under Tory management, Britishness is turning into Brutishness. Tough ‘law-and-order’ policies merely feed this problem, exactly as they have in the United States of America. Armed police and the execution of criminals have not prevented the steady drift to a vastly more dangerous and violent society.
Hanging for murder would not have deterred the late Fred West. It was in the end what he chose for himself, once his crimes had been detected and broadcast to the world.
Harsh treatment of criminals normally goes hand in hand with high levels of crime. It is far from clear if punishment has an effect on most murders or sex offences. It is very proper and just to punish the criminal, but to suppose that it will stop others is a delusion. Most of us simply would not commit rape or murder even if we were perfectly certain of getting away with it. And most of those who do offend hope not to get caught. A few of them
In the case of murder, there is a very easy way to prove that punishment is not a significant deterrent. A fair proportion of murderers go on to commit suicide. In such cases, neither the severity of punishment nor the likelihood of being detected could make any difference to the killer. Yet such murders keep pretty much in step with the other sort, the preplanned greedy killings or the act of rage that the perpetrator then tries to conceal.
I am not suggesting that we decriminalise murder, though it is only a shade crazier than the proposals for decriminalising drugs use that The Economist magazine has been floating for years. Law does have a considerable influence on people’s perception of right and wrong, particularly now that the churches have lost most of their influence. Laws set the moral tone, given that churches in the west are not good at practising what they preach. (Even the supposedly traditionalist Roman Catholics cover up for child molesting priests and send them on to some new area to do the same thing again.)
Given that religion no longer offers the old certainty or solidity – not unless we all chose to embrace Islam, which isn’t likely – only the state can keep some sort of moral order. And only if it is perceived to be honest and caring. A welfare state will keep crime to a minimally low level. Some people seem just born to be bad, and there is little than can be done about them, but they are also fairly rare. It is the Tory pattern of a Don’t-Care State has made criminals of many who would have been entirely law-abiding in a more decent society.
Severity of punishment is popular. It might even be just. But it is not a way to reduce crime. Not even if we reintroduced those fine old English practices of ear-cropping. burning with hot irons, public humiliation in the stocks, whipping at the pillory, blinding followed by castration, hanging with slow strangulation, keel-hauling, boiling alive, breaking on the cartwheel. Or the fine old English practice of having really serious of-fenders bung. drawn and quartered. If we forgot humanity and were to do all of those things in an effort to solve crime. it would only add to the general brutishness. When those were actual legal penalties. regularly imposed, England was far nastier and more dangerous than it is today.
Being tough on criminals is only of use if it restores public faith in the basic justice of society. Tory ministers may call for a return to an older moral order. But who on earth would listen to moral lectures from those people?
World trade is supposed to be the solution to all of our current problems. The New Right declare it to be the core of capitalism, unrestricted free trade in the tradition of Adam Smith. Yet the man himself had a very poor anticipation of the matter. Writing in the late 18th century, he said
“The price of coals in Westmorland or Shropshire can have little effect on their price at Newcastle; and their price in the Lionnois can have none at all. The productions of such distant coal mines can never be brought into competition with one another.” (The Wealth of Nations, l.xi.c 22)
The ‘prophet of capitalism’ had noticed that there was a global market in precious metals – “the silver of Peru finds its way, not only to Europe, but from Europe to China”. But he failed to see that as the economy developed, even very ordinary bulk commodities would achieve a global circulation. For Smith, coal mining in a place as distant as ‘Lionnois’ – the region of central France around the city of Lyons -was too distant to make any difference to British production. One wonders what he would have made of the present-day situation, when British mines are being closed because of cheap imports from Latin America and Australia.
Adam Smith actually foresaw very little of what was to come. He managed to live all through the early stages of the industrial revolution and right next door to James Watt without ever suspecting that something totally new had started. The basis for his reputation was that he told the rich and successful that the very best thing that they could do for their fellow citizens was exactly the same as what their sense of greed would naturally lead them to.
Having never noticed the emergence of a global economy, Adam Smith had no answer to the problems it created. The Wealth of Nations never once asks any questions about what the growth of capitalist wealth will do to existing nation states. Nations are assumed to be a fixed and unalterable fact of life. As far as Adam Smith was concerned, the state structures of his day were no more likely to alter than the mountains or the coastlines.
Actual social developments have gone far beyond anything Smith ever imagined. Early capitalism generally promotes a very strong and exclusive nationalism, a nationalism that dissolves all local identities into a new and much stronger whole. As one Latin American school-child put it. there was the opportunity to be “not just part of the mass, but one of the people”. It is natural enough to aspire to be a developed individual within a complex and caring society. But turning a ·mass’ into a ‘people’ is not exactly a simple process. Populations that had been coexisting for centuries suddenly found that they had profoundly different views about which people they belonged to and which nation state should be ruling their territory.
Bosnia-Herzegovina is an example that springs readily to mind. It has been a source of tensions all through the 20th century, as multi-national empires broke up. Britain and France began World War One in defence of the Serb claim to the whole of Bosnia. These days, a much more modest claim to majority-Serb regions is being treated as monstrously unjust. Moral absolutes have a way of changing overnight, in the New World Order. Just as Saddam Hussein changed suddenly from being a minor ally to a major ogre and foe, and is now perhaps becoming a minor ally once again.
[This was plausible in 1995, and indeed seemed possible up until the attack on the Two Towers, even though this was done my enemies of Secular Iraq.]
In any case, global capitalism is making sovereignty an increasingly abstract matter. The oldest capitalist nations, the nations of Western Europe, are now rapidly merging into a single social, military and economic unit. The debate is mainly about how it will happen, not whether it will happen.
Whatever success the New Right have had, has been due to their willingness to dissolve the economic basis of the various nation states. They may be willing to die for their county, but they will not pay for it. For a few dollars more, they destroy nationalised industries, remove tariff protections and scrap national economic plans. All of this nation-breaking activity is combined with a great deal of chauvinistic flag-waving and declarations of their love for the nation.
[Actually very few of the New Right have risked their lives for any cause whatsoever. The dying has mostly been done by sincere members of the Old Right who follow them.]
Substantial politics has outgrown the nation. And the New Right have aided the process, all the while telling themselves that it is inevitable, and also not happening.
Western Europe is now locked into a world economy that includes countries where wages have traditionally been very much lower. Not the ‘bowl of rice a day’ of greedy New Right fantasies. Even basic agricultural workers were never quite at that level: people whose lives involved few cash transactions can seem to be much poorer than they actually are. And the living standards of the new Asian workers are much higher than those of their peasant parents, and rising all the time. But wage norms and expectations are still well below Western levels. And the supposed Western advantage of productivity is to a large degree based on machinery that can be set up anywhere. Also infrastructure that the new industrial nations are acquiring very fast, while Britain disrupts its own essential services with dogmatic and expensive privatisation.
The pure logic of capitalism says that living standards for wage earners will tend to equalise – Asians and Latin Americans rising with West Europeans and North American being levelled down. This would apply not only to the traditional working class, but also to the bulk of the middle class, people whose main income comes from their work, even if they own some shares and property beyond the houses they live in. And in limited ways, this is already happening. It is only the living standards of the rich that are being defended.
The Bennite notion of ‘Britain alone’ was always an unlikely possibility. With the fall of Leninism and the general globalisation of production, it is not a serious option any more. The problem is how to ensure that the system we have remains decent.
From a capitalist point of view, it is natural to try to lower ‘unit labour costs’. But if you work for a living, then the ‘unit labour cost’ is you. It is easy to see why capitalists would wish to lower your standard of living and squeeze more work out of you, if they can get away with it. If unemployment was the only alternative, then it would be wise to . accept a lower income, just as it would be wise to hand over your wallet to a pair of machete-wielding muggers. But why we in the working mainstream should applaud this process is another matter.
The 1950s, 1960s and 1970s showed that there are plenty of good, sound. sensible alternatives. And after some fifteen years of dominance. the New Right have created an unprecedented mess. Not only do they move money from the poor and middling strata to the very rich. They can not even keep up the pattern of sound and steady growth that was characteristic of the era of controlled markets.
The United States in the 1980s showed exactly how things could go wrong. Under Reagan and Bush, the living standards of the bulk of society went down. In Britain, the poor got poorer, average workers got a bit richer and the rich got very much richer. In the USA, people on average incomes lost ground, and yet still went on voting Republican. After a glitch in 1992, they have now voted for another dose of the same.
The Right in Britain and America are very good at making false promises. They find covert ways of tapping racist sentiments. It is not even that they are sincere racists, or have any intention of meeting the demands of poor people who blame social ills on immigration. They want those people’s votes, they do not want the people themselves. The racists get nothing of substance from Tory or Republican politics. But it is all done very skilfully. And the Left can even aid the process, by referring to the Tories or Republicans as if they were sincere racists rather than cynical vote-stealers.
But the cynicism and skilled manipulation is not based on anything substantial. Toryism will dissolve Britain while saluting the Union Jack. The long-term result may be positive, a democratic world federation that could give a decent living standard to the whole of humanity. But not necessarily, and not very probably if it is all left to the Tories and the New Right. Certainly, dogmas of free trade must not be allowed to take priority over the welfare of ordinary people. Trade liberalisation may be good or bad, depending on the circumstances. And if slogans like ‘saving money’ and ‘concentrating on the most needy cases’ are used as an excuse to lower British wage rates to Asian levels, trade liberalisation would be very bad indeed. Yet it could happen. And to stop it happening. the intellectual basis of the New Right position must be undermined.
