Sunday, May 31, 2009

The 2009 FA Cup Final: Money Power wins again

So, what a surprise. Another major trophy won by a member of the Big Four. All the tv experts tried to put forward explanations as to why Chelsea beat Everton in yesterday’s FA Cup Final. But the reason could be put down to one word: Money.

Chelsea’s vastly superior wealth means they can buy the best players-like Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard, Michael Essien and Michael Ballack. Chelsea's side was assembled at a cost of £330m. Everton's cost £90m.

Money Power doesn’t make life more exciting-it does exactly the opposite. It means that all our towns and cities look the same: a Starbucks, Pizza Express or Macdonalds on every corner. It means our leading political parties all have the same pro-capital policies. And the same teams win all the football trophies.

The facts speak for themselves: all but two of the last 18 FA Cup finals have been won by one of the ‘Big Four’. The last five Carling Cup finals have been won by the Big Four and since Middlesbrough won the 2003/4 Carling Cup, only one side from outside the Big Four (Portsmouth) has won a major trophy in England. (correction: two sides from outside the Big Four have won trophies since '04, as Robin Carmody reminds me in the comments section, Tottenham won the '08 Carling Cup).

On the same theme- there’s a great piece by Rod Liddle in today’s Sunday Times, which says it all:

For the first 11 years that I watched the FA Cup final, 11 different teams won the trophy, beginning and ending with those likeable, stalwart also-rans, West Bromwich Albion and Ipswich Town. In the past 14 years a grand total of five different clubs have won the tournament; the interlopers being Portsmouth.

When are football fans- regardless of the teams they support- going to come together and say ‘enough is enough’ of this boring, predictable nonsense?

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The 1979 FA Cup Final: When football was still the People's Game

Video: thekeogh

I’ve written before of the way neoliberals love to trash 1970s Britain. The reason why of course, is that the decade saw the zenith of progressive politics, not just in Britain but around the world too.

The neoliberals don’t only tell lies about the state of the economy in the 1970s, they trash every aspect of 70s life. Including football. Football back then was nowhere near as good as it is today, according to the manic Thatcherites. It was far too working class (not an executive box in sight)- and it really was quite appalling how little clubs like Notts Forest and QPR and Ipswich could compete for honours with the bigger clubs. That would never do would it? Let‘s change the structure of football so only the very richest clubs can win things. And we’ll change the structure of our economy and society too, to benefit the super-rich.

And that's exactly what the neoliberals did.

I just hope those who trash the 1970s watched ITV’s recent showing of the ’Big Match’ programme of the highlights of the FA Cup final of thirty years ago.

May 1979- a highly significant date as it was then that Mrs Thatcher came to power and British society and economy underwent radical changes. We saw the impact of those changes by watching the match.

First, neither team's shirts carried advertising (or even the players names on the back). There were no players from outside Britain and Ireland on the pitch: football had yet to be globalised. There was the great sportmanship- illustrated by the generous tributes the two managers, Terry Neill and Dave Sexton, paid to each other when interviewed side by side after the game. There was the dress of those in the crowd-while a few supporters wore their teams scarves- none were dressed in replica football jerseys- as most supporters are today.

The programme provided a snapshot of Britain at the end of one era, and at the start of another.

That summer, Liverpool became the first team to have advertising on its shirts.
A couple of years later, the rules were changed so that the home team kept all the gate receipts: the spirit of greed, unleashed by Thatcherism, was entering the sport.

British football, society and economy was never the same after May 1979.

And watching the Big Match video reminds us of the less commercialised, less money-obsessed world we have lost.

Oh, and it was also a classic game of football, with three goals in the last four minutes.

So much for those who say that good football only came to Britain with the advent of the big-bucks Premier League.

Watch and enjoy the incredible climax to the 1979 FA final above, and reflect on the world we lost when ‘Money Power’ and ‘Market Forces’ started to dictate every aspect of our lives.

