Wednesday, 23 January 2008

The lingering taint of Thatcher & Blair

The latest annual survey by British Social Attitudes shows how horribly rightwing Britain has become. In its write-up (1) The Independent attributes this to Thatcherism, it misses a key point - things have become worse since Labour came to power in 1997.

With regards poverty, the survey found:

More than a quarter think poor people are poor because they are lazy or lack willpower, a view held by less than a fifth in 1986. Only 34 per cent think the government should redistribute income, compared with 47 per cent in 1995. (2)
Note the last bit - in 1995 almost half the population would have supported policies aimed at redistributing wealth. So ten years of Blairism and Brownism has managed to make people MORE selfish and rightwing. How can this be?

I think the problem lies in the failure of the British government to actually do anything radical - other than embark on imperialist adventures in the Middle East, I mean. People feel that the country stands pretty much as it did. Nothing about the New Labour project seized the public imagination. After about month of unfettered joy at having the TOries out, the realisation sank in that nothing was going to change. Britain was going to carry on rotting.

The survey reveals one what was perhaps Blair and Brown's greatest miscaluation - that they had to convince the British people that they were as beastly and Scrouge-like as the Tories. Brown commited himself to wearing the Tory spending strait-jacket and to not raise income tax. It was meant to reasassure middle-Britain, an oft-derided and abused constituency. But, this survey suggests, middle-Britain would have supported a socialist, rather than a Tory-lite government.

If Blair and Brown had offfered the country a more radical manifesto, they would have won. Whether or not it would have been as convincing a victory as 1997 was is moot - perhaps some people would have been scared off by a redder tinged Labour party, perhaps not. It was almost impossible for them to lose the 97 election, however. But their timidity and pragmatism won out, and the opportunity is lost.

Instead now we have a miserable spectacle of the slow death of an administration that has accomplished some things, but not enough. The first Blair government never built up any momentum. They won office, and didn't do anything terrible, but they didn't do anything outstandingly good. They were competent managers, but what you might call the underlying philosophy of the administration remained the same - the small minded, money-grubbing, selfish philosophy of the Thatcher decades, amerliorated only slightly by Major and Blair.

Thatcherism has created a sort of impetus. By ripping the guts out of the welfare state, the unions and the other countervailing forces, the Tories created a society where selfishness and greed were valorised. They weren't just desireable. They became necessary. With not alternative, they have continued to be necessary. Labour haven't created a socially just society, so the values that go with that will be replaced, as the survey shows is happening. It is a measure of how far removed from Thatcherism the British people were that after her reign, and the Major years, so many of them still supported socialistic ideas. The disappointment of the Blair years has probably contributed to the rapid slump since 1995, with people thinking, "If Labour aren't going to look out for me ..."

So, curiously, New Labour have done a far better job of promulgating the Thatcherite values, by default, than Thatcher ever did.

The children of Thatcher are now the ones taking part in the survey - their attitudes shaped by the attitude of the country they grew up in. The children of Blairism and Brownism won't be any different, because they haven't been shown anything different. But if Blair and Brown had possessed the courage to offer a strong socialist vision in 1997, then the survey of 2017 might have shown that the majority of Britons supported a just, decent society. Not because they were indoctrinated by evil socialist propganda, but because it would have made the country a better place to live.
1 - 'Britain in 2008: a nation in thrall to Thatcherism,' by Andy McSmith in The Independent, 23rd of January, 2008. (
2 - ibid.

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