[Sad to say, the New Right was given another two decades of intellectual credibility, with New Labour and the Clinton Democrats plus Obama treating their assumptions as unpleasant truths. Even the massive crisis of 2007-8 did not shake this faith, with rich gamblers being bailed out by the state, and Austerity imposed to pay for it.]
The abrupt collapse of Leninist Marxism has given the New Right a credibility that they do not deserve. Something of the sort was actually predicted even before the USSR got going. E.M. Forster in 1909 saw the inherent instability of the Wellsian vision of the future, the rational world state. His short story The Machine Stops correctly forecasts that such a system could collapse very rapidly after a long slow decline in the quality of its leadership. Though the USSR was officially Marxist, Wellsian utopias were the first inspiration for most of its leaders. Also a common culture that gave them a wide spectrum of non-Marxist support. Wells himself hailed the USSR as the future that worked.
In The Shape of Things to Come, Wells supposed that such a system would be secure once it had the chance to raise a new generation through its own self-enclosed educational system. Most people either hoped or feared that this judgment was correct. I suppose that no one took any notice of Forster. But in the real world, a self-selecting oligarchy is not likely to remain competent. Not when it is immune to public opinion. Not when it has to rely on people who have grown up in the system and fail to realise that anything else is possible.
The USSR failed to build up an informed public opinion that could have curbed the leadership in the interests of the system as a whole. Its collapse was always likely to happen. Something similar may well happen in China, though probably not for another generation, not until all of the old guerrilla fighters are dead. The current Tory / Foreign Office schemes to undermine China using a shallow democracy based on tiny Hong Kong would be comical, were it not for the likelihood that it will all end very unhappily for the unfortunate inhabitants of Hong Kong, none of whom will be given refuge over here unless they are very very rich.
[Nearly a quarter of a century later, the unfortunate inhabitants of Hong Kong still show no signs of understanding how they were used.
[In 1995, I still believed much too much of the official Western line on China. I remembered perfectly well that China had made enormous advances under Mao, something they imply not to have happened while managing to avoid direct lies. But until provoked by Chang and Halliday’s Mao: The Unknown Story, I had not looked in detail or realised just how much successful socialism the post-Mao leadership had retained.
[I also did not realise until later how much Russia and Ukraine were suffering after having their own Leninist systems undermined.]
With hindsight, we can see East European Leninism was undergoing a long slow collapse ever since Brezhnev invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968 and imposed a ‘normalisation’ that had no depth, idealism or credibility. The New Right were lucky, not clever. And, unless all that they said about Gorbachev was a pack of cynical lies, the collapse of the USSR was caused by precisely the sort of measures that they thought would revitalise it.
It is unfortunate that most of the Left remained sentimentally attached to the USSR long after it lost coherence and ceased to be worth supporting. But some of us were never fooled. And it is time to reassert the basic truth of the wider socialist position. Only socialism can cope with the complexities of the modem world. Only socialism can prevent it falling into chaos. New Right ideology can only multiply the chaos.
I will now examine in detail the matters that this introduction has touched upon.
(I say nothing about the 1994 report of the Borrie Commission for Social Justice. because there is not much worth saying. I have reviewed it elsewhere, in Labour & Trade Union Review. It accurately documents the failures of New Right practice, but then irrationally accepts that it was a good idea to rip apart the viable system that had been built after 1945. A new Beveridge, it ain’t.)
Almost 150 years ago, a fringe radical group known as the Communist League put forward a highly utopian demand. They called for a classless society. Under John Major, this aim has become official Tory party policy. The last few years have seen the fall of corrupt and unpopular governments that had Marxism as their formal ideology. But the substance of Marxist ideas has become part of normal politics
Whatever Major says, we obviously still have classes. The only really classless thing we have is the Tory government, classless in the dictionary sense of ‘lacking in flair, dignity and style’. We still have classes. But not the same classes that existed 150 years ago. Very large classes of independent small producers, craftsmen and peasants have been reduced to a tiny remnant. So too have the aristocrats who lived at the expense of the peasantry. And there has been a considerable merger between what used to be two widely separated groups, manual labourers and the ‘professional classes’.
Modern society is broadly divided into three groups:
- The Overclass – those who live off other people’s work, and are rich.
- The Underclass – those who can not or will not contribute to the wealth of the society, and are poor.
- The Mainstream – those who work for a living and support the rest.
In Britain, at least, the ‘Underclass’ has not yet diverged very far from the Mainstream. Before Thatcherism, there was no real Underclass this side of the Atlantic, and it is not yet too late to reverse the trend. Note also that the old or sick do not properly belong in the Underclass. Nor yet do most of the unemployed – class means more than immediate economic activity. And contribute to the wealth of the society is not always the same as doing paid work.
Within the Mainstream, there are residual social differences between the middle class and working class people. The very richest of the middle class merge into the Overclass. And a rather larger group have ambitions and pretensions that blind them to their real interests. And there are differences between occupational groups – teachers, engineers, office workers etc. But there is a visible and growing identity that makes it necessary to talk about a Mainstream of the people who earn their money working for some private or public institution. Among the younger generations, working class people and middle class people have each copied the things that they liked about the other group’s lifestyle. There is a gradation of income, but not much real difference in way of life or expectations.
Some people in Britain have tried to describe the whole of the Mainstream as working class, or at least working people. This would be logical – the whole of the Mainstream get the bulk of the income from their own work. But to say that teachers or office workers are actually working class is to ignore language as it is actually used.
In America, the term ‘middle class’ has been extended to embrace pretty much the whole of the Mainstream. Logically. it is not a bad term for the class that is in the middle of the social structure. Perhaps lorry drivers and dustmen really do regard themselves as middle class over there. But not in this country. In any case, redefining the working Mainstream of society as ‘middle class’ confuses them with the small and privileged minority who do do well as agents of capital or as hangers-on to the rich.
There have been dramatic changes in Britain’s class structures since 1945. There was a time when the upper-middle-class was able to monopolise certain types of work, the good and secure jobs in the army, navy, civil service, law, the church, the educational system and medicine. There was a time when such occupations had status. They were a cut above ‘trade’, the world of business that belonged to the mid-middle classes. They were far superior to poorly paid white collar occupations and small businesses that belonged to the lower-middle class.
Such stratification was the actual and rather arbitrary basis of ‘Victorian values’. It was moribund after World War One, under threat from the American system in which only cash counts. Not a lot of it survived World War Two. Most of what remained has been finished off by Thatcher, the wife of a rich businessman.
We have now moved to the American system in which the ‘top people’ are defined simply by money. They are cream of society – rich and thick. They are not expected to have any notable qualities beyond or outside of money and the acquisition of money. And they very seldom do possess such qualities, unlike the best of the old ruling classes. The Overclass is ‘classless’ in the sense that rich and successful people are usually too busy with their money to acquire any culture, style or elegance. They acquire a few social skills necessary for dealing with other rich people, and that is all. Separated from their money, they are nothing at all.
This classless inequality was the American way, modified very slightly by the prestige of ‘old money’. And it is what we now have also in Britain. The old upper-middle-class has been mostly absorbed into the Mainstream. There are few exceptions – a vestige of old ways at the top of the civil service, and of course lawyers.
In the 18th century, doctors and lawyers and teachers were more or less on the same level. Doctors and teachers have vastly improved their service to society over the past two centuries, and lost most of their social standing. Lawyers have successfully kept their own trade in an eighteenth century condition – slow, arbitrary and expensive. They even dress in eighteenth-century style – their US counterparts have modernised their garb, but nothing else. Lawyers are the only profession that still has significant status. The rest have modernised, lost privileges and gone into the Mainstream.
The Mainstream is a collective term for a number of similar overlapping groups. Broadly, it is all those whose main income comes from their own work. It includes many who own some property, usually just the home they live in. But people could be regarded as still part of the Mainstream even if they had a few shares and got a little money from them. Just so long as their work rather than their property was their main source of income.
Equally, top managers owe their success to their skill at serving the capitalist interest, so one should expect them to identify with it. This is likely to apply even without such things as share ‘options’ – cheap giveaways. Companies bribe their top managers to identify with that particular company: there is no need to bribe them to identify with capitalism in general.
As well as this, there is a residuum of small independent property owners. These no longer amount to very much, nor is anyone seriously looking after their interests. In social statistics they are lumped in with other very different groups. Most of the ‘self-employed’ are actually freelancers, and are part of the Mainstream, or occasionally the Overclass. Freelancers or contract workers give up the security of regular employment for rather higher wages when they are employed. They are a modern form of the traditional pattern of seasonal and migratory labour. Socially, they are the very reverse of the small independent property owners, who used to have the tight to carry on being what they were without outside interference.
Self-employment [since 1980] has been a polarising and regressive phenomenon. It robs from the poor and gives to the rich. A small number of self-employed persons do very well and have very nice lives. But these are a mere one-tenth of the total number. The vast bulk of the self-employed are ‘working poor’, only just above poverty level. And of course any of them can be unlucky and end up jobless, burdened with enormous unpayable debts.