And another thought: for those who believe that the Premier League has raised standards and improved English clubs chances of winning trophies in Europe, I give you this simple fact:

Number of times English clubs won the European Cup between 1977-84: 7
Number of times English clubs won the European Cup/Champions League since the advent of the Premier League in 1992/3 : er, 2. (er,3- as PJD reminds me in the comments, I forgot Liverpool's win in Istanbul in 2005). But it's still a very poor 17-year haul compared to the period 1977-84.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Letter of the Week: W.H.Doe

This week's winner, from W.H. Doe of Arnold, Notts, appears in today's Daily Mail.

"It shows how bright most of our MPs are- no one put in a claim for a shredder, except Tony Blair."

ps Tony's shredder really did exist, unlike Saddam Hussein's which, like Iraq's WMDs, was a neocon conspiracy theory.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Greed's Still Good

This article of mine appears in the Morning Star. It also appears on the website of the Campaign for Public Ownership.
It was written before the MPs expenses scandal broke- it seems that a large proportion of ‘Honourable Members’- regardless of party affiliation- are also fans of the Gospel according to Gordon Gekko.

With Conservative Party riding high in the opinion polls, the fanatically neoliberal "there is no such thing as society" brigade are becoming less reticent about voicing their obnoxious opinions in public.

Take Fraser Nelson, writing in the Spectator magazine.

Nelson argues that, while the 1980s mantra "greed is good" has become unfashionable, it is still true. We have, it seems, forgotten that wealth generates revenue, while high taxes - Nelson, like fellow neoliberals is incensed by the new 50 per cent top rate of tax for high earners - "crush prosperity and pauperise nations."

Instead of being regarded as a villain, Gordon Gekko, the ultra-selfish trader played by Michael Douglas in the 1987 film Wall Street, should be regarded as a wealth-creating hero.

What utter claptrap.

Nothing has done more to destroy British society and its economy than the naked greed and cult of selfishness unleashed by the Thatcherites in the '80s. To argue that the solution to our current ills is even more greed is like a politician in the devastated and defeated Germany of 1945 calling for more nazism.

As for the claim that high taxes crush prosperity and pauperise nations, Nelson has clearly never visited Norway.

The northern European country did exactly the opposite to what Thatcherites like Nelson were advocating in the 1980s.

Instead of privatising its oil industry, it nationalised it and set up a State Petroleum Fund. And it used high taxes in order to redistribute wealth and extend a welfare state where all citizens are cared for from the cradle to the grave. The result of these socialist policies is that Norway is now the third richest country in the world.

Aren't we lucky in Britain that we were rescued from going down the same path by Margaret Thatcher.

One cut they won't make

THE next Conservative government will, according to David Cameron, be a "government of thrift."

I've no doubt that spending on the NHS, state education and welfare provision will be slashed if the strong neoliberal faction within the party gets its way. But there's one cost-saving measure I'm fairly sure Dave and his chums won't introduce.

Renationalising British transport would save the country a fortune. Britain's railways companies receive over four times more in taxpayers subsidy than the much-maligned British Rail did in the last years of its existence. It's a similar story of government extravagance when it comes to subsiding private bus companies, which received £2.5bn from the public purse last year.

So, when a Tory or, indeed, a Labour or Lib Dem canvasser next comes to your door asking for your support, ask them why, if the public finances really are in such a bad shape, their parties refuse to advocate such a sensible, cost-saving measure.

A ticket to profits

THE year 1969. A man landed on the moon, Swindon stunned Arsenal in the League Cup final and Charles de Gaulle stepped down as president of France. It was also the year that Harold Wilson's Labour government set up the National Bus Company.
Established by the Transport Act a year earlier, the National Bus Company brought together all the state's bus interests in one company.

The way the system worked was simple. Buses were run locally by subsidiaries such as Midland Red or Southern Vectis while intercity coaches operated under the National Express banner.

There was even a national holiday company offering cheap coach holidays to different parts of the country.

This co-ordinated and efficient system was destroyed when the National Bus Company was broken up and privatised by the Thatcher government in the 1980s. We were told that privatising and deregulating bus transport would lead to greater competition and lower prices.

Instead, we have a situation where cash-strapped local authorities are effectively blackmailed by private operators into handing over ever more money in order to maintain services.

