We’re all Socialists now!
In the introduction to her autobiography The Downing Street Years – abridged here – Margaret Thatcher indicts Socialism for its failure to be efficacious. Writing that successive post war Labour Governments began a sustained attempt of a centralizing, managerial, bureaucratic, interventionist style of government.
It levied high rates of tax on work, enterprise, consumption, and wealth transfer. It planned development at every level – urban, rural, industrial and scientific.
It managed the economy,macro-economically by Keynesian methods of fiscal manipulation,micro-economically by granting regional and industrial subsidies on a variety of criteria.
It nationalized industries, either directly by taking ownership, or indirectly by using its powers of regulation to constrain the decisions of private management in the direction the Government wanted. As Arthur Shenfield put it:
The private sector is controlled by government, and the public sector isn’t controlled by anyone.
Socialism made available various forms of welfare for a wide range of contingencies – poverty, unemployment, large families, old age, misfortune, ill-health, family quarrels — generally on a universal basis. And when some people preferred to rely on their own resources or on the assistance of family and friends, the Government would run advertising campaigns to persuade people of the virtues of dependence. A disinterested civil service, with access to the best and latest information, was better able to foresee economic eventualities and to propose responses to them than were the blind forces of the so-called ‘free market’. To quote the former Labour Cabinet minister, Douglas Jay:
The gentleman in Whitehall really does know better what is good for the people than the people know themselves.
Such a philosophy was explicitly advocated by the Labour Party. It had a vision of the future: Britain as a democratic socialist society third way its principles and its policies both tending towards the expansion of government. The Tory Party was more ambivalent. At the level of principle, rhetorically and in Opposition, it opposed these doctrines and preached the gospel of free enterprise with very little qualification. Almost every post-war Tory victory had been won on slogans such as ‘Britain Strong and Free’ or ‘Set the People Free’.
But in the fine print of policy, and especially in government, the Tory Party merely pitched camp in the long march to the left. It never tried seriously to reverse it. We boasted of spending more money than Labour, not of restoring people to independence and self- reliance.
The result of this style of accommodationist politics, as Keith Joseph complained, was that post-war politics became a ‘socialist ratchet’ – Labour moved Britain towards more statism; the Tories stood pat; and the next Labour Government moved the country a little further left.
The Tories loosened the corset of socialism; they never removed it.
Peter Hitchens wrote an article for The American Conservative with the title: The Myth of Margaret Thatcher. He begins his article with reference to the film The Iron Lady, which he thought to be a cruel portrayal of Margaret Thatcher, making much of her decline into bemused old age. While it aroused sympathy for her among the undecided, passionate sympathy among those who already revered her, her enemies—the unintelligent, intolerant left—continue to hate her. Writing that with such people attacking her, it is hard not to rally to her side.
But what about those of us who have an uncomfortable and growing suspicion that she was not as good as she is made out to have been? I am one of them. I still cannot resist the feeling that her reputation is not just inflated but damaging to the conservative cause.
Peter Hitchens concludes with: But at the end of it, she was a great and noble failure, who forgot or ignored half of what she really needed to do, and so lived to see almost all her successes negated. And until conservatives in Britain and America are ready to recognize that, they too will fail, over and over again.
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