Writers and journalists are one group that still does have some independence. A best-selling novel can be written in a back room by someone with no connection to existing literary circles. Writers and also some journalists control their own conditions of work, and this is a very exceptional condition. Rather, it is an odd survival of what used to be the norm. And the immediate experience of such people normally gives them a wildly inaccurate notion of what modern life is all about. They are the lucky possessors of one of the few skills that has not been very much changed by capitalism or industrialisation. This keeps them somewhat separate from everyone else, inclined to believe that the vanished world of small independent production is still strong and viable
The media is mostly owned by the Overclass, and identifies with their interests. The loss of independence by The Times, once the pride of the British establishment, is symbolic of the change. The ‘Thunderer’ is now a lapdog. The old joke – “two reporters and a gentleman from The Times” – will mean nothing to future generations. It already means nothing to those unfortunate enough to grow up during the Thatcher era. The decline did not begin with Murdoch the Dirty Digger, though he was certainly part of it.
There are those on the left who treat the root meaning of a word as the true meaning. By this logic, when newsreaders have tragic news to pass on, they should put on a goat-mask and sing a doleful melody. ‘Goat song’ is the literal meaning of the original Greek term. Likewise both terrible and terrific are offshoots from the word terror, but have acquired very different meanings. And both interest and improve were technical financial terms in their earliest beginnings, only gradually acquiring a wider sense.
What do we make of the traditional Marxist terms, Proletariat and Bourgeoisie.? According to their strict and proper origins, they have nothing to do with modem society. Proletarian is a Latin term for those citizens who had no property and could only contribute their labour. In the modem world, even quite poor people have some property. And people can be very well off and still dependent on their own labour. In any case, most working people will have no idea what ‘proletariat’ means. And the ones with the least idea will mostly be those who might actually be ‘proletarian’, in the technical sense.
Bourgeois is a more specific term. There was in Marx’s time a very extensive social class, burghers or citizens or bourgeoisie, that owed its origins to the West European tradition of self-governing towns or boroughs. Even when there was no direct line of descent, this old social group was the main source of social ideas and traditions for the rising middle class.
Contrary to the standard Marxist view, this group of property-owning townspeople was only accidentally associated with capitalism. They played a large part in starting it and in spreading it round the world. But they were very silly burghers to do such a thing. In the long run it was lethal for all of their social values.
Mind you, it was not the ‘burgers’ alone who developed capitalism. Even in the 18th and 19th centuries, there were plenty of industrialists who began as ordinary workers and ended up aping the manners of the landed gentry. Equally, some of the old established landed gentry turned to industry to supplement their incomes. The Duke of Bridgewater was a notable pioneer of canal buildings. With great suitability, the canal which he had built to Manchester from his coal mines at Worsley actually did bridge water. The aqueduct over the river Irwell at Barton was an impressive and original feat. It was a suitable opening to the age of canal building that cut the cost of transport and helped the industrial take-off of the late 18th century.
The upper middle class occupations that I mentioned earlier. were in substance the place that the traditional bourgeois or prosperous towns-people found for themselves within the new society. Their traditions of self-government within a secure framework merged naturally into public service as employees of the state. Others became the ‘professional classes’, with a high social standing. Not very many actual capitalists came out of this stratum, though some of the children of capitalists entered it via the public schools. The upper middle class in England strove to stay separate from those involved in the actual mechanisms of capitalism. They approved of it, nurtured it, justified it, supported it against the claims of the workers and the needs of the vanishing small producers. But they kept their distance. And eventually – first in the USA. and then elsewhere following the American example – the particular status of the ‘burgers’ ceased to mean very much.
In the world of the 1990s, the capitalist class has largely lost its bourgeois legacy. A lot of its members are of working class origin . Unlike similar people in earlier eras, they are not much concerned to conceal it. In so far as they want to copy anyone, they copy the remnants of the old landed aristocracy.
We are dealing with a situation that Marx never envisaged. A lot of his analysis remains very valid and useful, but it must be applied intelligently. The terms ‘bourgeois’ and ‘proletarian’ sound as if they mean something very definite and scientific. In fact they do not. Only in the Communist Manifesto are the terms spelt out clearly. But in the Manifesto, the term ‘middle class’ is used as something distinct from the bourgeoisie.
In an exceptionally unfinished chapter of an unfinished portion of Marx’s Capital, the question of class is considered. (Volume Three, Part VII, Chapter Lil.) Marx starts by saying that the three main social classes are wage-labourers, capitalists and landlords. He then asks, what about such groups as physicians and officials? What about the difference between the owners of vineyards, farms, forests, mines and fisheries? At this point the chapter breaks off, and there is no indication of what solution Marx intended to offer. It does seem odd that he includes landlords but not peasants or farmers. You can hardly have landlords without peasants, though peasants without landlords can manage fine.
In Britain, there was never any sharp distinction between capitalism and landlordism. Successful industrialists bought land, and some rich landowners invested in industry. The emergence of industrial capitalism in 18th century Britain was possible precisely because many of the land-owning ruling class did not see it as alien or threatening. There were corn-growing interests, just as there were cotton-producing interests and beer-brewing interests. But there was not the same sort of division that existed in other societies, where the aristocracy was genuinely old and closed to rich outsiders.
It is remarkable that Marx excludes from his draft the largest social class of his day, small producers who owned their own means of production. This class is mostly gone these days, in line with what Marx hoped and expected. But to leave it out was odd. Even odder is the standard Marxist habit of classing peasants as ‘rural petty-bourgeoise’. To categorise a farmer as a displaced miniaturised town-dweller is not very sensible. Particularly since the rural way of life came first, with towns and cities developing later on the basis of a prosperous and successful agriculture.
Large parts of Marxist analysis are real and valid. The development of capitalism is making many parts of Marx’s analysis much more accurate now than they were at the time he wrote them. But if serious theoretical socialism is to get anywhere, we must all drop the confusing jargon about ‘bourgeois’ and ‘proletarian’. In any case, material interests are only one part of the social structure, and not necessarily a determinant of class.
The split between the upper-middle-class professionals and the commercial classes was basic to the British way of life. It has now come unstuck. And nothing very much has replaced it.
The upper class and professional classes bad some idea of how to put their social objectives into practice, and how to balance their needs and desires against those of other classes. The commercial classes never needed such knowledge, and had a wildly false idea of the proper methods.
Society is not a business, any more than it is an orchestra or a football team or an army regiment. Society is the thing that makes all of these social forms possible. It allows people to specialise in running them without concern for wider affairs. But since business was all they knew, the Tory stratum that had come from a commercial background decided that business values must be a universal truth.
New Right ideology was no more than a glossy justification for what the commercial classes felt like doing anyway. That sort of person had never had any responsibilities except to operate successfully within the limited and highly artificial world of commerce. Cocooned within a sophisticated civilisation, they had no notion of the duties and responsibilities of rulers. They merely believed in individual responsibility, in the sense that they always hold some other individual responsible for anything that goes wrong. For this reason I call them an Overclass; not a ruling class.
When I say that the commercial classes were cocooned within a sophisticated civilisation, I do not mean to imply that they had it easy . Far from it Like boxers or footballers or actors or academics or pop stars, they were in intense competition with their own kind, and also with various outside threats. Only there was nothing in their way of life that prepared them for maintaining the system that they were dependent upon. Looking after wider matters was generally the responsibility of a quite different sort of person. (Boxing was given a definite and regulated form by the Marquis of Queensberry, for instance.)
Two hundred years of capitalism has eroded all social divisions that are not based on money. Rich people are not visibly different from middling or poor people, apart from their possession of wealth. But why should such a system hold together? It’s not natural, in as much as no such thing has ever existed before in the whole history of the world. And it isn’t just or reasonable – skill in money-making activities counts for something, but so do social connections, inherited advantages and sheer luck. And there are many valuable human qualities that are not well reflected in terms of cash. Scientists are one notable case – when Einstein went to America, he was quite surprised by the size of the salary they were willing to offer him. And it remains true that a moderately clever businessman is likely to acquire far more money than a genius in almost any other field of endeavour.
We now have a system in which most people must end up as ‘losers’, but are in no way prepared to accept such a role. Previous lower classes were led to believe that their position was the Will of God. They also tended to feel that it was better to be poor and virtuous than rich and bad. You had a ‘social pyramid’ – not particularly fair, but very very stable. So stable .that it lasted for several millennia before a break-through to a different and ever-shifting sort of society in parts of Western Europe. These days you have a ‘social worm-bucket’, a conflict of everyone against everyone else, universal selfishness praised as wisdom.
Why should such a system hang together? Look at America, and you will see that it doesn’t. The more the US loses touch with its puritan small-farmer and small-town roots. the more the whole place simply fails to cohere or keep people civilised.
People on the left have generally followed Marx in speaking of ‘capitalist society’, taken to mean the same as ‘bourgeois society’. They could seem to be the same, in as much as modern capitalism developed within the social frameworks of the bourgeoisie, the class of prosperous town-dwellers. But capitalism as such has no social values. Capitalism free from external controls is nihilistic. If everything is for sale, what price virtue? What price traditional politeness? What price social hierarchy and titles? (Lloyd George is said to have actually produced a price-list. Both Liberals and Tories did unofficially award titles to their rich supporters, and still do.)
If you are going to allow free play to market forces, then you should not whinge about the loss of traditional social values. It is a gross dishonesty. But it is a form of dishonesty that the Tories have raised to a fine art. Remember, they have been a governing party at every stage of the rise of capitalism and the erosion of English particularness. This continues now that ‘UK Ltd’ is itself being eroded.
It is not that there is any secret agenda. Tory internal politics are said to be secretive and Machiavellian. But that is of no large significance except for those trying to make a careers within Toryism. In the last analysis, the will of the party faithful will always be decisive.
