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.

The thing is, whenever you see Tory supporters on TV, like at the weekend after the Bromley selection, they are all the stereotype image people have. It's not just the policy that is important for Cameron, but how do we get today's young people energised and enthusiastic too? People from all backgrounds?
I agree that Cameron is succeeding but is this not because of the boredom and failings of the Labour Party ("it is governments who loose elections not the opposition..." etc,etc)? However I do not agree that it is disorientating for tribal tory haters. Is it seriously being suggested that Cameron believes in what he is saying? It should be remembered that a little over 12 months ago he wrote a manifesto advocating the sacking of 275000 civil service jobs, then yesterday he tries to portray himself as the champion of public services. This comes after months of denial of everything else he has believed and campaigned for. Cameron is, what is colloquially known as, a bullsh****. The tory party are and will always remain an elitist party and to suggest that they can 'leapfrog into the acres of space on the left' is laughable. It is only the Labour Party, if only they had the courage, who could realign themselves back to the left.
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...?
Politicians these days are wallowing in an insipid non-descript primordial soup known as the centre ground. We are really being offered little in the way of choice, other than cosmetic presentation.

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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