“A week is a long time in politics,” said Harold Wilson, and equally often quoted is Harold MacMillan’s reply to being asked why carefully planned policies so often go wrong: “Events, dear boy, events!”
Well, recent weeks have proved both statements not only relevant, but significant, in that a revolution in our political system is now inevitable, fuelled by an awakened public interest that has not been seen in our – until recently – trivialised society for a very long time. Although Gordon Brown, with his back to the wall, is putting up a spirited last-ditch fight to survive, nobody believes that a general election can be long delayed and what the result of that will be is anybody’s guess, probably an unlikely coalition of smaller parties.
But, now that the crisis is still at its height, is a good time to look at exactly where New Labour went so wrong. First of all there was a general blindness to the real situation, followed by a culture of denial that was so blatantly transparent that the loss of confidence in the probity of individual Members of Parliament is greater than it has ever been.
The blindness was general except for a few astute minds like Vince Cable’s, but the responsibility lies heaviest on Brown, who it was generally thought had a good understanding of national finance. He believed that the rise in stock market shares, property values and globalised enterprises generally, would continue to go up for ever, ignoring the unsustainable increase in the national, corporate and individual debt in a world running out of resources with an ever-rising world population for which enough food, water and shelter could never be produced. Add to that the irresponsible war in Iraq where us and Bush are the greatest terrorists and our incomprehensible involvement in Afghanistan, where no foreign power has ever won anything except humiliation.
The denial has convinced nobody. Brown must have known, like everyone else in parliament, that there was a greedy culture at work where all except a few were adding massively to their quite adequate salaries through ‘expenses’ that ordinary citizens considered payable out or what one privately earned or owned. This was kept secret until one determined and courageous woman, through the Public Information Act, which M.P.s constantly try to exempt themselves from, finally, and with information leaked to the Daily Telegraph managed to get out into the open. What is happening now is akin to the seventeenth century Commonwealth Revolution of Cromwell, except that this time it is the whole electorate and not the landowning squirocracy who are up in arms. Although the Tories seem to getting some advantage they are just as bad as will soon be generally realised. When in power they enriched themselves, perhaps in different ways, but that is not the point. Reforms cannot now be prevented and the next government, whatever it is, will not be able to avoid close scrutiny.
So how will society change? Personally I think the capitalism of mass production, privately owned, will come to an end, as will globalised industry. There should be a return to Attlee-type socialism with private enterprise continuing on a modest and human scale where employers know those they employ and understand all the workings of what they control. There should be a maximum as well as a minimum income for everyone, in my opinion a ratio of one to fifteen from bottom to top.
There is no way we can return to the growth pattern (which was false and often fraudulent) of two years ago. We must accept a period of austerity that might last ten years, but during that time things can gradually get better. Everything that was nationalised should be renationalised and much else beside. The big companies should be broken in to smaller units, independent of each other. A measure of protectionism should be brought back, so that, although international trade can continue not one should be allowed to own subsidiaries in other countries. This does not stop charitable aid being given where it is most needed elsewhere, but that must come from our own taxation.
No one should be able to avoid taxation by moving somewhere else. Taxation should be levied where it is earned, so that, although one can live where one wants, one is taxed at source.
This would result in a much greater national income to be spent on health, education, welfare and culture. The last is what politicians, today a philistine lot compared to the past, most want to ignore. It should be linked to education, not to sport, because it is only by encouraging the creative side of our natures that we become more intelligent, creative, able, competent and trustworthy. Education should be for life and that can only be achieved through the arts, which apart from everything else, give great employment to many people. They enable us to understand what our existence is about, which is very necessary if we are to make it better.
I see the present crisis, economic followed by political, as something positive and to be welcomed. All revolutions bring hardship, but if they are in the right hands with popular support and realities generally understood, they can be humanely realised and bring long-term positive results. It is not enough to hope. We must take part in achieving it.
John Calder 4/6/09