Tuesday, May 29, 2007

 

Has the Left been in Control since the late Sixties?

Peter Hitchens is a strange kind of political journalist; his article in today's Guardian is not easy to get one's head around. From a point on the political continuum I find hard to plot he pours contumely on Kinnock, Blair, as one might expect for a Mail on Sunday columnist, but also on Macmillan and, even, oh horror, on the sainted Margaret herself for leaving intact, the welfare state services of NHS and education plus local government and quangos. I can only guess that, along with the Duke of Wellington in the 1820s, he felt politics in this country were close to perfection at that time and that it has been all downhill since then.

Hitchens' thesis seems to be that Blair is not at all rightwing, as the left absurdly accuse, but rabidly left as Polly Toynbee insists when listing all the redistribution and the like carried out in his name. But he goes on to say that 'Butskellism' or consensus politics born in 1945, has never died and has reached a new apogee in the person of David Willets who 'could easily pass unnoticed in a Fabian Society conclave'. How an unbroken line can be discerned from Attlee to Blair with no rightwing interludes, I cannot imagine and I'm sure the bulk of Conservative Thatcher admirers would dismiss this as the nonsense it clearly is. But Hitchens is not stupid- he merely starts his arguments from a place very few have thought to occupy.

He makes a more interesting argument when he suggests a 'new liberal consensus on social and moral matters.. has ruled Britain' ever since Roy Jenkins' day in the late sixties. Separating political- economic issues from moral-social does produce a different kind of answer. I've heard him argue that 'Marxism' has been in control ever since these days. But is this correct? I don't think so. In 2007 we can see that racism has been even more thoroughly demonised, that contraception and single mothers have become accepted, homosexuals have been assimilated into society and that minority rights have been recognised to a degree which has made 'political correctness' a bone of fevered contention.

But these battles were not won forty years ago; indeed they have not been truly won even now. Women, racial minorities and gays still have much ground to make up before genuine equality can be said to have arrived. Hitchens is a wild right-wing maverick who would probably wish that we all still wore powdered periwigs and truly believed monarchs ruled by divine right. But he is always very entertaining, provides a comforting fantasy world for Conservatives to enter every Sunday and I did so enjoy his demolition of David Cameron on that recent Dispatches programme.

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