Simon Jenkins, Buchananite
Whoop-di-doo, Sir Simon Jenkins has a book coming out, entitled 'Thatcher and Sons: A Revolution in Three Acts'; and if the puff-piece which appears on 'Comment is Free' this morning is anything to go by it's going to be a doozy.
The British blogosphere will encircle it like a pack of sabre tooth tigers with the scent of an old and sick woolly mammoth in their nostrils, if only because it appears to contain a germ of truth.
British democracy is sick, he contends; 'Where did politics go wrong'?
That simple question demands a simple answer. As a political columnist Jenkins makes his living from talking about politics in the abstract, as if it were an entity separate from the daily lives of citizens. He forgets that politicians' motives are very simple. They exist solely to gain power, to use power and to keep power.
For as long as we keep producing the sort of people who actually aspire to become politicians, British democracy will always be sick. It's always been sick, it's just that the malaise is now slightly more pronounced.
We elected them—and if cultural sickness is a consequence of our actions then we have nobody to blame but ourselves.
But that's politics, baby. It's the nature of the beast.
Jenkins lays the specific blame for the national malady at the door of Thatcherism, adopting a broad brush approach which might suit the purpose of his wider argument but which to my eyes does not seem wholly accurate.
But he's also largely right. For many in this country, regardless of whether they consider themselves to be creatures of left or right, Thatcherism failed.
He describes both John Major and Tony Blair as Thatcherites. Under Major the Parliamentary Conservative Party became a rabble of undisciplined and unprincipled losers—since 1992 the Conservative Party's grassroots members have been lions led by donkeys. Why anyone could ever aspire to membership of the Parliamentary Conservative Party as currently constituted escapes me. I guess it takes all sorts.
For an ideology which alleged to preach the primacy of the individual, Thatcherism, under Major, effected the greatest of all nationalisations - the nationalisation of the family, through the Child Support Act 1992.
And through that odious Act, it achieved what all ideologies eventually do in their prime—it took the lives of those who crossed its path.
At the moment, David Cameron's triangulation on issues as diverse as foreign policy and the Union (the preservation of which, after all, is what the Conservative & Unionist Party should be all about) indicates that the Tories are set fair to continue their losing streak. Good. We didn't leave them—they left us.
Blair is an entryist of the coldest heart, happy to use his opponent's language against them for his greater goals. No Prime Minister has ever hated the nation more. In his desire to change the nation's face through mass immigration he proves that no Prime Minister has ever hated its people more. He is not a conservative or even a socialist but a Jacobin; a zealot waging war on his own people, the erosion of civil liberties his Reign of Terror, a man who came to office saying one thing but intent on doing another—a Sith Lord.
In one crucial respect, however, he embodies the very essence of Thatcherism. It's all about him—it's always been about him.
Now before the allegedly-not-socialist wing of the British blogosphere starts collecting wood with which to burn Jenkins and myself, yes, Thatcherism did indeed have its good points. Its greatest domestic achievement was restoring the balance of power away from trade unions and back towards the mandate of the elected representatives. Its greatest international achievement was not the Falkland Islands' restoration to the realm but the unstinting support it offered the anti-Communism of Ronald Reagan.
However, it was an ideology—and the point that Jenkins fails, fails and fails to make is that failure is the fate of all ideologies. It doesn't matter what the ideology is. Sooner or later, they all fail.
Permit me the vanity of quoting myself. I once wrote of so-called 'neoconservatism' in another place that,
All ideologues, be they communist, fascist, or gonzocon, claim that they are able to solve all problems confronting their adherents; and when they can't, they fail.
With Nazism, that moment came at the Battle of Stalingrad. With Soviet Communism, it was the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Gonzo neoconservatism is an ideology whose great hook is the global projection of national power. The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina showed that the ideology that demanded national power be projected internationally could not project national power nationally; at that point, its fate in the dustbin of history was sealed.
