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Saturday, 7 July 2012


It is suddenly becoming commonplace for British commentators, and commentators on Britain, to look at a timescale much longer than the period 2008-12 to find the explanation for the current malaise of the economy and of politics. Those who take a long view often fasten on Thatcherism as the dogma that destroyed much of British material industry and freed the financial services to enter the global market with London as the biggest and most risk-welcoming casino. Those developments are linked with the rapid increase in the gap between the richest and the poorest members of society, the collapse of educational standards, and the rise of benefit dependency.

Much further back, in 1971, Ken Watkins [a Political Scientist] and I published a slight book called Can Britain Survive? We discerned already then in British politics an increasingly reckless contest between the Conservative and Labour parties to exploit the economy to enable individuals to have more to consume, with increasing disregard for investment in the future. The 'seventies was a terrible decade, with national wealth greatly eroded by inflation. Change was needed; and Mrs Thatcher promised change. Thus she narrowly won the 1979 election and she began to pursue a radical agenda of reform. Ken Watkins became a devoted advocate of the new policies: I recognised that they were wildly destructive. Jobs were removed from mining, shipbuilding and all the basic industries: fewer jobs were created in financial services and the distribution of imported goods. An increasing proportion of the population became early-retired, involuntarily unemployed and [in a bizarre conspiracy between family doctors, Employment Department staff and the Treasury] became classified as unable to work through disability or medical conditions. The state turnover for 'benefits' increased sufficiently to absorb more than the total of savings achieved by the government in other areas of spending.

The same ruinous track was followed by new Labour in 1997 to 2001, and the pathetic attempts of the current Lib-Tory coalition of 2010 to address the perceived problem are disabled by the failure of the government and its advisers to comprehend the immensity of the problem tht they confront and the length of time it had been developing. Only when the context is understood can the real needs for reform be addressed.

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