The British upper-class and upper-middle-class allowed capitalism to develop, in the belief that they would be able to control it. In particular, they needed to control the broader mass of the middle classes, including the people who actually operated capitalism. Both Tories and Liberals played this game – contrary to stereotypes, both parties were largely run by aristocrats in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and both had a mix of urban and rural support. And both were able to win support from the newly emerging working class, as soon as they were given the vote.
It was the Liberal Party that fragmented first. It was a party with a formal ideology, a distinct purpose in the world, an ideal of enlightened aristocrats presiding wisely over a society of small property ownership. Liberal economic theory said that maximum freedom of choice would promote this ideal. The reality of developing capitalism turned out to be otherwise. Small property ownership in the real world is an unstable condition. No matter how many economists assert that it small-scale ownership is ‘natural’, a real free-market economy will always work to crush the small operator and concentrate wealth.
Small property needs either entrenched social customs or state protection to ensure its survival. Liberalism died from a contradiction – which of its twin ideals should it uphold, given that they had turned out to be incompatible? Actual Liberal practice got into a hopeless muddle, with “Liberalism” coming to stand both for more state power and for less. In the long run, this bust the party.
Toryism had the advantage of flexibility. It got away with labelling itself ‘conservative’, even though it has never in the long run conserved or preserved any of the things it was pledged to uphold. But it too had a serious long-term problem – the loss of power by the traditional ruling elite, and its inability to control the non-traditional money-orientated business elements. The ‘gentlemen’ were too tied up with vanishing social values – and also not gentlemanly enough, when it came to the point.
The traditional ruling class used up their social standing when they got millions of young men slaughtered in the Great War, without achieving anything solid or lasting for the benefit of the nation. From then on, it was downhill all the way for the ‘gentlemen’. And following the American model, those who had made their money in ‘trade’ ceased to consider themselves inferior or unfit to run society.
The detailed unfolding of this process was complex. Edward Heath, grammar school boy and the son of a grocer, came to power as the representative of the new forces. But he learned a lot after his defeat by the miners. He offered a new consensus to the trade unions, a system that would have taken them forward at least as far as Thatcherism has set them back. But this option was rejected as a “betrayal of working-class interests”.
The Bevin Society and its associates were almost alone on the left in seeing merit in Heath’s ideas at the time they offered a possible way forward. (See Problems No.43). Everyone else was against Heath’s ideas as a diversion from socialism and/or revolution. So there were further strikes and the Three Day Week. Heath lost the two elections of 1974. And then his personal vanity prevented a quiet handover to Whitelaw, who would have been a Tory leader in a more traditional mode. Thus power passed to Thatcher, and to Tory elements who were pledged to run the nation on what they supposed were businesslike lines.
It was inconceivable to the Thatcherites that the national interest and business interests might not really be in harmony. They acted in the certainty that such a conflict of interest could not happen, and then got very puzzled and indignant when it did. Capitalism was not supposed to work like that. The New Right theorists had assured them that if only the market were allowed to find its own level, all would be well. The possibility that the market’s natural level might not include the cherished values and institutions of Toryism had not been seriously considered.
Adam Smith had called his work The Wealth of Nations, but he said nothing to justify this reassuring title. The rules of capitalism cut across national barriers by their very nature. “Protectionism” is just what it sounds like – protection of the national interest against potentially damaging economic forces from outside of the society. Particular forms of protection may cost more than they are worth. But drop all forms of protection, all barriers to market forces, and the nation will dissolve. Is dissolving right now.
Business skill is not at all the same as political skill. Business is an intensely artificial environment. It is an activity that does not become possible at all until you have a quite sophisticated society. Contrary to the fairy-tales of the New Right, business is not at all the same as trade in the traditional sense. Traders and trade routes are as old as history, though trade merges invisibly into social customs like gift-exchange, which are probably even older. The line between them is that you give gifts so as to establish ties of friendship, or to confirm ties that already exist. Whereas with trade, you exchange goods with someone you may not care for at all, just so as to get what they are willing to give.
[But business remains immensely social, with businesspeople always seeking social links with other businesspeople. This is least so in the speculative financial markets, but exists even there.]
Adam Smith supposed that a primeval arrow maker would set up his stall and sell arrows to his neighbours. Real life was hardly ever like that. Up until the 19th century, most people lived in fairly closed communities. If you were good at making arrows, you might give some to your neighbours. And if they liked them, they might give you something back – honey or cabbages or whatever else they might have in surplus. Or they might help look after your baby or support you in some local quarrel. Direct cash exchanges were mostly for dealing with strangers. For the bulk of the population, such dealings were rare and peripheral.
The rise of capitalism meant a big shift away from ties of kinship, neighbourliness and friendship. Things went much more towards pure selfishness – or ‘mutual self-interest’, as Adam Smith preferred to put it. The big advantage of this process was that it could and did go far beyond existing social structures. It could coordinate people on a vast scale, national or even international. And the task of arranging the interactions between millions of separate people who had become mutually interdependent became a specialised activity. A large number of specialised activities, rather. Selling goods, physically transporting them, receiving payments and recording the transactions – these have all become separate tasks as modem business has developed. And coordinating all of these, as well as ownership and profit, were the businesspeople themselves.
It’s been said that peasants are conservative in their outlook, because they live in a world of constant change. This is even more true of businesspeople. As capitalism develops, much that once seemed solid and secure is being eroded. Who would have expected the almost complete vanishing of the British Merchant Fleet? – helped, of course, by “patriots” who save money and impoverish their fellow-Britons by making use of ‘flags of convenience’. Who would ever have thought that Britain would lose its cotton industry, or that car making would suffer a vast decline in the USA?
Had I been writing ten years ago, I might have cited IBM as a classic example of a strong and secure corporation in a thriving industry. As of now, 1995, the very survival of the corporation is in doubt. It may bounce back, it may be broken up, who knows?
A critical difference between peasants and businesspeople is that business is the genera-tor of alni.ost all of its own instabilities. This will happen regardless of the will of those involved – just as a traffic jam is an event that is directly contrary to the will of all those who cause it to happen. People would never chose to have a stock market crash, for instance.
People try to take their profits at the top of an unstable market, or at worst to get out without serious loss. But too many people trying to do exactly the same thing produces a crash, a market with no buyers, only sellers.
On a wider front, business has certainly changed the role of women, bringing them to a much less unequal position. This was not at all what was desired by earlier generations of businesspeople – businessmen, rather, were still very much in favour of keeping women in their traditional roles. Except that women were a source of cheap untroublesome and undemanding labour, so that the temptation to employ them was irresistible. But once women had been given an independent role outside of the home, they were bound to start demanding additional rights.
Businesspeople have brought into being a world that is not really to their tastes. But they do not care to be told the grim truth – that business is by its very nature self-altering, self-mutating, self-disrupting, in the long run self-destructive. Understandably, they prefer to support those politicians who blame someone else: Businesspeople approve of politicians who uphold traditional values, but only to the degree that this can be done without hurting business interests. And that means hardly at all, when it comes to the crunch.
There is also personal corruption, but I think that the left have given rather too much attention to personal corruption by critics of capitalism. Most of the trouble comes, not from corrupt or illegal ties, but from normal and legitimate dealings in a free market with no fixed social responsibilities. Corruption is often a means for societies to change and modernise smoothly and peacefully, with the harmonious agreement of all established interests.
Grossly corrupt ties between businesspeople and politicians need not· be bad for economic development – look at Italy, look at Japan. It is excellent that those societies are now having a general clean-out, having become prosperous and stable enough to afford it. There is no need to keep the scaffolding after you have built the house. But corruption in those countries was part of wealth-creation in the critical years of building an industrial society.
[Back in 1995, I failed to realise just how much Italy and Japan had been damaged. A bad old order was replaced by something much worse. Japan’s ‘Lost Decade’ began in 1991, but I was not then aware it was worse than the aftermath of a 1991-2 financial crisis.]
Not all corrupt societies have fast growth, but few fast-growing societies have avoided corruption. The lower-middle-class viewpoint that sees corruption as an absolute burden and the source of all social ills is simply wrong. If you create a free market in all other aspects of social life, who should you be surprised that government services also become regulated by cash payments and market forces? If you have moral objections, then you should look beyond personal weaknesses and ask what sort of society one is dealing with anyway.
Britain during the early years of the Industrial Revolution was spectacularly corrupt, with politicians openly robbing public funds and creating jobs for their relatives. And I suspect that if US politics had been run with absolute honesty and adherence to principle, there would have been more than just the one Civil War. “Tammany Hall” and machine politics provided a means whereby people from utterly strange back-grounds and with very different ways of life could somehow learn to get along together.
Corruption exists. There is reason to suppose that there has been a great deal of it during the Thatcher years, and that it continues under Major. Those who got caught were so foolish, careless or arrogant that they can only represent a small sample of the whole. As for Thatcher herself, the most charitable thing one could say is that she has been astonishingly unlucky in her choice of friends. But this is not the main point. The central matter is that whereas corruption in Japan and Italy was part of wealth-creation, in Britain it has mostly been wealth-collection. Apart from huge tax hand-outs to the rich, the main activity has been the acquisition by privatisation of things that used to belong to others, the common property of the society as a whole.
The Thatcherites would deny that wealth-collection and wealth-creation could be two different things. Businesspeople do not need to worry about the difference, so why should they?
But a society is not a business. A business justifies itself by making a profit. Perhaps also by increasing the national wealth, though it is only in New Right fairy tales that these two ends are perfectly harmonious. Business success is measured in money, and the most important aspects of social and national life cannot be measured in money. High ideals in their actual expression in ordinary life are not independent of the flows of money and the nature of business practices. The actual result of Thatcherism / Majorism has been a growing cynicism and demoralisation.