The Morning Star has already reported on the obscene case of fat-cat Go Ahead group chief executive Keith Ludeman, whose salary last year topped £910,000 and whose company has received millions of pounds in public subsidies, expressing his displeasure that Britain's pensioners, after a lifetime of work, have the benefit of free travel on buses. "Pensioners cannot be given a blank cheque," Ludeman complained.

But if anyone has been given a blank cheque these past 20 years it has been the profiteering private bus operators, which have made a fortune from the British taxpayer since Thatcher's destruction of the National Bus Company.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

In Memoriam: Peter Shore

Today would have been the 85th birthday of one of my British political heroes: the late Labour MP Peter Shore.

I corresponded with Shore when I was working abroad, teaching Economics in the early-mid 1990s. He sent me copies of the debates on the Maastricht Treaty from Hansard and then, most kindly, a copy of his book 'Leading the Left'. I was not a constituent of Shore's- yet still he replied to my requests- and could not have been more helpful.

I don’t agree with all the policy stances he took later on his life, but certainly agreed with his line on the EEC/EU and on economic policy- and in particular his views on the importance of public ownership. Shore always maintained that it was dishonest to talk about achieving greater equality without also extending public ownership. I used to be a member of the Labour Party, but left when Blair ditched Clause Four. For me, Clause Four is the very definition of socialism.
Once Labour ditched it, it could no longer have any claims to be a socialist party.

Peter Shore could have become Labour leader had he not been such a man of principle. In 1980, he seemed a strong candidate to take over from Jim Callaghan, but
his opposition to unilateral nuclear disarmament meant that many on the left preferred to support Michael Foot in the contest with Denis Healey. Had Foot not been persuaded to stand, Shore would very likely have won, but it was not to be.

Shore was simply too left-wing for the right-wing of the party (on the economy, nationalisation and the EEC/EU) and too right-wing (on issues such as defence, Northern Ireland) for the left. It's a great pity that Shore never became Labour leader as I'm sure he would have proved a formidable adversary for Margaret Thatcher. He was a great public speaker and a man of great personal charm.

Perhaps if he had become leader we would never have had to endure New Labour.

Peter Shore: an Old Labour great. May he rest in peace

Joe Biden: A Racist Goes to Serbia

What do you think of the senior US politician who said of Israel:

"We should go to Tel Aviv and we should have a Japanese-German style occupation of that country"

What a disgusting Judeophobic, fascist scumbag, eh?

Except the politician in question, US Vice President Joe Biden didn’t say those things about Israel, but about Serbia. As I highlighted in a Guardian article here, Serb-bashing is one of the last acceptable forms of racism in the world today. If Biden had made his comments about having a 'Japanese-German style occupation' of Israel, or indeed any other country, he would not only not be US Vice-President, he’d probably be in prison for race-hate crimes. But he said them about Serbia, and so he gets to be appointed the second most powerful man in the most powerful country in the world.

Today, Biden visits Serbia- to try to bully the government there to accept an ‘independent’ (ie US vassal state) Kosovo and to support the failed US puppet state of Bosnia. Let’s hope this loathsome racist gets the reception he deserves.
(Svetlana has more details on the protests planned by Serbs at the racist's visit.)

UPDATE: I have amended this post due to not being able to find 100% authentication of other anti-Serb quotes ascribed to Biden. If anyone can send in links to the primary sources where Biden made the alleged comments: "Serbs are illiterate degenerates, baby killers, butchers and rapists" and "all Serbs should be put in Nazi-style concentration camps", please let me know and I will reinsert the quotes and amend the piece again. Many thanks. In any case, Biden's disgusting remarks about a 'Japanese-German style occupation' of Serbia are damning enough, especially given the horrors that the Serbs experienced during the Nazi occupation of Yugoslavia in World War Two.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Exposed: The Henry Jackson Society MPs who are 'scooping' taxpayers cash

I've always maintained that neoconservatism should not be seen as a genuine political philosophy, but merely as a smokescreen for old fashioned pillage and plunder. Greed is the driving force behind neoconservatism- a theory hardly disproved by the behaviour of most of the MPs who have signed up to the principles of the Henry Jackson Society.

