Tuesday, June 27, 2006

OK Ben - howcome you ended up a Tory as a '68-born person?

Well, first, thanks for the question Tabman..

I think this refers to growing up and first being eligible to vote in the Thatcher years, and by implication is similar to my first real posting here, which asked the question : "You're an intelligent chap Ben, why do you vote Conservative?" but directed at my experiences of the Thatcher years. Do I remember them? I think the people who ask the question should be asked if they remember what it was like before Thatcherism.

First of all you have to appreciate that I was an expat for most of the first 8 years of my life growing up in Beirut. My father told me stories of how great the home country was...

When we left war torn west Beirut in 1976, we were expecting something special...

We did not get it. We arrived at Heathrow airport in July 1976, during the drought. (Don't worry I am not blaming that on Labour!)

When I was in Beirut trade happened at all hours, (well sensible ones) people wanted to do business and wanted your money.

My experience of 1976 to 1979 is as follows:

Shops not run by immigrants did not close at 5 sharp, they closed at 4.58, and if you were a 9 year old boy who had just walked 1/2 mile for a pint of milk, and got there at 4.58 and 1 second, tough.

That time I Walked back past my house to the Pakistani run "corner shop" (and yes it was on the corner) and not only was he still open, but he wanted my business. I did not really bother with the other shop after that.

We had pay restraint, whereby bureaucrats went around examining pay records of people to make sure they were not being paid too much!

We had "pay parity" or in other words, when one union squeezed a pay rise out of their employer, then some other union would consider that unfair as they were now getting paid less by comparison and would go on strike to get parity back.

The state interfered in business to get companies to merge who did not always want to. Then the state also owned all sorts of businesses that the state had no business in owning, like of all things, an airline.

As with all things state owned this gives rise to three problems.

  • Firstly any investment needed to improve the business is in effect borrowed by the state or just out and out payed by the taxpayer. Either way it affects what is left in the treasury to pay for things like schools.
  • Secondly any profits made go straight to the treasury to pay for things like schools, and none gets left for re investment.
  • Thirdly the business is ripe for every day political interference on issues from pay disputes to what products are sold to what price they are sold for.
And then there was the winter of discontent.

It was so appallingly bad and wrong headed.

Not that Ted Heath had not noticed or tried to fix things, but he bottled it. Jim Callaghan knew things needed to change also but was effectively defeated by the unions. (That is two governments in a decade brought down by the unions.)

So given the above, what was so bad about the Thatcher years that I could never be a Conservative?

Well, just where do we start?

The sell off of council houses

Yes, ... er.. no. People think that the sell off of council houses naturally reduces housing stock. It is afterall the intuitive position to adopt. It is also fundamentally flawed in its thinking. When someone lives in a council property they are there for life. Statistics exist to show how immobile council house tenants are, and these tenancies can be inherited once, so in practice you remove one house, and one need for a house and change the overall position very little.

It is also the ultimate consumer power/ privatisation. I do not know how many people who read this have dealt with housing officers of either the council or housing associations, but the ability to sack them for being either patronising, over bearing or just plain useless is fantastic.

Privatisation

Well, any liberal reading this who thinks in principle that privatisation was a bad idea needs to understand liberalism. To quote from a post on the last article:
  • As Jo Grimond has said, "The state owned monopolies are among the greatest millstones round the neck of the economy...Liberals must stress at all times the virtues of the market, not only for efficiency but to enable the widest possible choice...Much of what Mrs Thatcher and Sir Keith Joseph say and do is in the mainstream of liberal philosophy."
Anyone who is not either Conservative or Liberal should consider this:

  • When BT was privatised it needed a £2 billion in investment to get it out of the dark ages.
  • You had to ask for a phone line to be fitted, and it would take months to get one.
  • You could not connect YOUR own phone to the phone line, you had to RENT one of theirs.
All these sorts of problems were quickly solved by privatisation, and also more people ended up owning shares and getting on with a free market economy.

The Miners Strike

Well what's to say? In the previous decade the Miners effectively overthrew a democratically elected government (Ted Heath's) and the union movement had destabalised Jim Callaghan's Labour government.

Could the same result have been achieved breaking less eggs? Don't know. It is very easy to drive a car from the back seat, or manage England's football team from the sofa. Likewise here.

The question you have to ask yourself is how do you deal with someone who thinks they can be "elected for life" on "a show of hands" as the president of a Union who can call a strike without a secret ballot?