A society is a collective entity that has to renew itself with each generation. And this is not something that happens spontaneously. Since the start of the Industrial Revolution in Britain, each generation has been visibly different from the last, which is not at all a natural or a normal condition. As the most recent end-product of this process, we tend to see it as an improvement. Or perhaps we see it as an improvement up until the point at which we were produced, going into decline as a new generation is produced after us with new and alien values. In any case, something gets reproduced, but not quite what the previous generation had wished for.
Traditional rulers were generally in charge of one defined portion of the society – a village or a county or whatever. They had a direct and obvious interest in maintaining the existence of the land and people who were the basis for their wealth. It was no bed of roses – in particular, rival rulers would often intentionally lay waste the lands which were the basis for their enemy’s strength. But there was some sort of community of interest. Barons might go mad and murder their servants and hangers-on, but they were very unlikely to lay waste the land that was the basis for their own power and position:
It is another matter with industry. Factory owners can recruit labourers from the whole society, or even from impoverished lands beyond. They sell the manufactured goods out to the whole society, and maybe beyond. If their ‘hands’ are worked to death, they can always get more. If low wages means that workers are too poor to buy much, there are plenty of others who can be customers.
Without any particular evil intent, the early factory owners had an abominable record. And it needed deliberate social engineering by the ruling class – by the Tories of that day, as it happened – to correct the balance.
It is surely not accidental that the industrial take-off in Britain occurred just after a massive shake-up of rural life. Industrialisation followed on from the creation of a more productive agriculture that was also run for the benefit of rather fewer people. Enclosure, which had been going on intermittently since Tudor times, was particularly important during this period.
19th century capitalism managed an annual growth rate of less than 2%, averaging out over all of the cycles of boom and bust. This was perhaps the best a truly free market could manage. It is of course well below the average of the post-war welfare state systems. Countries like Japan and South Korea managed more than 10% during their ‘catch-up’ period. China is managing similar rates right now. And they are doing it with a mix of state and private enterprise, ignoring the wise advice of people whose own economies are mired in recession.
Businesspeople succeed by being skilled at managing the particular problems of their own business, which can change from day to day and even hour to hour. Adam Smith is quite right when he says that they cannot concern themselves with the general interests of society, or even know what these are. The whole matter is much too complex for any one mind. Also they will be judged basically according to how much or how little they contribute to the profits of their own particular business. But this does not mean that the collective activities of businesspeople will add up to some sort of Panglossian ideal, the best of all possible economies. The vast majority of successful economies have always had considerable state intervention.
The New Right is always able to find the state guilty of any economic breakdown or mess-up. Since the state will generally have been doing something, you can always discover this to be the cause, just as the Inquisition were always able to find heretics or witches who could be blamed for the latest famine or plague. Then again. when the state had intervened in the economy and the economy had flourished, it could always be said that success had been achieved despite what the state had been doing.
Dogmatists will never run out of excuses, no matter how far the real world behaves in some other way. But the balance of probabilities is that sensible state intervention does work. Also protectionism protects, at least in the vulnerable early stages of an industrial society. The leaders of the USSR went wrong when they failed to open up to the world market in the 1960s, when their industries had been established and were still quite as good as anyone else’s.
A ruling class is a class that will accept responsibility for everything that is going on in the society. To blame it all on someone else is the oldest trick in the book. Within the world of private business, shifting blame is a standard trick, but top managers are also wise to it. A middle manager may be forgiven for having one incompetent subordinate. But if all of a particular middle manager’s subordinates seem to be failing, then the normal response is to boot out the manager. Or if the top manager seems to be cursed with a collection of singularly incompetent middle managers, the shareholders are likely to get together and boot him out. No private business could afford to keep someone who was cursed with such bad luck. And yet Lady Thatcher has somehow got away with saying that almost all of her own ministers let her down!
Businesspeople are used to accepting responsibility for their own particular business, but not for society at large. And since they are used to measuring success in terms of profit, their notion of wider responsibilities is to demand that everything be made profit-making. But at the same time they want traditional values to be maintained. And that is the basic contradiction.
Most successful businesses grow by breaking up and replacing some older and less profitable system. Increasingly, the pressures of modern competitiveness are forcing even the largest and most successful companies to ‘restructure’, alter their social forms and dump loyal long-term employees. It makes money, certainly- but it also breaks societies.
To blame the top managers is easy enough. From a socialist perspective, this is tempting, but a temptation that is best resisted. If you demand less tax, less regulation, cheaper goods and services, then you can not blame top managers for making a career out of meeting that demand. As the Chief Executive of Barclays Bank put it “we have to keep our costs down. People do want to spend a lot of time with the old fashioned bank manager of myth. But they don’t want to pay for it.” (The Money Program, 20th March 1994.) This pattern – people want tradition but will not pay for it – is something that I have noticed all over the place. Only in the fantasy-world of the New Right will these two desires be automatically in harmony.
Supposing a manager restructures a company so as to get rid of, say, 3000 employees with an aggregate annual wage bill of three million pounds. Supposing the result is an increase of profits by one million a year, this would be regarded as a great success for the company – or at least for its shareholders, who are the only people who have any legal right to be looked after. It works for them. But for society? In New Right fairy-tales it is supposed that the 3000 displaced employees move on to other jobs where they are more needed. Things are more complex in the real world. Even if the particular individuals who get thrown out find other jobs, these are jobs that can then not be filled by other individuals who remain miserably and expensively unemployed.
During the debate over coal mine closures, the government’s defenders argued that their policies were actually saving money. Look, they said, most of the miners made redundant go on to get other jobs. This shows a very superficial understanding of society. The jobs taken by the miners are jobs that would otherwise have gone to other people. With full employment – jobs for all but the hopelessly unemployable – there was a sound social case for closing old and unprofitable industries. But with high and growing unemployment, it is class war, war by the rich against the rest of the society. The war against coal mining went on long after Scargill as leader of the miners’ union had become an embarrassment for the left. The vendetta against coal mining ended up giving Scargill back some credibility. In the process, an old, interesting and well-respected segment of the society has been wantonly destroyed.
A society is defined by its people, not its money. What is Britain now? We have one of the best collections of fighting ships in the world, but very little by way of merchant shipping for it to protect. Coal and cotton were the twin pillars of Britain’s rise to greatness. Cotton spinning is just a memory in the museums, and now coal is following it.
Nationalised industries made an honest attempt to look after the national interest. Privatised industries do not. Some of them are constrained by self-interest- the Water Companies can hardly take their business elsewhere. But they try to ensure that the genuine costs of rebuilding Britain’s crumbling water and sewerage system falls on customers rather than taxpayers – proportional to the use of water rather than the ability to pay. That was the hidden agenda behind water privatisation – yet another burden to be moved away from the rich and onto the poor. And yet many of the poor still vote for Tories as ‘defenders of the national interest’.
With the electricity industry, matters are even worse. It’s as if a household were to split itself into a collection of separate entities, and then refuse to use the coal in the coal-cellar on the grounds that it had ceased to be profitable. The coal-cellar goes bankrupt, so you light your fires with wood that you buy each week. Livingroom Fires Ltd might do very nicely out of the transaction, but the household as a whole is worse off.
The situation in the real society is even worse than that. For every penny that the Electricity Companies save with slightly cheaper foreign coal, pounds are lost to the whole society with jobs that no longer exist and exports that have to be sent out to balance those imports. Of course it would all have a Happy Ending in a New Right Fairy Tale. Those fancy economics books with all their statistics and equations are no more realistic than Grimm’s Fairy Tales, just much less entertaining. The Happy Ending that is supposed to happen is that the total productivity of the society is increased as the displaced workers move on to other jobs. What jobs?
When there is full employment, there is some community of interest between capitalist and the working Mainstream. Without it, there is a much more basic antagonism. New Right economics cannot cope with it, because they ignore people and treat only the money as real. To take one fairly simple instance, you have the Misery Index, a concept promoted by The Economist and the Financial Times. It has the official sanction of popular right-wing economics from the people who would know, if anybody did. And it is sheer rubbish.
The Misery Index is generated by adding the rate of inflation to the rate of unemployment. Now this in itself is rather strange. Both are quoted as percentages, but rate of unemployment is a proportion, whereas inflation is a rate of change. 10% unemployment means that one in ten of those able and willing to work do not have a job. But 10% inflation does not mean that one pound coin in ten is blowing up like a little balloon. It is one way of expressing the process whereby traditional names for money come to correspond to less and less actual value. 10% annual inflation is also 214.36% inflation per decade, and less than 0.8% inflation per calendar month. Also inflation can soar above 100%, or drop below zero, which obviously cannot happen with unemployment.
A simple application of the Misery Index can yield insane results – the classic sign of a theory that is incomplete, or perhaps totally wrong. Supposing that Alphland has 110% inflation and 5% unemployment, while Bethland has 5% inflation and 100% unemployment. Common sense would say that while Alphland may be in trouble, it is much better off than Bethland, where the economy has obviously collapsed. And yet Bethland bas the lower “Misery Index”!
The Misery Index is a minor example of the world-view of businesspeople. It tells them what they want to hear – that looking after their own best interests is the best thing that they can possibly do for society. This was partly true when there was a dominant upper class with an acknowledged superiority to commercial values. Itis not true now. The “Misery Index” is favoured because it exaggerates the importance of inflation at the expense of employment. It boosts the position of the capitalist, for whom labour costs and the price of money are simply two of the many factors that make the difference between profit and loss. It fails to understand that employment is central to a modern society, whereas inflation is no more than a nuisance.