First, there was Michael 'Flipper' Gove. Then David 'The Minister who can't change a light bulb' Willetts. Then Stephen Crabb. Then Michael Ancram. Then Chris Bryant. Then the unlovely, self-adoring Denis Macshane, a man who loves to see his name in the papers but probably wasn't too happy to see this article. And now Ed Vaizey.

Have a look at the stories regarding these dishonourable members. They claim to be 'democrats'- well, let's hope the British public give them the Order of the Boot at the next election; that's if their party leaders don't derail them first.

UPDATE: Now here's a funny thing. Attempts to add details of Dennis Macshame's abuse of taxpayers money have been deleted from his wikipedia page, apparently because they were not sourced. I wonder if our friend Philip Cross, the diligent wikipedia editor could help out here? Philip is so quick off the mark when it comes to editing my page- why, a certain little neo-con blogger with an obsession with trying to smear me, only has to make an attack post on me on his blog and up goes Philip, or his little pal ''. to add a reference to it on my wikipedia page. But Philip doesn't seem to be quite so keen on adding a reference to the Daily Mail story on Denis Macshane's page. That's strange, because he's shown a great interest in editing Macshane's page in the past. And also, the page of Macshane's former wife, the late newsreader Carol Barnes. In fact so incensed was 'Philip' when I once referred to McShane by his original name 'Denis Matyjaszek' that he darted over to my wikipedia page to insert the maiden name of my wife, failing to see the difference between a woman who takes her husband's surname on marriage, with a careerist politician who hypocritically berates the British for not being 'pro-European' enough, while changing his original Polish surname.

Come on Philip, anyone would think you that instead of being an 'impartial' wikipedia editor, you were somehow heavily biased towards Mr Macshane. To prove them wrong, here's a little test for you. Simply go to McShane's wikipedia page and add a reference to the Daily Mail story. Here is the link. It's an approved source, so no problems on that ground. We'll be watching the page on a daily basis to see if you put it up.

Oh, and by the way, I'm really looking forward to meeting you at the 2010 Wikimania conference. We've got so much to talk about.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Hungary tears up the ballot paper

This piece of mine, on alarming developments in Hungary, appears in The New Statesman.

His approval ratings are among the lowest ever achieved by a prime minister. As the former manager of the country’s finances, many blame him for its current economic predicament. By nature an introvert, he is finding it hard to build up a rapport with the electorate. His name is Gordon B....

No, not Gordon Brown, but Gordon Bajnai, who last month was sworn in as the new prime minister of Hungary.

The similarities between the political situations in Hungary and Britain are striking. In both countries a nominally left-of-centre – but actually pro-big business and pro-privatisation – government has presided over an unsustainable credit boom. Both have been hit hard by the global recession. We should also note that Bajnai’s predecessor, Ferenc Gyurcsány, was widely referred to as “Hungary’s Tony Blair” and is a friend of Peter Mandelson.

But there are important differences, too. Britain’s Gordon B may not have had his elevation to the premiership endorsed by the electorate, but he is nonetheless a democratically elected member of parliament. Hungary’s Gordon B has not been elected to any office.

A millionaire businessman, nicknamed “Goose Gordon” for his controversial role in the liquidation of a poultry firm in which hundreds of producers lost their savings, Bajnai became prime minister due to the support of the neoliberal SZDSZ party (Alliance of Free Democrats), who despite having the support of only 1 per cent of the electorate, according to recent opinion polls, hold the balance of power in parliament.

Bajnai is not a member of any political party, but a friend and former business partner of both Gyurcsány and the SZDSZ leader, János Kóka. Imagine if in Britain the Lib Dems held the balance of power in the next parliament and Nick Clegg installed an old business buddy, who was not an MP, as PM.

It sounds far-fetched, but it has happened in Hungary. Realising that they stand little chance of winning seats in the next election, the SZDSZ, who reacted angrily when voters in a referendum last year rejected the imposition of hospital and doctor’s visit fees and higher-education tuition fees, have been pushing for a “government of experts” to impose the draconian cutbacks in public spending that they have long advocated. Now they have got what they wanted.

