Monday, 12 May 2008

Labour isn't working - a warning to Cameron

It seems at last that the reality of a new zeitgeist is penetrating the minds of some members of the political class. Martin Kettle wrote in the Guardian on Saturday:
The common factor last week was an unprecedented degree of anti-Labour tactical voting. In the south of England, Labour mainly lost to the Conservatives. But in the north, it lost to the Liberal Democrats, too. In Wales it lost to whoever was best placed to give it a kicking, including independents. In London, Labour tried to run against itself as an independent but ended up losing all the same.

....... British politics seems to be in the process of becoming more regionally distinct than ever, with no one party now able to assert a Britain-wide hegemony. Our 20th-century (arguably our 19th-century) political parties are being compelled to adjust to a more fluid 21st-century society.
Yes. We are moving on from a political duopoly based on polarised ideologies. There is a new scent in the air; a desire for an end to central Statism, a reaction against the metropolitan political class. Social divisions based on class and ownership are forgotten. We are all, at the same time, now both workers and middle class.

The fate of the professions is a useful example. The professions were professions precisely because they were self-regulating, had governing bodies that restricted entry, maintained standards, and determined who could practice. This was anathema to a central State jealous of any competing intermediate institutions. From the 1970s onwards, the independence and powers of the professional bodies have been eroded to the point of irrelevance. The State now largely regulates them, and central State planning rather than the Royal Colleges now ensures that quotas based on ethnicity, sex and background rather than grounds of competence and merit prevail. The professionals have become workers; we are now closer to Castro's Cuba in this regard than to 1950s Britain.

Plumbers and scaffolders now own neat semis in the suburbs, with a Discovery in the driveway and something small and fast and purple for the wife in the garage. They holiday in Florida, and wonder if they shouldn't take out private health care. The workers have become middle class.

Only the pool of the underclass has remained static. 5m people of working age made Welfare slaves, locked into poverty and non-achievement, Beveridge's war on Disease, Squalor, Idleness, Want and Ignorance forgotten by both Labour and Tories alike. Labour, and fools in Labour such as Gordon Brown, who naively think redistributive policies could have any effect other than to cement worklessness, fecklesness and social immobility in the underclass, have failed. The State has failed. State Welfarism causes poverty, it doesn't relieve it.

And people are starting to see clearly how central Statism has failed everywhere around them; despite close and overbearing supervision from Whitehall, schools have failed, the health service has failed, policing has failed, economic control is a chimera, transport is a mess. The State doesn't play poker; it doesn't know when to throw a hand in and cut its losses. Instead it throws more and more into the pot in the hope that all will come right; ID cards (a national population register), CCTV, ever more illiberal laws, regulations and restrictions on personal behaviour, on what we eat, on what we are allowed to drink, on what we do in our homes are all the metaphorical equivalent of the State, its cash all gone, throwing its wristwatch and car keys into the poker pot.

Kettle's piece continues:

The problem is that Brown is Brown. There is not some other Brown. As he made clear to Andrew Marr last weekend, the prime minister sees the May 1 election reverse as a reprimand, not a rejection. His response is to work harder, like Boxer in Animal Farm. But working harder does not mean working differently, as the clumsy handling of Scotland this week showed.

Brown is set in his ways. His ways are tactical, triangulatory and increasingly old-fashioned.

........His preposterous 20-hour days - the Sarah Brown profile in the June issue of Vogue reveals that he is often still working at 4am - will become 22-hour days and at some point, he believes, the voters will realise that he is right. To put it at its gentlest, this is what Joan Didion calls magical thinking.
And this is the failure of thinking common to the political class both Labour and Tory - that legislation, central command and control and even more power for the State is the answer to everything. They're both arguing from the same centre ground, but arguing that 'my legislation will be better than your legislation for achieving the aims we agree on'.

Despite the hopeful spin put on the May election results by Tory commentators, this was no vote of confidence in Cameron's Conservatism. It was a vote against Statism, against the tax and regulatory burden of the Leviathan State. And Cameron will forget this at his peril.

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