When Right is wrong

Posted: June 6, 2012 in Opinion piece
Tags: , , , , ,

Much has been made of the Coalition’s myriad u-turns on major policies, including retreats on forest sell-offs and caps on charitable donation tax relief, but the majority of these policy decisions were reversed after huge outcries from the public and press. What the Conservative-led Government seems to have failed to do most is learn a lesson from history.

When Margaret Thatcher swept to victory in 1979, she was hailed as the visionary leader of the ‘New Right’ movement; a ‘conviction’ politician to replace the allegedly impotent rule of ‘consensus’ figures. Her sweeping ideological reforms were met with a degree of resistance, but forced through due to the prevailing public impression that left-wing ideology had failed. Thatcher was an opportunist, and seized her moment spectacularly. The 1970s had seen Britain torn apart by internal strife, chiefly the friction between the Government and the Trade Unions, which brought down the previous Conservative administration, led by the rather meeker Ted Heath, and, following the Winter of Discontent, the Callaghan Labour minority administration. The public could not forgive the crippling series of strikes enacted by the Unions in response to a fifth consecutive year of minimum pay increases, resulting in rubbish, and even corpses piling up in the street. Thatcher took office realising that the average voter was appalled at how the Trade Unions could effectively shut the country down, and played on this expertly in her conflict with Scargill and the miners, before gradually attacking all remnants of left-wing state thinking with a chest-beating polemic that swept most along with her. Her monetarism and state shrinking, as well as a reduction of 58% in the top rate of income tax during her eleven year span in office, was the epitome of extreme right-wing economics. Besides blind patriotism over the defence of the Falkland Islands, Thatcher largely received the necessary support to continue with her ideological dismantling and fire-sale of state assets from a public still seething over the ‘militant’ Unions’ behaviour, as well as the sluggish performance of state-owned companies like British Telecom. The turbulence in 1970s Britain was blamed on the Unions and a lumbering public sector. It was a failure of the politics of the Left, and Neo-Liberal poster-child Thatcher proved the ultimate antithesis of this, with her naked worship of aggressive Capitalism, privatisation and slavish deregulation.

If 1978 could be considered effectively the death of Socialism in UK politics, then a full thirty years later, commentators could justifiably consider the global financial crash the fall of Neo-Liberalism. Despite Tory drum-bangers’ attempts at pointing the finger once again at the Left, even the power of the Murdoch press could not convince sufficient numbers that benefit fraudsters has been more complicit in the state of the nation than unregulated financial markets. New Labour had aligned with the Conservatives’ economic ideology almost seamlessly. This was very much a failure of the Right, and the Coalition’s biggest error has been to insult the intelligence of the nation by claiming that the answer to a failure of the Right is to move even further right.

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