The miners strike was nasty, brutal and horrible and no I would not want to go through it again, but ask yourself the question what if the Miners had not been broken?

  • Would the government still own the coal mines?
  • Would the miners still hold us to ransom?
  • Would anyone want to buy their coal?
  • How would this fit into a free market LIBERAL economy?

It is very easy to look back now and see the riots and other issues associated with the poll tax and know that it was wrong. However, it was thought up to deal with a specific problem, which was that Labour controlled councils at the time could levy a tax on the minority of people who paid rates in their area which their electorate did not pay. This is the complete reverse of the "No taxation without representation" argument of our errant colony, on the one hand in that the un taxed had undue say over the taxed and could vote for what ever programs they wanted without worrying about irritating the tax payer as they were not a significant part of the electorate and on the other, the taxed had effectively no representation.

The poll tax was badly thought out and badly implemented, but in its core principle it did address the core problem, that if you wanted to vote for a council that wanted to spend money like water then YOU had to pay for it.

You also have to remember that by this time Maggie was described as Daggers by her ministers. (1989-90)

That is not Daggers as in dagger eyes, but Daggers as in Dagenham, two stops on from Barking.

I have not covered the 1989 recession or Black Wednessday in this article, but may in a futrue one.

We of course have to recognise that NO ONE who stands any chance of electoral success challenges the Thatcher legacy.

So perhaps Tabman, you are just a Thatcherite without the courage to admit it?

21 comments:

Tabman said...

Hello Ben,

I think you've answered your own question, really. I don't deny that many of the reforms undertaken were necessary, but:

(i) the spirit in which they were undertaken was vindictive. Far better to bring people with you than kick them in the slats
(ii) historically, Thatcher has been an aberation. Market Liberalism has not always been a Tory creed, and the way Cameron is going, may no longer be
(iii) Liberalism is not "pick and mix"; market Liberalism flies counter to, and sits uneasily with, the sort of social conservatism that is a core value of the Conservative Party

Tabman said...

I forgot to mention the Poll Tax. Again, "badly thought out". In other words - regressive.

Now, I am not against the idea that everyone should contribute to society - those with a financial stake in it are more likely to engage with it. Yet to impose a one-size rather than progressive or even flat (rate) tax is perverse and hits those least able to pay. The poorest already pay disproportionately when you factor in other taxes such as VAT.

And to go to your point - am I a Thatcherite?

The accurate answer is this: Thatcher was (partly) a Liberal, but "knew not what she begat".

Benedict White said...

Tabman, when you say "Far better to bring people with you than kick them in the slats" could I point out that the South Derbyshire miners were with us, Nottinghamshire followed, and the TUC were against the strike also.

So who were we not bringing along? The NUS who are pretty much always anti government until the join it, the Soviet Union and Arthur Scargill.

AS for vindictive, are we talking about the same miners strike? Not the one involving some mad hard nosed b*tch from hell, and the very nice fluffy wuffy Mr Scargill and his very law abiding democracy respecting union representatives, or the one between the democraticaly elected Prime minister, and the Marxist not democraticaly elected leader of the miners with an avowed aim of "rolling back the years of Thatcherism"? (I.E. of overthrowing the democraticly elected government)

You see in the former case Mrs nasty did some terrible things to our heroic miners, but in the latter they were beating people up, intimidating people, and basicly trying to subvert democracy.

As for your point (ii), Conservatives have generaly been pragmatic. You can't have a completly free market, because "freedom is slavery" so you have to moderate things with laws.

I do not see Cameron as comming up with rafts of new laws, but I do see him leading consumer presure which is a very good thing because if you vote with your wallet you get to vote early and very often.

Regarding your third point, I am a social conservative, I do not think anything goes, but being a pragmatist I can take from liberalism what I feel like, so i can pick and mix.

On the poll tax, I did point out that this was her two stops on from Barking stage, when all leaders become convinced of their own imortality.

The answer to the question, are you a Thatcherite may well be that you have the vision to see what needs doing but not the stomach for it. But then maybe I am being a bit harsh. :)

Tabman said...

I think we're getting to the crux of the issue here.

Social Conservatism and Economic Liberalism are incompatible. Hence my comment about Thatcher knowing not what she did. If you introduce an unfettered marketplace there are consequences that flow from this. Choice cannot be regulated solely to the economic sphere. People want to have choices about their lifestyles in toto; if they have the freedom to choose what sort of car they buy, they don't want someone else telling them that they can't have a relationship with another man.