Justin Raimondo referred to the Katrina disaster as the outcome of "putting America last"; but I prefer to think of the levees of New Orleans as "neoconservatism's Berlin Wall."
Jenkins writes of Thatcherism that,
"Blair's quest for service delivery through "e-government" is as elusive as his quest for democracy abroad through e-war. Labour's most treasured creation, the NHS, is forced to find upwards of £12bn to pay for a computer system it does not need and must cut swaths through hospital services to do so. To all this, Thatcherism seems to have no answer."
Consider this. Thatcherism came to power because trade unions informed by Soviet Communism could turn off your gas. Twenty-seven years of Thatcherism later, we are now in a position where the privatised utilities 'require' to institute inflation-busting rises in the retail price of gas.
And who's got the gas? The Russians. To all intents and purposes we are back at square one.
Economics is bunk. Economists are equatic mammals who swathe their jargon in formulae but whose findings are largely common sense. Economics is not an empirical discipline, if only because it contains no equivalent of '1+1 = 2', and its practitioners' papers contain too many references to what 'could' and 'should' happen in order for their desired result to be achieved.
Don't let them fool you. We're not all better off as a result of Thatcherism. In some parts of my corner of the kingdom, the West of Scotland, adult male life expectancy is on a hideous downward slide—and readers can take it from me that it's not all down to the deep fried Mars bar suppers.
It's partially, but not wholly, a consequence of the welfare state and culture of welfarism that the Thatcherites did nothing to rein in. But by and large it's because many of its residents are very poor. Dirt poor.
OK, so they can buy more stuff because they've been hit by the wash of a financial services revolution which made it easier to obtain credit—not much use when you can't afford to pay it back.
But nobody forced them to buy anything! That question is best answered with a slightly sardonic 'sure'. If you lived in Calton you'd buy anything to make life more enjoyable. Many do.
Having less money that you used to have, through no real fault of your own, is very, very depressing. The death of manufacturing (or murder, if you prefer) caused vast tranches of the United Kingdom to lose their way.
Were the words 'urban regeneration' widely heard before Thatcherism? No.
Did we have 'Ministers for Communities' before Thatcherism? No.
Was your dinner ever interrupted by a Glaswegian trying to sell you cheaper phone calls before Thatcherism? No.
Jenkins thinks the answer to the malaise lies in devolution, a prospect to make every citizen shudder. English readers should be grateful that they see little of Jack McConnell, and hear him less. Devolution in Scotland has been a disaster, a constitutional car-wreck which has served only to empower that which is most base in the culture—a baseness which found perfect voice in Tommy Sheridan.
Where Jenkins errs is in comparing devolution to localism. He is not wrong when he pleads in favour of localism; for localism may be the key to the survival of the nation.
The Scotland Act of 1998 could be used as an exemplar of how not to localise. All it did was perform a functionectomy on the Scottish Office and graft the hazardous waste on to Holyrood, weakening the Union in the process. Individual Scots gained nothing from the process, while the competing tribal loyalties of Scottish politics combined with politicians' natural desire to hold and gain power to produce the worst government that Scotland has suffered since the days of Mary, Queen of Scots.
What Jenkins seems to be asking for is true localism of the kind practiced in the United States. Localism is the best kind of insurance that a citizenry can buy because it dilutes the damage that overly centralised government can do.
It is unfortunate that this will never happen.
In the United States power moves upwards from 'We, The People'; in the United Kingdom its natural flow is downward, from 'The Crown'. No peacetime Prime Minister of whatever hue is ever likely to resign powers when their acquisition has been the name of the game all along. In the few cases this has been done, such as in Scottish devolution, it's been into a safe pair of ideological hands. And Scots can no longer smoke in enclosed public spaces as a consequence.
The Crown must enjoy its monopoly on power. It can suffer no competition.
But calls for localism and the empowerment of citizens can at least force it to look over its shoulder.
Grab your pitchforks, boys, because the Buchananites are coming.
And Simon Jenkins is in the vanguard.