It always pays to look back over old books, especially if they are only partly read. Recently, I came across a book I’d forgotten (I had all but forgotten the author) and while re-reading Power Without Principles, published in Edinburgh ten years ago, I was struck by how little the book had ‘dated’ and partiucularly how much it applies to today, and how all the wrong things in the world that Jim Reid lucidly describes with great prescience are still present, only worse.
Reid’s main attack, two years after it was first elected, is on New Labour, which he accurately sees as pure Thatcherism under a hypocritical label. Everything he perceived is triply true today. What is so refreshing about Reid’s book of political, social and economic essays is the honesty, and the clear-sightedness of what did not become obvious to most people until much later. He exposes the slavish subservience of politicians to the ‘press lords’, trying to get the support of their newspapers; the underlying hatred and evil that exists at the root of all fundamentalist religion, especially in the United States and in general — echoing Lord Acton on the corrupting essence of power, even the prospect of it .
Reid lead a great campaign to save the Clyde shipyards where he once worked before becoming a trade union leader, was then a columnist on the Glasgow Herald (as it once was), becoming in time the Rector of Glasgow University. His name seems to have disappeared, but his voice is more than ever needed now, when we are increasingly buried under ‘spin’, false prophecies and promises for the future, and in general a conspiracy between politicians, capitalist and stock market interests, the press, and other vested entities to deceive us into believing we are not in a long-term, perhaps permanent, depression. That the consumer society, with its underlying ubiquity of debt for the many — fat bonuses for the few is about to return, and that we are not in an ednless series of foreign wars that we shall ultimately lose with heavy loss of life, and what we need most in public wealth to enable us to survive somehow. Even the so-called liberal press, not yet completely conmtrolled by power-hungry press barons, is not allowed to tell the truth through its better editorial writers — but the growing unemployment queues, both of factory workers and recent graduates, together with the great anger felt by the public (generally caused by what politicians have for so long tried to keep secret), and the inevitable calling-in of debt that up to two years ago everyone was being encouraged to incur may well overcome any willingness to believe what we’re told and enable people to work out the real situation for themselves.
There must be change. It will either come because new parties and public-spirited individuals emerge to be elected, or there will be a revolution. A year from now this New Labour government, that Jimmy Reid so well exposes in his book, will be gone. We may have a Tory government with a small majority, or a coalition including them, but in either case, it will not be able to handle the economic situation with perhaps seven million unemployed, or more. Violence is on the increase, both in local crime and in the clash of faiths in the civil and other wars that are creating famines, massacres, the general decline of all civilised values, the rule of good law and dissent in the minds of those who, before this year is out, will be demonstrating in the tens of thousands in the streets. Revolution, starting in countries with a tradition of it and quickly spreading — is not only likely, but virtually certain, given the tendency of history to speed up events when times get bad.
Being an old man now, who will probably not see much of what I predict is no comfort. How I would love to be blind to reality and to be able to read Trollope and P.G. Wodehouse, instead of picking up an old book off the shelf that made me think.
John Calder 4/08/09