Similarly, if you require labour force mobility then a consequence of this is the breakdown of the extended family. People working harder, longer hours, have less time to give to voluntary activities.

This is why I find it ironic that the cheerleaders for economic liberalisation lament its consequences.

But mostly you are setting up false dichotomies. To be against Thatcher was not to support Scargill. In my business career I note that the most successful people are the ones who engage and persuade, bring everyone along. Brute Force can give the illusion of success ini the short term, but its long term result is always failure.

Benedict White said...

Firstly I disagree that Liberal economics and social conservatism are incompatible, in reality
there has only ever been so much that you could tell people to do or not to do. The question is
what do you encourage and what mood music you set. Go look at the USA for example.

As for economic liberalism meaning the free movement of labour and the inevitable break up
of the extended family I see that as only inevitable if it is the liberal factory owners we are
talking about, rather than the conservative view which is to make everyone their own master.
As the economy moves forward enabling people to make their own work rather than work for
some one else will make that whole process much easier.

In part this is what Cameron’s mood music is about as well. Why earn wads of cash just to be
miserable?

On the " false dichotomies" issue, I did not say you were pro Scargill, or that you had to
support one or the other. you clearly agreed with the need to do something. What I was
trying to point out was that we were not dealing with a reasonable rational democratically
minded law abiding individual, we were dealing with someone who would not allow any pit
closures on any grounds bar exhaustion or major geological problems. How much the pit had
to be subsidised was neither here nor there, and he did not move an inch through out the
strike. He felt he should run the country.

Whilst I take your point about the best way of dealing with people there is frequently only one
way to deal with a bully, and it is not reason.

Had Scargill been democratically elected for a fixed term, and followed the law we could have
dealt with it without breaking so many eggs. We did what we had to do.

Tabman said...

"As the economy moves forward enabling people to make their own work rather than work for
some one else will make that whole process much easier."

OK - but even if this were true, and I am highly sceptical of so-called "technical fixes", all you do is replace "diktat of the boss" with "diktat of the" customer.

Similarly the miner's strike is a side issue. What I am referring to is the sturctural changes to the economy re interest rates, exchange rates and the like undertaken in the late 70s/early 80s that had profound effects on employment.

Unemployed people are human beings with families, aspirations and emotions. Taking jobs away swfitly without giving them the means to seek alternative employment (which means re-training and education) is both heartless and short-sighted, as the fact that so much Oil Wealth was squandered on unemployment payments rather than investment.

Tabman said...

"Firstly I disagree that Liberal economics and social conservatism are incompatible, in reality
there has only ever been so much that you could tell people to do or not to do. The question is
what do you encourage and what mood music you set. Go look at the USA for example."

Ben - how does Economic Liberalism work? By competition. how do you succeed in competition? By innovation/ How do you innovate? By "thinking outside the box".

Socially-Conservative societies ultimately stifle creative thinking which puts them at a competitive disadvantage over enlightened societies.

Benedict White said...

“OK - but even if this were true, and I am highly sceptical of so-called "technical fixes", all
you do is replace "diktat of the boss" with "diktat of the" customer.”

To some extent true but it does depend on how many customers he has. However the fix is
also technological in that I no longer need to be somewhere to work there.

“Similarly the miner's strike is a side issue. What I am referring to is the sturctural changes to
the economy re interest rates, exchange rates and the like undertaken in the late 70s/early 80s
that had profound effects on employment.”

I do have sympathy for that point of view the issue is however what would you have done?
How do you release pay restraint slowly?
How do you bring in money control slowly?
How do you bring public spending under control slowly when you are having to borrow hand
over fist in the markets?

“Unemployed people are human beings with families, aspirations and emotions. Taking jobs
away swiftly without giving them the means to seek alternative employment (which means
re-training and education) is both heartless and short-sighted, as the fact that so much Oil
Wealth was squandered on unemployment payments rather than investment.”

Well, I tell you what, what policy would you have brought in and when?

On your other post:
“Ben - how does Economic Liberalism work? By competition. how do you succeed in
competition? By innovation/ How do you innovate? By "thinking outside the box".

Socially-Conservative societies ultimately stifle creative thinking which puts them at a
competitive disadvantage over enlightened societies.”

The implication is that all social conservatism is stifling, which I do not believe to be the case.
Witness for example the technological rise of Iran. (No, please don’t laugh at the back there)

There is repressive and stifling social conservatism and then there is social conservatism. I take
the view that a little social conservatism helps keep societies going where as a complete lack
of it leads to a societies ultimate demise.