In addition to the prime minister, other unelected “experts” in the new government include finance minister Peter Oszko, formerly head of Deloitte Hungary; economy minister István Varga, the former head of Shell in Hungary; and minister of transport, telecommunication and energy, Peter Honig, the former CEO of the airline Malev.

The fact that unelected figures hold so much power in a European country that styles itself a democracy is alarming. The formation of “non-political” governments to introduce swingeing cuts in public expenditure – and privatise health care, lower pensions and drastically reduce welfare provision – is an undemocratic development that could spread.

Such governments are a long way from being “non-political”. On the contrary, they are espousing ideologically motivated economic policies, but do so under the smokescreen of “financial necessity”. Unable to receive a popular mandate for their reforms, neoliberals in Hungary have stuck two fingers up at the democratic process. As the economic crisis deepens and public unrest grows, don’t rule out their counterparts in other countries following suit.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Three Cheers for the Daily Telegraph (and Guido Fawkes!)

Well, I don't write much for the Daily Telegraph so I can't be accused of being a toady and I certainly don't agree with many of their editorial positions.

But bravo to the paper for spilling the beans over MPs expenses. It would have been easy for the Telegraph, which supports the Conservatives, merely to have published the details of Labour MPs expenses. But to their credit they've turned their guns on the Tories too. The Daily Telegraph has done the British public a great service, unlike The Times which has throughout taken a much softer, elitist line. (is it any wonder given the unpopular editorial positions it is taking at present that the sales of The Times are now down to a paltry 600,000 a day and the paper is losing around £1m a week ?)

Bravo too to the blogger Guido Fawkes, who has also played a blinder on this issue.

I've long maintained that the real divide in British politics is not between Labour and Conservative, but between the MPs and the rest of us. After the latest revelations does anyone out there disagree?

Public contempt for British parliamentarians- of all parties- is at an all time high.

So what's the answer for those who feel totally disgusted with the behaviour of our elected representatives and who want something very different?

Watch this space for some suggestions.

Monday, May 11, 2009

A Sign of The Times

I’ve written before about the decline in simple journalistic standards and fact checking at the newspaper which purports to be Britain’s 'newspaper of record'.

The Times comment/editorial section, has in the last few years, been more interested in acting as the last remaining propaganda outlet of British neo-conservatism, than in getting simple facts right.

In today's paper there is a comment piece entitled 'The Pope is deeply suspect in Jewish eyes', written by Stephen Pollard.

You would have thought that an article attacking the Pope (pictured above), would at least get the man's real name right. It doesn't.

The article refers to the Pope as 'Thomas Ratzinger'.

His name is Joseph Alois Ratzinger.

It beggars belief that no one who dealt with this article knew the Pope‘s real name or bothered to check it.

But then again, judging by the comment/editorial section's previous form on getting facts right, perhaps not.

(Hat tip for spotting this one to Martin Meenagh).

UPDATE. Oh dear. It's not been a very good day for neocon writers at The Times has it?

As David Lindsay says, lets hope he takes the rest of Policy Exchange and the Henry Jackson Society with him as he leaves Parliament.

FURTHER UPDATE: The Times has amended the article in question so that the Pope is now 'Joseph Ratzinger'. But the erroneous information highlighted by Martin Meenagh
in the comments section below is still up there.

What a day of unmitigated embarrassment at Britain's 'newspaper of record'. The excellent Guido Fawkes reports:

Why has a regular Times T2 columnist had a piece called ‘How Not To Spend It’, which was due to be published today, pulled by The Times. The reason? Might be sensitive, given MPs spending habits. The columnist?
Could it be that the columnist is Sarah Vine? Also known as Mrs Gove.....

Neo-cons not very happy about this blog post, it seems.

I receive a sneering email overnight from 'anonymous' to draw my attention to a blog post of last night by Pollard's little pal and fellow neocon smear merchant Oliver Kamm in which he accuses me (falsely) of using quotations from Cicero and Mahatma Gandhi from the internet without checking them. You can imagine the exchange of emails which preceded the blog post, can't you?

