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Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Fundamental Economic Principles and Politics

British and Northern Irish voters are about to be assailed by a wave of propaganda and comment on the major political parties' manifestos for the election next month. The idea of basing a party's electioneering on a printed document is generally understood to have originated with an open letter from Sir Robert Peel to his constituents in Tamworth, which became known as the 'Tamworth Manifesto'. Far from uniting his party - the old Tories of the eighteenth century, plus the new capitalist class - Peel's partial espousal of the popular free trade movement led eventually to the formation of the new Conservative and Liberal parties that dominated politics in the UK until the First World War; after which Labour emerged as the 'left-wing' opponents of the Conservatives, to replace the Liberals.

Now, in the second decade of the twenty-first century, we are left with the Conservative and Labour parties as the only perceived contenders to form a government; and on the basis of opinion polling it is clear that the Conservatives are most unlikely to need to ally with a minority party to have a clear Commons majority until 2022. Cynics are pointing out that parties with massive majorities - especially in highly contentious circumstances, such as the Brexit negotiations - are likely to split into factions. Chancers are hopefully suggesting that a defeat for the Labour party - if it is sufficiently overwhelming - will lead 'moderate' Labour politicians to seek to establish a new party of the 'centre left', possibly in combination with what remains of the Liberal Democrats.

The two major parties have a very clear ideological differentiation between them, which is being emphasised in the Labour manifesto and in the speeches of the Labour leader and his closet associates. A majority of Labour candidates in the election are equivocal in their support for the policies that the leader is advocating; but their futures depend on them campaigning as Labour standard-bearers: so they are stuck with the leader's rhetoric. The leader and his claque are also determined that Mr Corbyn is the elected leader of the party, and he will remain leader however disastrously the electorate rejects the party in the election. The last defeated leader, Ed Milliband, led changes to the party's rules that enabled a new cohort of members to join on very modest fees and have a vote for who was party leader. An unknown number of the new members wish the defeat of Labour and have joined as agents of disaster; and another unknown number are from the 'hard left' who have voted Mr Corbyn into his position because of his impeccably left-wing, neo-Marixt record.

The parties have made it relatively easy to explain the difference between Mrs May's Conservatives and Mr Corbyn's Labourites in terms of ideological stereotypes.

Conservative ideologues cite the eighteenth-century Scots Philosophy professor, Adam Smith, who argued that it is impossible for a government to control and economy perfectly, in the general interest; so the politicians should not try to do that. They should leave the field clear for people to follow their natural instincts in their dealings with other. Smith reckoned that there was a fundamental force in the economy: human self-interest - that provided unity and balance to the entire economy; and that politicians should just let that self-correcting mechanism work.

Mr Corbyn's critics [much more than Corbyn himself] ascribe his ideas to Karl Marx, a mid-nineteenth-century opponent of Smith's doctrine, who argued that under a semblance of free trade the system of capitalism - in which fewer and fewer people control the economy, effectively enslaving the majority of the population, whose living standards are pushed downwards - had become dominant in the world. Marx argued for the revolutionary overthrow of the capitalist
 system, and the governments that fostered it.

Nobody suggests that Mr Corbyn is a revolutionary Marxist, though he has been open to neo-Marxist opinions all his life. Nor does anybody suggest that Mrs May is an ideological devotee of the 'rational markets' nonsense that has captured the hierarchy of academic Economics. But generalised references to Smith's and Marx's arguments can be deployed to differentiate between the two major parties; and such references will be a welcome relief from the intensive propagandisation of the next three weeks.

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