Inflation has been blamed for the rise of Hitler. This is simply untrue. The hyper-inflation of the 1920s was nasty enough, but democracy survived it. Nazism after the early 1920s was a fringe party getting about the same sort of support as our own Far Right at its peak. The fall of German democracy and the rise of Hitler was not caused by inflation. It resulted from the mass unemployment following the Wall Street Crash. Inflation was not a problem during the Great Depression – unemployment cured it. In Britain, the currency actually increased in value during the period of mass joblessness and misery.
The post-1945 leaders had their own memories to tell them what it was that had brought Hitler to power. They decided that there would be no more mass unemployment. As a secondary issue, they did also stabilise the world currency system with a scheme that lasted until speculators destroyed it in the early 1970s. But the key point was always a guarantee that there would be jobs for all those who wanted them, and even for those who didn’t want them. Back then, no healthy adult had any excuse for not having a job.
The lesson of the 1930s was well understood by the British ruling class. But the message was never passed on the commercial classes, who never did learn what it took to keep a society in being. The civil service, for all their faults and silliness, did take responsibility for maintaining the overall welfare of the society. Private business does not. They want to sell off everything. They talk of UK Ltd. and then they want to sell off all of its assets, to ease the burdens on themselves.
What former Tory leader Harold Macmillan said about Thatcher was much too generous. He likened her sale of the nationalised industries to some declining rich family that keeps going by selling the family silver and other inheritances from better times. But what Thatcher did was not so much selling the family silver – she sold the entire family!
When Mrs Thatcher as Prime Minister started talking about ‘Victorian values’, people were too polite to mention that she herself could never have become Prime Minister if Victorian values had actually held solid. Both her gender and her class origins would have debarred her even from becoming an MP, and definitely not Prime Minister. Such things never happened in the days when solid aristocratic, gentry and middle-class values held sway. Nor would she even have been able to attend university – that was men-only until quite late in the day.
Traditional family structures in Britain depended on women being both kept down and protected. As elder sisters, wives, mothers, aunts, grandmothers, great-aunts or spinsters, they had a definite place in the society. They were usually well looked after for as long as they stayed in that place. They lived longer and had less worries than the men. They helped to maintain a structure of family life – a structure in which they would normally get more and more important as they got older. Married women could not be discarded by their husbands. And it was rare for any member of the extended family group to lose their place within it. ‘A place for everyone and everyone in their place’ – that was the logic.
No one nowadays is against the changes that have more or less equalised the sexes. To be precise, the most recent and still controversial changes still have their critics. But such criticism is much less rational than the criticism of previous generations. The reactionaries of thirty or forty years ago did correctly see that easy divorce, women getting educated and women going out to work would undermine the family values of their day.
The reactionaries fought for a real and a solid tradition, and they lost. I am very glad that they lost. But I also wish to make it clear that they understood the issue much better than those reformers who thought a few minor changes would solve everything. People then and now were unwilling to face up to the consequences of what previous generations decided. They want both freedom and tradition, even when these are obviously not compatible.
Disraeli said “a Conservative Government is an organised hypocrisy”. And never more so than under Mrs Thatcher. Toryism – which did not acquire the name ‘conservatism’ until the 1830s- is all about being unwilling to face up to the consequences of your own actions. When those people talk about ‘individual responsibility’, you can safely assume that they are looking for some other individual who can be held responsible. ‘Conservativism’ has not successfully conserved anything except its own existence as a party of government. But it has managed to do this very nicely, by holding together an unnatural and irrational alliance of progressives and traditionalists.
To have actually maintained traditional would have been very oppressive to women, and somewhat oppressive to men. Also it would have cost money. Sadly, it was the fact that it cost money that was the decisive factor, the ‘hidden hand’ that imposed changes on a largely unwilling society. The blind forces of capitalism pulled women out of the safe and secure environment of the home, turned them into wage-workers. ‘On-your-bike-ism’ broke up the extended social networks that had previously made family life interesting and rewarding for women. It progressively undermined the social structures that bad inhibited women from claiming what are now called their “basic human rights”.
The Declaration of Independence says that all men are created equal. The French Revolution called for fraternity, brotherhood, along with liberty and equality. Even among radicals, the notion of equality was assumed only to apply to the male sex. Women might be cherished and protected, even worshipped, but they had no proper part in public life.
[No one said ‘all men are sisters’.]
If ‘family values’ had included actually valuing families in terms of hard cash, the women might have remained content. But there were and are immediate short-term benefits in merely talking about ‘family values’ while plundering the social funds that had been reserved for their support. So the old order broke up. And we got the current snarl-up, which is itself undergoing rapid and continuous change.
The equality of women was a logical extension of the principles of the Age of Reason. But most people resisted such an alteration in a pattern that had been thousands of years in the making. Agricultural civilisations seem to have had a natural tendency to increase the domination of men over women. There have been many speculations as to why it was so, but I prefer simply to note that it happened. Certainly, all tradition, religion and conventional morality in the 18th century was against sexual equality. The notion was taken up only by a few radicals such as William Godwin, Mary Wollstonecraft and Percy Bysshe Shelley.
Mary Wollstonecraft made the first formal statement of the claim in her Vindication of the Rights of Women. Significantly, she was a woman who bad been able to make a respectable living independently of her family structure, as a governess and as a novel writer. But social life is never a simple matter; her daughter Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, author of Frankenstein, was much less willing to assert her rights as a woman. The active characters in Mary Shelley’s novels are always male, whereas her mother bad been willing to put things directly from a female point of view. And both William Godwin and Percy Shelley were apt to forget their theoretical commitment to equality and revert to the typical male behaviour of their period. As did Karl Marx and other left-wing radicals in a later era.
Had the struggle for sexual equality depended on ideological commitment, it would have taken centuries, or perhaps would never have succeeded. Fortunately, the ‘invisible teeth’ of capitalism were quietly gnawing away at the roots of established values, regardless of anyone’s will, contrary to what most people desired, but in perfect obedience to the laws of money freed from social responsibilities.
In the 18th century [Britain and Western Europe], families were the basic medium of social life. And 18th century society was stable and static. At least it was stable and static compared to what we have now – the forces of capitalism and industrialism were only just beginning to disrupt it. More than 90% of the population lived and died within twenty miles of where they had been born. And they lived and died in a world that remained basically familiar – not identical, but still highly recognisable.
All of this has now changed. Economic forces freed from social control mean that very few people are able to live and work all of their lives in their birthplace, even if this is all that they want. The world changes out of all recognition every ten years or so. And families are lost and scattered amid millions of strangers.
When I talk about families, I mean real families, extended social groups that perpetuated themselves through marriage and kinship. Tory MPs demand a return to ‘traditional nuclear families’. But the ‘nuclear family’ is only a cut-down remnant of the traditional kin-group. As a widespread social form, the nuclear family is actually very recent. It depends on a man and a women getting on very well together, which will happen spontaneously some of the time, quite often in fact, but not always or reliably.
The extended family managed to find a place for most people. A married couple who didn’t particularly get on could coexist without annoying each other too much. Traditional families usually had a much more sensible notion of what real people could be expected to do. If a married couple formed a natural pair this was excellent. But it was not essential. Family life could proceed on no more than mutual tolerance.
Nor did traditional families exist in a social vacuum. People lived in neighbourhoods with a strong sense of identity and local particularism. In a village, everybody is a household name. A household name in their own part of the world, that is, which is all people back then really knew or cared about. People automatically had the sense of place and a feeling of local importance.
The ‘nuclear family’ is a mere stage in the breakdown of family networks. It never existed as a social norm before the 20th century. And it hasn’t lasted long. It meets one particular human need – the strong sexual and social bond that can form between two people, particularly when both of them see it as the expected thing to do. At that level, the ‘nuclear family’ can work very well for very many people, though not for everyone. Where it really falls down is as a unit for raising children.
Children are what it is all supposed to be about, but when it comes to the crunch people ‘vote with their wallets’. They fail to give families with children the sort of support they actually need. And calls for further cuts are generally popular. A few tens of pounds fiddled by people on the bread-line attract far more attention than thousands of pounds in tax fiddled and withheld by rich sleek businesspeople. Anyone who is surprised by this contrast should remember what sort of people it is who own the newspapers, and have control over the careers of ambitious well-paid journalists and editors. Many journalists also fiddle their tax or expenses. And very few of them have ever tried Jiving on social security or low wages.
The cost of child-raising used to be taken care of informally, through family networks. Not always handled very well or very justly. People might get stuck with no kin who could help thein. And as people got richer they became increasingly keen to discard their poorer relations. But while that network held, it did a basic. job for most people. Not any more. Now the pressures of jobs and careers take people far away from their relatives and leave them isolated in a sea of strangers. And it is increasingly less common for people who happen to be living next to each other to regard each other as neighbours, in the old sense of the term. You can watch it on television, but you’d be lucky to find it in reality, or to be allowed to hang on to it if you do find it. Sixteen years of Thatcherism / Majorism have accelerated this general social breakup.
A common pattern nowadays is that a couple starts off as ‘dinkies’ , double-income, no kids. Some chose to stay that way, and some are unable to have children, but most go on to fulfil their basic biological programme by breeding and raising children. And despite all the popular rhetoric about ‘family values’, society actually penalises them for doing it. From being comfortably-off ‘dinkies’ they suddenly become ‘sinks’ – single income, noisy kids screaming. Child support does not even begin to meet the financial cost, let alone the demands for time and care.