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Letter of the Week: Mark Holt

This brilliant letter by Mark Holt of Liverpool was 'Letter of the Day' in last Monday's Daily Express.

Out of the Iraqi frying pan and into Afghan fire

So, British troops have finally left Iraq after six agonising years.

The government assures us our troops did a wonderful job and that Iraq is a better place.

But since the 2003 invasion, one million Iraqi civilians have died, the country's infrastructure has been looted or destroyed and most Iraqis say that life was better under Saddam Hussein.

Will Gordon Brown hold an official inquiry into the outlandish lies that led to the war? Or will we be offered another whitewash? Will lessons be learned? And how in future will we be able to restrain an arrogant government hellbent on pursuing similar courses of action?

Sadly, we're involved in other conflicts just as morally repugnant, such as Afghanistan and America's de facto war on Pakistan that has so destabilised the country that the Taliban may take over a nuclear-armed state.

On the subject of the 'outlandish lies that led to the (Iraq) war', a little bird tells me that the pro-war writer David Aaronovitch has got a new book out on conspiracy theories. I wonder if he has included in it the conspiracy theory that Iraq possessed WMDs- a 'theory' that led to the deaths of 1m people?

Something tells me that he probably hasn't.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Wally of the Week:Teressa Groenewald-Hagerman

What do you call someone who kills an elephant for a bet?

Yeah, you're right,'Wally' is far too mild a term, but until we have a 'Barbaric Bas...d' of the Week award, it will have to do.

The Daily Express and Daily Mail both cover this truly horrific story:

American Teressa Groenewald-Hagerman, 39, was so pleased with becoming the first woman known to have killed an elephant with a bow and arrow that images have been posted on the internet.
She told how after killing the animal at dusk in Africa she left it overnight before returning the next day to check it was dead.
She said she spent eight days on the hunt in Zimbabwe before getting close enough to take a shot.
“It was shot near dark. We went back the next day and found him. I was in the middle of 37 elephants when I took my shot. This was my first bow kill and first woman to take an ele with a bow.”
She added: “It was at 12 yards kneeling.”

Will Travers, of the Born Free Foundation, says it all:

“What kind of person would kill an elephant with a bow to win a bet? She needs therapy. It is sickening but unfortunately there are people who are willing to do this. Elephants live in tight family units and we know through research that they show signs of being able to grieve. There are people who would say that this is not far short of murder".

And I'd be one of them.

Runner-up in this week’s Wally of the Week is the ‘admiring blogger' called BO-N-ARO, who wrote:

“12 yards!!! I bet they had a great blood trail because of the low entry!!
“That has to be one of the best examples of setting a goal and working hard to achieve it!”

Yeh, right.....

One further point:

The Daily Mail records:

Hunting elephants for sport is legal in some parts of Africa and many tour companies allow tourists to visit on organised hunting trips.

What an indictment of so-called ‘socialist’ Zimbabwe that it allows rich Americans to come over and butcher its wildlife.

ps If you've got the stomach for it you can read of Ms Groenewald-Hagerman's exploits and other carnage on the 'Hunts of a Lifetime' website. Can you even begin to understand the mentality of people who think that slaughtering magnificent animals is fun?

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Decision 1979: More thoughts on the election that changed everything

I hope that all those journalists who penned articles trying to portray 1970s Britain as hell on earth watched the re-run of BBC's 1979 General Election results programme 'Decision 1979' on BBC4 on Monday (you can see the opening of the programme above).

The programme was a sad watch, but fascinating all the same.

Despite the opposition of around 90% of the print media, and despite the industrial disputes which occured in the preceding winter, Labour didn't fare too badly at all. There was actually a swing towards Labour in Scotland, and if the south-east swing to the Conservatives had been the same as the swing in the north, then the Conservatives may even have been denied an overall majority.

Perhaps any neoliberals reading this could explain why, if life really were so bad under Labour in the mid-late 1970s, the Conservatives did not win a landslide in May 1979?

