British Politics: Same Old Dogs, New Old Tricks

 Why does the UK’s Political Elite seem possessed of  apparent inability to learn anything new

I’m not the bragging type. But I’m going to say it – I did forecast a return to the 1970’s long before any of the hacks who reacted so viscerally to Ed Miliband’s Labour Party Conference speech last week. I’ll confess that I didn’t foresee Labour being foolish enough to literally revive policies from that period; rather that Britain would face a lost decade, economically but more importantly politically, following a major global crisis.

It has always been my view that our political elite, shaken to their core, would be unable to react to it. The crisis of 2008, in a similar manner to that of the 1970’s, closed the door on the period that went before it. How do political classes, the intelligentsia, and electorates react when the rules of the game have changed so substantially, and almost immediately?

Politicians are the epitome of the proverbial old dog; they cannot be taught new tricks. Once indoctrinated in their old ways, it’s almost impossible for them to adapt to the post-crisis world. Therefore, their answer is always to ignore the lessons of the crisis.

Unable to repudiate their faith, politicians instead choose to believe that the preceding crisis was caused by a bastardisation of their beliefs, rather than accept that the political philosophy with which they are hardwired is fundamentally flawed.  This party conference season was to be no different.

Their diagnosis is more of the same; re-inflate the bubble, or increase the power of the state. We have seen this in spades these past few weeks. Labour’s solution? In a post financial crisis world, where debt-ridden countries teeter on the brink – shackled by their hysterical lack of competitiveness – they plan to borrow even more and to increase the burden on the productive economy.

Shell-shocked by the crisis, what seems obvious to Labour is only that state action must be the remedy, not the cause. Miliband can’t help himself, indoctrinated all his life, but is the Conservative Party faring any better? Whilst there is some merit to the Help-to-Buy scheme heavily trailed at the Tories’ conference in Manchester this week, the shadow of Fanny Mae and Freddie Mac hangs around the neck of this policy like a noose.

Help-to-Buy is straight out of the pre-crisis textbook: it ignores the lessons of the past. In that sense, it is no better than the ode to The State we witnessed last week at the Labour Party conference.

Just as in the 1970’s, politics is incapable of offering real answers to the country’s problems. Miliband’s energy price freeze promise will do little to address the cartel that is the British energy ‘market.’ Prices rose dramatically under the last Labour government because they decided to embark on what was, in its effect, the wholesale renationalisation of energy policy in the UK, something continued by the Coalition.

House_of_CommonsIn a similar way, restricting benefits to the under-25s unless they are ‘learning or earning,’ the key policy in Cameron’s keynote speech, will do little to address the very real problem of youth unemployment in this country. Whilst the State continues to crowd out the private sector, sucking resources from the productive economy and burdening business – alongside our glorious leaders’ insistence on over regulating the labour market – youth unemployment will continue unabated.

Both of the policies are grounded in the politics of envy; the characterisation of a political discourse that is spent.

So Britain will trundle on. Like in the 1970’s, no election will produce a clear majority or overriding vote of confidence for one party or another. Coalition and minority government will be a familiar feature by the end of the decade, and political paralysis may well result in economic stagnation. Politicians will be in office, but not in power.

So, for want of a better response to the post-crisis world, our politicians will take us back to basics. For Labour and Red Ed, the State is the solution to all problems, not the cause of most of them. To the Tories, and their Heir to Blair Cameron, the pathological attachment to home ownership that has been a historic characteristic of the Tory Party will pave the way to a New Jerusalem.

But something significant did occur this party conference season. The Labour Party now has a political platform that is distinctively left-wing, from a distinctively left-wing leader. Even more surprisingly, David Cameron began to talk of profit and enterprise, instead of hugging huskies in the Arctic.

After this past couple of weeks, politics has opened up. No longer dancing on the head of a pin, and just like in the 1970’s, following a great economic and political crisis the wheels are coming off a long-standing political consensus.

And when economic reality sets in, we will see a new discourse and a new leader emerge. Just like in the 1970’s, throughout this current decade, slowly but surely, following crippling failures to return the country to ‘the good times,’ the Heaths, the Wilsons and the Callaghans of our contemporary politics will slowly fall away.

Out from the back of the pack, a new leader, untainted by the old ways, will emerge with a new ideology that tackles the root cause of the economic rot seen across the developed world. The 1970s ended quite well for someone of my ideological inclination; for this reason the comparisons of this conference season with that era should be greeted with hope, not fear.

Jack Wharton


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