Talking is cheap. Rhetoric about ‘family values’ is not the same as actually valuing families. The actual value that a society puts on families is shown by the degree to which society actually supports those who provide it with new members. Life would be meaningless without the assurance that future generations will carry on from us. But child-raising is now being treated as if it was some sort of expensive hobby which people should be expected to pay for themselves.
Unless and until we start turning child-raising into a profit-motivated operation, or unless decades of social change are reversed and we go back to tight-knit extended kin-groups, state support will be necessary. At present it is woefully inadequate.
‘Pay peanuts and you get monkeys’ is a fair rule of thumb for salaried employment. It is no less true of child-raising and of education. One should not blame the kids for what they are becoming in the present situation. Money is constantly robbed from them to give to the rich. The old guarantee of a decent job for the ordinary person was casually destroyed. The wonder is not that some of them are bad. The wonder is that so many of them are still decent, that a lot of them still go on to fine and worthy achievements.
One might indeed wonder why people still do chose to become parents, in view of all the hassle. But we are members of a species, at least as much as we are individuals. If we are naked apes, we are also hairy mammals. And that is a much more fundamental identity. Careful child-raising is something our remote ancestors learned back during the time when the dinosaurs ruled and we were tiny little mouse-like creatures.
(It must be remembered that the mammalian lineage is just as ancient as that of the monsters of ‘Jurassic Park’. The old notion that mammals were superior creatures who displaced the lumbering obsolete dinosaurs looks increasingly unlikely. The actual dinosaurs seem to have flourished right up until some sudden catastrophe wiped them all out. If there had been truly fair competition, the dinosaurs might be ruling still.)
[But those remote ancestors were not that much like the mice familiar to us today. These are rodents, and grouped with primates, rabbits and some other creatures in one grand category of mammals. We are closer to mice than to cats, elephants or pigs. Pigs we loosely resemble to the untrained eye, just as there are many mouse-like small scavengers. Even a marsupial mouse in Australia, which is closer to the kangaroo than to us.]
Perpetuating our own kind is a basic habit. Any lineage that lost it would obviously not have left behind many descendants. But it is not a simple matter. It is not just a matter of personal reproduction, passing on our genes. People also have very strong urges to perpetuate a wider group, familiar people, even if they are not related. People will even go to great lengths to adopt and raise children who are definitely not related to them within any category smaller than the entire human species.
Simplistic notions like ‘selfish genes’ explain some sorts of human behaviour, but not all of it. If it were just a matter of ‘selfish genes’, parents would be happy to give their babies away to any stranger who could be trusted to look after them properly. In reality, almost all parents will hang on to their children with great determination, giving up only when it really is a matter of life or death. We seem to have a basic instinct to try to perpetuate a familiar group.
Our own particular mammalian lineage, the line that led to the apes and monkeys, is particularly prone to living in cooperative social groups. Most species of apes and monkeys are found as small collectives, just as dogs typically operate in packs, while cats more often walk alone.
Every known human society started off with group identities, and many of them remained there. It takes some wealth and social sophistication to allow people to live more detached and individualistic lives. Most societies could find a place for individuals who wanted to separate themselves. Among Hindus this was even regarded as the proper culmination of a normal life, after an individual had had children and fulfilled all of their social obligations. But hermits or aesthetes remained a small minority, expected to live on next to nothing. The rest all remained within a network of kin, clan and neighbourhood.
The nuclear family is something new, unlikely to be stable in the long run. A detached family unit, not connected to any social group smaller than the nation, is a decided oddity. It has taken a couple of centuries of continuously uprooting and dividing people to produce it. When early industrialism threw great masses of people together in new towns and cities, living socially was such a habit that they quickly formed themselves into strong new social groups, mining villages or neighbourly streets etc. This process of forming communities keeps on happening even now, but the forces of disruption are also very strong
Our economic and legal system considers that every man is an island – every man and woman, these days, though the original intention was to keep women as the private property of their men. Sexual equality was an unexpected byproduct of a social system in which group rights were not taken seriously. Lawyers defend their own group rights, with barristers and solicitors as the ultimate ‘closed shop’, But they do not consider it appropriate for the same privileges to apply to anyone else.
Thatcherism has given traditional values a double dose of poison, speeding the process of break-up and confusion. Talk counts for little. It is ‘voting with your wallet’ that makes the real difference. Toryism attracts votes from people who really do want to preserve traditional values of home, religion and family. But the party itself has never really served such ends.
The role of Toryism since the late 18th century has been to sound as if it would preserve the traditional values of home, religion and family, while actually allowing them to perish.
New Right theory says that giving extra money to the very rich will make them so much more productive that they will raise the general level of wealth and make the poor richer as well. It says that more prisons and punishments will mean less crime. It says that less welfare will mean a return to traditional family values. How they have got away with saying such rubbish is a minor mystery in itself. If their theories were even half right, there would be no poverty or recession in Britain, and the USA would have very little crime.
If you assume that an advanced industrial society can only be run using the profit motive, then you can explain the collapse of the USSR in the 1980s. But not its considerable success in the previous decades – your theory predicts that the USSR should have collapsed in the 1930s. And it’s no answer to point to the human cost of Soviet industrialisation. The theory was supposed to be talking about economic success, not morality. Besides, the original capitalist industrialisation was no more moral, cost at least as much in human terms, and took a lot longer.
I doubt if there would ever have been any Soviet Union or any Nazi Germany if the ruling class at the start of the 20th century had chosen to be peaceful and cooperative rather than killing millions of their best young men in greedy squabbles over trade and colonial possessions. Greedy squabbling in the New Right Fairy Tale is supposed to resolve conflicting interests and produce a sensible harmony. It sounds stupid and unlikely, and it really is.
If it were true that taking money from the poor and giving it to the rich would increase overall wealth, this would of course be a sensible thing to do. But why should it be true? Even within the framework of capitalism, it is not true at all. The best-working economies are those with a fairly narrow gap between rich and poor. Whereas the gap in wealth is very wide in many of the economies where development has failed. And in the former Soviet Union, one of the big problems was that the rulers had vast entrenched privileges that they were keen to bang on to, and a political system that protected them from public scrutiny or criticism.
If it were true that welfare spending destroyed family values, while capitalism strengthened them, we would not have seen an acceleration of the break-up over the past fifteen years. More than that – we would never have seen the break-up in the first place. After all, the welfare· state was only ever invented when it became clear that existing family structures and private charities were quite unable to cope with the problems of industrial society.
Both Britain and the USA seem to be on a downward spiral, a spiral fuelled by short-sighted greed. People want to pay less taxes, take more money for personal pleasure and less for social needs, so society gets worse. As society gets worse people are even less willing to contribute to it Anti-social behaviour develops even among. those. who were previously peaceful and law-abiding. The worse things get, the less people are willing or able to reverse the trend.
In Britain, where very few ordinary citizens possess guns, it is also fairly rare for criminals to carry them. It used to be very rare indeed. The traditional underworld was cruel and violent, but it did have some principles, including a dislike of firearms. This has changed somewhat for the more serious sorts of crime. But since use of a firearm multiplies the penalty if you are caught, and since possession of a firearm is an unquestionable fact that you can not explain away, there are strong restraints on using them. Since few ordinary citizens have guns, there is no likelihood of armed resistance, so no sensible criminal will go armed to a robbery. Whereas if most householders were armed, as they are in the USA, all of the Criminals would also carry weapons as a matter of simple survival, and the whole society would be brutalised. (At least half of firearms deaths in the USA are due to accidents or suicide.)
It’s not just violence. In a recent survey of children’s attitudes, I came across one frightening detail – I found it frightening, at least, though no one else seemed to find it worrying. It was not their views on sex or violence, but the fact that most of them were ambitious to become rich and famous. Now it should be obvious that however hard they try, almost all of them will ‘fail to make it’, to use the American phrase. What sort of society will that create? What sort of world will you have, when only the exceptional is considered acceptable?
When ordinary life is considered not acceptable, and when many of the ‘top people’ are obvious wallies who just happened to have some highly marketable skill, what is going to happen to ‘family values’? Talk about ‘communitarianism’ is not going to stop this slow-running but deeply dangerous trend from undermining what’s left of Britishness, and civilised life in general.
What does the New Right think of it all? They tend to say ‘you can’t change human nature’. Once again, they are dead wrong, and ignorant too. All of human history is a process of continuously changing human nature as it is actually expressed.
The conquering legions of Rome consisted of people who looked exactly like the present-day Romans. If you go there and look at the local people, they look exactly like the marble busts from classical antiquity. But they no longer make good soldiers, and even the gangsters come from further south. Or look at the peaceful cooperative moral folk of present-day Scandinavia – these are the direct descendants of the cruel warlike and individualistic Vikings. They are still good sailors, that is the only real continuity.
The New Right assumed that setbacks to social evolution and to would-be socialist utopias were a vindication of their own ideas. The ‘end of history’ was proclaimed, briefly, very briefly. The collapse of the USSR at the end of the 1980s was taken as a vindication – never mind that New Right theories would have predicted a collapse of the USSR at the start of the 1930s, when it began doing things that had been assumed to be impossible.
The ‘end of history’ is now itself history. The choice remains exactly what it was at the start of the 20th century – socialism or barbarism. For a time you had a compromise, socialism and barbarism, represented very successfully by the Leninist states. But we are now back to a much simpler choice.