The fact is that the Conservatives were fortunate to return to power at all. As Perry Worsthone argued on 'Decision 1979', Labour would probably have won had Jim Callaghan called an election the preceding autumn. They were leading in the polls, and after three and a half years as Tory leader, Margaret Thatcher had yet to strike a chord with the electorate. What brought the Tories to power were the industrial disputes which dominated the news headlines in January 1979, and which the Conservative-supporting media portrayed as a sign that Britain was out of control.

If Callaghan had gone to the country in October 1978, things would have been very different, as I argued in this Guardian article. And things would also probably have been different had Callaghan done the required deals with the minority parties that would have enabled him to win the vote of no-confidence in March 1979.

It's very likely that Labour would have won a General Election in October 1978. It's also likely that with the economy improving by the month, and with the memories of January 1979 receding, Labour would have won an election in October 1979.

But in May 1979 they faced an uphill task.

There was nothing inevitable about Thatcherism. What 'Decision 79' showed us, if we didn't know already, was that Thatcher's elevation to power was all to do with a section of the electorate blaming the Labour government and the unions for the strikes in nearly 1979, and was not a sign of public support for the Conservative Party's neoliberal programme.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Don't believe the myth- Margaret Thatcher ruined egalitarian 1970s Britain

This piece of mine appears in the First Post.

Monday, May 4 marks the 30th anniversary of arguably the most significant event in post-war British politics: the coming to power of Margaret Thatcher.

The dominant narrative - accepted even by many who consider themselves to be on the left - is that Britain's economy in the 1970s was in such dire straits that our country urgently needed a change of direction.

Britain, in this account, was the 'Sick Man of Europe'. The unions and inflation were out of control. Our inefficient nationalised industries were an expensive disaster. The Labour governments of 1974-79 were complete flops. The post-war mixed economy model had failed.

But this narrative is a myth.

It's true that inflation hit 27 per cent in 1975, but this was largely a consequence of the Yom Kippur War oil price shock, which saw oil prices quadruple, and not a sign that the mixed economy model had collapsed.

By 1978, the British economy was rapidly improving. Inflation was down to single figures and unemployment was falling too. Productivity was rising, including in the nationalised industries. North sea oil revenues were starting to transform the balance of payments, which showed a surplus of £109m in 1977. And in December 1978 Britain recorded a massive trade surplus of £246m

During 1978, Britain's standard of living rose by 6.4 per cent to reach its highest ever level: so much for the 'Sick Man of Europe'.

"The outlook for Britain is better than at any time in the postwar years," was the verdict, not of a Labour party propagandist, but of Chase Manhattan bank's chief European economist, Geoffrey Maynard.

Bernard Nossiter, a Washington Post journalist, argued in his 1978 book Britain- the Future that Works, that Britain, unlike the US, had created a contented society that had managed to get the balance right between work, leisure and remuneration.

Far from having had enough of Labour and the post-war consensus, opinion polls show that the party would have won a General Election, had Prime Minister James Callaghan called one, as expected, for October 1978.

The so-called 'Winter of Discontent' of 1979 - which ushered in Thatcherism - is also shrouded in myth. James Callaghan never said 'Crisis, what crisis' - that was an invention of The Sun. The strikes themselves only lasted for a comparatively short period and were largely over by February 1979.

One might ask why all this matters. It does, because if we are going to break with neoliberalism, we need to shatter the myths put forward by Thatcherite ideologues. We need to understand the truth which was that the British economy performed far better 30 years ago than is commonly believed. The mixed economy model didn't fail. We were no more in need of Mrs Thatcher's 'painful medicine', than someone suffering from a common cold needs a course of chemotherapy.

Acknowledging the truth about the 1970s is important, because it means that we can then return to an economic model that served the great majority of Britons extraordinarily well for over 30 years after World War Two. It was a model under which large sections of the economy - including transport, energy and most major industries - were in public ownership; capitalism was strictly regulated and made to work for the common good and manufacturing was regarded as more important than finance.

In no other period in British history was there such a rapid rise in living standards. The gap between rich and poor was significantly reduced. As the One Nation Tory Harold Macmillan, one of the architects of the post-war consensus, famously declared, we never had it so good.

Since 1979 we have followed a very different economic path: one of deregulation, privatisation and allowing 'market forces' to rule the roost. And we all know where that has led us.