Tabman said...

Like all things there is a balance to be struck. I suspect that we are probably closer in our views than we are to some in our own parties, but, as I've said to many other Conservatives, part of the issue is "the company one keeps"!

Benedict White said...

Yes you are right about striking a balance, and one of teh good things about the conservative party is that we have values rather than ideologies and thus find it easier to find balances.

I must admit to being amused at your comment of the company one keeps!

Anyone fancy shooting a dog?

Whilst I may walk with some right wing loons, you have your own too who, for example believe in legalising 16 year olds appearing in pornography! I could go own, but the comment does work both ways!

Tabman said...

Well, the main difference is that Cornerstone represent a quarter of your parliamentary party, and a rather larger proportion of your membership, I would imagne.

And AFAIK its only Socialism that's an ideology. Not that that gets much of a look-in these days.

The biggest problem is a system that encourages those of convergent opinions to seek divergent coalitions.

Benedict White said...

Well, maybe I will have to look up the corner stone group and see if they belive anything I don't. I will let you know..

"And AFAIK its only Socialism that's an ideology."

Umm.. Tabman did you not quote this at me:
"Liberalism is an ideology, philosophical view, and political tradition which holds that liberty is the primary political value."

to argue that I was a liberal?

Interetsing comment on political groupings.The reason why is that we would split on some issues of principle such as support for married families. Where would you stand on that?

Anonymous said...

Economic Liberalism: see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberal_theory_of_economics

Tabman said...

Benedict - we set upa forum to discuss issues such as this:

http://www.liberalism2010.tsohost.co.uk/liberalviews/

It hasn't seen much action as of late, but it strikes me that this conversation could well be carried on there.

Tabman said...

http://www.geocities.com/ecocorner/intelarea/fah1.html

Worth a read.

Benedict White said...

Yes, thank you Tabman that was worth a read, by F.A Hayek indeed. You could add to the wikipedia entry cited by Anonymous by adding the final required citation where they seem to lack Hayek saying why he was not a conservative.

I can definatley describe the Conservative party as pragmatic liberals who have read and understood history. In particular the rise and rather more importantly fall of civilisations.

It seems rather appropriate that we are having this conversation now, as it seems that Dave is embarking on a way to bring Conservative values forward in a "liberal" way.

We live in interesting times.

Tabman said...

http://liberalism2010.blogspot.com/2005/07/second-time-around-repairing-liberal.html

Indeed. This was written by one of the Apollo collective last year.

Benedict White said...

Again an interesting article, but I reject the idea of "progressive" politics because it does not
seem very progressive, and rather more importantly it seems virtually hell bent on destroying
institutions which give social cohesion.

It seems to me that a large number of liberals are so enamoured of their ideology that it is like
a child with a new toy, and they can only think inside the "liberal" box.

Most Conservatives instinctively are a little liberal. We do not like the state breathing down
our neck, do not like ID cards etc.

What I found most interesting about the Hayak article was the idea that Liberals could ever
associate themselves with Labour. It seems that labour's values are further away from Liberal
values than they are from Conservative ones.

Tabman said...

Where Labour and Conservative values overlap are on the authoritarian/social conservative axis.

Think of a Venn diagram, and add in the overlap boxes what are common values between two of the three or all three. It would be an interesting exercise.

Anonymous said...

benedict appears to think its aceptable to be a tory pawn so long as that party can continue its wealth by stealth tactics via screwing the public.

Blair is the best PM to date, articulate, knowlegable, VAIN yes! (I hate saying that but its true),..he has made a cockup of his majority and is now a tory in maggies clothing.
He must reverse his vain, bossy, arrogant streak or lose big time

Benedict White said...

Anonymous, I am what I am, i am no mans pawn in any game but my own.

I would point out that wealth for a large number of people increased unde conservative governments because they got to buy their houses.

I have the right to buy mine.

I would ask you who in the public is being screwed?

Now, obviuosly you were off on some class warfare champaigne socialist polemic, but then you gibbered:

"Blair is the best PM to date"

Compared to who exactly?

"articulate, knowlegable,"

Ys he is articulate but is ignorant beyond beliefe about things like history, the constitution, warfare, Islam. The list is endless. Frankley I think the man is a very well finished public school boy twit.

Vain? Surely not?

So appart from being an ignorant authoratarian public school boy twit who is vain, he is the best primeminister since he got elected?

I am sorry about teh spelling mistakes, but I have been to the pub.