Tuesday, June 06, 2006
How the political spectrum has shrunk since the eighties
Being of the baby-boomer generation, I can recall the early eighties very well and reading Neal Lawson today on Cameron's wunderkind achievements, I reflected on how wide was the effective political spectrum (ie those ideas which regularly informed political debate) in those days. On the left we had Tony Benn and his redoubtable scouser ally, Eric Heffer, advocating shedloads more democracy at every level of society and yet more government control of the economy, while on the right, was The Lady plus Joseph, Lawson and Tebbitt urging privatisation of public services and maybe the welfare state too as well as a to-the-death attitude to trade unions and the Soviet Union.
Since then the spectrum has shrunk to the point where it has become unrecognisable from the polarised Thatcher decade. It began with Blair cherry picking the Thatcher policy portfolio: a tight monetary policy, a tough attitude to the unions('no return to the seventies'), immigration and law and order plus reforming the public services through targets and internal markets. 'Blairism' ruled 1994-2005 but then arrived his even more toffee-nosed clone and set about picking his own Blairite cherries. Public services come before tax cuts, we have been told, plus Labour spending plans for an initial period are accepted ; as well as the idea that the interests of the 'disadvantaged' should be at the heart of policy making.
But, as Lawson points out, Cameron is not just prepared to tack into the centre, he 'has opted instead to leapfrog New Labour into the acres of space to the left. This is the world the public lives in.' So he now dares to essay thoughts on the idea of 'well-being' and happiness and to question whether the 'consumer society...threatens to undermine the values we hold most dear.' Time will tell whether this line will bear any fruit but, a Lawson points out 'the more Cameron talks himself into new politics, then more he must convince himself it's what he believes.' It's all a bit disorientating for tribal Tory haters and takes a little of the edge off traditional antipathies to Cameron's party. His strategy is to reassure hesitant Blair supporters that the 'nasty' party is no more and that it's safe to vote Tory. There can be little doubt that he is succeeding.
As to regards Tony Benn, that silver spooned leftie. In the early to mid 1980s he advocated hard left policies and supported the rise of militant within the Labour Party, whilst enjoying his own privelidged lifestyle. His extreme left politics split the party and frightened the electorate, and the people who suffered were the ordinary working people in Scotland, the industrial north, the midlands etc. He and his allies were a major reason why we had to endure the tory government and Thatcherism.
I recognise these sentiments and agree with some or even of them eg re Benn, who has a lot to answer for though would never recognise any culpbility I'm sure. You may well be right re Cameron but will voters realise in time...?
I yearn for the days of Thatcher, Foot, Kinnock etc. Two extremes, black or white, no shades of grey, love them or loathe them, state control or private responsibility. There were no excuses for making a real choice, and no means of bemoaning that "they're all the same".
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