18th century society was hierarchical and male-dominated. Most people followed the same trade as their parents, and stayed on much the same level of the social and economic hierarchy. There was no pressure to do otherwise. No feeling of failure if you didn’t rise to some higher and richer social group. No pressure to achieve the superior power and status that could of necessity only be enjoyed by a small minority. The society was not disrupted by unlimited and open-ended greed and ambition. The bulk of the population did not end up feeling unfulfilled and unsuccessful.
Women in the 18th century were both restricted and protected. It was very hard for a woman to make a career outside of the home. On the other band, she could also count on keeping her basic position for as long as she lived. A man could not discard his wife, no matter how much he might get tired of her. And she would hardly ever be expected to move away from her friends and relations for the sake of her husband’s job or career.
There were points of tension. Although the 18th century aristocracy was all in favour of sexual pleasure, middle-class opinion was against it, being still dominated by conventional Christian values. The Gospels definitely state that celibacy is the Christian ideal, one should be an “eunuch for the sake of God”. Marriage for the production of children is tolerated for those unable to be so holy. Both adultery and homosexuality are condemned, though it is far from clear from the New Testament which of these was considered the more serious. But since adulterers have always been much more numerous, zealots have commonly down-played that side of things.
The notion that people had a right to sexual pleasure was not often expressed in public in Britain up until the 1960s. In the US it may still be a minority opinion, though US puritanism is pretty much decadent these days. In Britain the ‘top people’ had standards of behaviour quite different from the majority, standards that they were not prepared to defend in public. The late 19th century ruling class were well aware of what Oscar Wilde was up to, for instance. I doubt if there were many people in ‘polite society’ who supposed that he and Lord Alfred Douglas were ‘just good friends’. But when it became a matter for public debate, suddenly everyone pretended that they had never noticed a thing.
Something similar was tried with the Profumo Scandal in the 1960s. But by that time, there were far fewer puritans about. Not even in the House of Commons – Quintin Hogg seems to have been one of the few people to understand that Profumo could not be treated with any public sympathy if established values were to survive. People who had previously believed the official appearance of “respectability” suddenly realised that most of the ‘top people’ were privately doing just what they pleased.
[Hogg did get mocked at the time, as someone who had not controlled his own excessive love of food. This showed shallow understanding. Love of food was an accepted fault, and also extremely obvious to voters. Married men having sex outside marriage was thought wrong for public figures. The more so when it was prostitutes with dubious connections.
[Sex outside marriage is no longer an issue. Using prostitutes remains unacceptable, even though it is far less likely to cause harm than secret adultery. The system does not prevent prostitution, and has in fact encouraged it by reducing the supply of decent jobs for young people. But it resists a framework for legal working by prostitutes, which would be much safer for them.]
The establishment were failing to apply official standards to their own friends and colleagues. So many other people followed suit, naturally. And this still applies under Thatcher. It is by now moderately well known that most of the darlings of the Tory Right are also darlings of another sort.
The Profumo Scandal speeded up the sexual liberalisation that was already happening all over the place. The pill was a useful technical aid; it can hardly explain the whole social shift. Particularly not such things as ‘gay liberation’.
Puritanism had its ideas of what society should be. But actual society developed quite differently. The decline of family values is due in part to greater personal freedom, giving extra options to those who are not particularly drawn to family life, or to those who find that their ‘true romance’ is turning into a nightmare. But it is also true that those who have no desire for anything beyond family lives did not get the sort of support they might have expected on the basis of official values.
From the 1960s onwards, it was publicly accepted that people do have the right to sexual pleasure, the ‘right to fuck’. One consequence was that people with unconventional sexual desires were much less likely to suppress or hide them. The open expression of homosexuality was much more a product of the break-down of ‘family values’ than a cause. In non-European societies, in particular in traditional Islamic societies, strong family values were combined with an untroubled acceptance of bisexuality and homosexuality. But in Europe, things were different. And it was much easier, safer and more popular to blame an unorthodox minority than to try to alter the social evolution of the bulk of the society.
How did the Tories cope with this rapid process of social change? Basically, they lied. They have always had a considerable problem – they have to hold together a peculiar alliance of progressives and traditionalist . The traditionalists want old values to be reasserted and reimposed on the society. The progressives are not at all inclined to accept this, particularly not the Thatcherite types and their ‘Libertarian’ wing, a lot of whom are libertines as well as libertarians. The traditionalists want to reimpose traditional limits on ‘the right to fuck’. But the progressives are not at all ready to be restricted, and nor are most of the voters.
To handle the contradiction needs skill, but it is a skill that the Tories have in abundance. Earlier I quoted Disraeli saying “a Conservative Government is organised hypocrisy”. He was already a Tory MP when he said this, though he had previously been a radical. He remained a Tory for the rest of his life, saving and reviving the party when it might have perished or dwindled to a reactionary remnant. He did of course have a social vision of his own, ‘Young England’, a version of radicalism re-tailored to suit the ruling class. If the ruling class had taken Disraeli’s ideas seriously, instead of using them as a cover for their actual behaviour, history might have gone differently and they might have remained a ruling class. But that’s another topic.
The point is, the Tories are past masters at building coalitions of people whose aims and interests are not in fact compatible. Naturally, this leads to long-term results that absolutely no one wanted; But in the short term it does win elections, and is therefore judged to be wise and successful, a skill that is passed on from generation to generation.
Consider how you might resolve the following problem. Group A is hostile to homosexuality and not fond of public spending. Group B believes in homosexual rights but ideological opposition to public spending. You might have a great debate on what you think is correct, and then try to impose it on the society. That is the Labour or Liberal method, and it can work, in the sense that it can actually change societies and redraw the norms of social behaviour. But it has never been the Tory way. Rather than actually taking action on a principled basis, they find an issue that can fool rival groups into thinking that their own best interests will be looked after. So pick on public funding for homosexual art, as if it were some great or serious matter.
When dealing with Tories, never suppose that they really know what they are doing. It is a grave error to invest them with some sort of Machiavellian genius. Many of them are very slick operators in the short term, a few days or weeks or months or years. But itis not in them to actually alter the direction of the society.
The ‘slick operators’ are the lubricating grease in the machinery of society, helping events to go in whatever direction they may be heading, often somewhere quite stupid. Tory policies never really control the process, except in so far as they spoil other people’s plans. What they want seldom has much to do with the long-term result of their actions.
That is the nature of Toryism. If it were otherwise, how could they have been a governing party over fully 300 years, years full of changes that they abominated? Toryism began among those who supported the right of James the Second to become King of England. It lost its soul when it consented to his replacement by William of Orange. But Toryism remained in government, outlasting even the rivals the Whigs, whose principles did for a time shape the evolving society.
In the 1830s, about half-way through the history of their party, Toryism acquired the label ‘Conservative’. The Oxford English Dictionary, not exactly a left-wing source, says:
“The word was first used in this sense by J. Wilson Croker in an article published on 1 Jan 1830; and almost immediately largely took the place of the term Tory (originally reproachful), which had been in use for nearly 150 years .. ”
Toryism has never properly merited the title ‘conservative’. The total upturning of British life that has occurred since the late 18th century would not have been possible if there had been a major governing party that was actually conservative. Instead one bad the Liberals, and later Labour, with definite social ideals for a new society and operating in competition with Toryism. Toryism always sounded as if it was going to preserve the old order of things, but never actually did so. Toryism does not preserve the old world. It defends the ruling class interest, So that the new worlds that come into existence are less of an improvement that they might have been.
As it began, so it has continued right down to this present day. Mrs Thatcher, arch-patriot and opponent of European federalism, has left British society in ruins, ready to collapse despairingly into the embrace of a wider European Union. Hurd and Major are trying to cover up this process with a series of foolish quarrels about minor matters, while Thatcher and her followers plot serious disruption. If Lady Thatcher manages to continue her vandalism and wreck Europe, then the future will probably belong to the rising nations of East Asia. Or civilisation might collapse, she might achieve that even. What will never happen is a return to the ‘Grantham Values’ that Lady Thatcher would wish to impose on us.
Thatcher was rare in going beyond rhetoric, and trying to roll back the wheel of history. But she has simply destroyed things, creating nothing serious to put in their place. She promoted the mentality of ‘don’t fix it, break it’, a mentality that others now copy She replaced a welfare state with an illfare state. A pleasant if unsuccessful Britain with an increasingly unpleasant place that is also no better economically.
Never suppose that the Tories really know what they are doing.
This article is from Issue 44 of a magazine that was then called Problems of Communism (And Capitalism). It was published in January 1995, at a time before the disastrous surrender to Thatcherites by New Labour had become clear.
It has been scanned and tidied, and notes added where relevant. Any additional text is enclosed in square brackets.
I wrote The Don’t-Care State at a time when politics was open to many ways forward. If ‘New Labour’ had been based on something like this viewpoint, history would have gone very differently.
As things were, Tony Blair swallowed the idea that Thatcher had been largely right on economics and welfare. Junked a lot of the social controls, just as the Tory Libertarians would have wished.
It didn’t really work.
As of 2019, the long-standing Tory belief that all our troubles stem from the European Union has become dominant. This allows the interests of the rich to be defended, without admitting that New Right ideas were always junk.
A break-up of the United Kingdom is likely, with Scotland and Wales finally escaping the grasp of England and the collapse of Northern Ireland into a much more liberal Irish Republic likely. Thank you, Tony Blair!