Thursday, September 16, 2010

A party's soul is sold

This column of mine appears in the Morning Star.

Neil Clark explains how ‘Orange Book’ Liberals betray their roots.

As a big fan of the classic 1970s TV drama Upstairs, Downstairs, I was delighted to read that three brand new episodes of the programme are to be broadcast this autumn, with plans for a new series to be shown next year.

Upstairs, Downstairs told the story of the inhabitants of 165 Eaton Place in Belgravia, London, focusing on both the toffs "upstairs" and the lives of the servants "downstairs."

The original programme, which was screened from 1971-5, covered the years 1903-30. It was a period of enormous social change during which those "downstairs" made important social advances and the old class system, so rigid in the Victorian era, began to weaken.

Master of the house Richard Bellamy, played by David Langton, was a paternalistic Tory MP who had much sympathy with the reforming Liberal government which swept to power in 1905. It was that same Liberal government of Campbell-Bannerman, Asquith, Lloyd George and Winston Churchill which laid the foundations of the modern welfare state.

How ironic, then, that exactly 100 years on, it's the Liberals who, together with their Tory coalition allies, are working to destroy the welfare state their predecessors helped to establish.

The progressive "new" Liberals of the early 20th century believed the state should play a key role in helping the least fortunate in society and create a better, fairer Britain.

By contrast, the Orange Book Lib Dems of the early 21st century hate the state and think that private provision and "market forces" are superior to public provision.

In supporting swingeing cuts to public spending at a time when the economy is in delicate health, today's Lib Dems are also rejecting the teachings of the great Liberal economist John Maynard Keynes. And in backing a budget which favours the rich at the expense of those on average or below average incomes the Liberals are betraying the legacy of David Lloyd George who, in 1909, introduced his famous People's Budget which did exactly the opposite.

The fact is that today's leading Liberal politicians have far more in common with the uber-Thatcherite Free Democratic Party of Germany who favour privatisation, tax cuts for big business and massive cuts in welfare spending than they do with some of the greatest names of their party's history.

And if Clegg, Cable and co are allowed to implement their reactionary policies they'll make Britain an even more unfair society than it was in the earlier days of Upstairs, Downstairs.

Another face for the left-wing rogues gallery

Last year in the Star I compiled a list of 10 nominally left-wing political leaders who had shamefully sold out to capital. It's time to add another name to the left-wing rogues gallery - that of the Greek "Socialist" Prime Minister George Papandreou.

Papandreou was elected in October 2009 after the Greek people rejected the unpopular right-wing government of Konstantinos Karamanlis, which had been in power since 2004.

Greeks voted for Papandreou and Pasok, believing that the party would put the interests of ordinary people first.

But he didn't follow a genuinely socialist policy that would have seen Greece pulled out of the euro straitjacket, taxes increased on the very wealthy and international speculators told to take a running jump. Instead Papandreou introduced a massive austerity programme which has involved draconian cuts in salaries and pensions and announced a major programme of privatisation, including the part-sell off of the country's railways and the opening up of the Greek energy sector.

While Greeks take to the streets in their thousands to protest over Papandreou's treachery, the Greek leader still has one big fan.

Last week the International Monetary Fund praised Papandreou's government for the harsh austerity measures it has taken. Papandreou will go down in history as the man who sold his country to the international money men. Yet another nominally left-wing leader who did the dirty on the people he was supposed to represent.

Defeating privatisation

On Sunday TUC general secretary Brendan Barber called for the building of a broad alliance to fight against the Con-Dem government's cuts agenda. It's a call that's been echoed by other trade union leaders.

Fighting against any further privatisation of publicly owned assets will be a crucial part of the battle. The NHS, the Royal Mail, state education and public libraries are under serious threat. But none of the privatisation measures announced by the new government has majority public support. All can be defeated.

I look forward to working with trade unions and all other progressive forces to keep the Royal Mail and the NHS in full public ownership and to defend local authority services, as well as to lead the fight for the return to full public ownership of those assets, such as our railways, our airports and our energy sector, which have been privatised over the past 30 years.

Public versus private - the efficiency test

It didn't take long for neoliberals to try to make political capital out of the Inland Revenue's miscalculation of six million tax bills.

Parliamentary all-party taxation group chairman Ian Liddell-Grainger says that Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs "needs to shed all but its core responsibilities.
"The traditional obsession with keeping everything in-house is out of date and wildly inefficient," the Tory MP claims.
Instead, Liddell-Grainger wants Britain to follow the US route and allow tax collection to be done by private companies.
"They do it better and they do it cheaper too," he says. "They are quite capable of doing it here."

Ah yes, those efficient private companies which can do the work of government departments so much better than the state.

I wonder if Liddell-Grainger has in mind companies such as ETS Europe, a subsidiary of US firm ETS Global BV, which was responsible for the Sats marking fiasco in 2008.

Or PA Consulting, a subcontractor to the Home Office, which in 2008 lost a computer memory stick containing the highly confidential data of 84,000 prisoners.

Or the US firm Pearson Driving Assessments, a subcontractor to the Driving Standards Agency, which lost a hard drive containing the details of three million candidates for the driving theory test from what it had described as a "secure facility" in Iowa.

And, of course, Britain's privatised rail companies have delivered a far "better" and "cheaper" rail service than the state-owned British Rail, haven't they?


vladimir gagic said...

Speaking of "neoliberalism in practice", 14.6% of Americans, or 44 million people, are now in poverty. The world's great war machine is the world's great poverty machine as well. Ironically, according to the CIA handbook, 13.8% of Mexicans are in poverty. Maybe the illegal alien tide will reverse direction.

jock mctrousers said...

Hi Neil, good to see you back and still kicking. I had to laugh at that advert that's rolling across the top of your blog " Need a loan? Can't get credit? " Maybe it's personalised to my tastes - you never know with these computer things.

I know a lot of Liberals are supposedly disgusted with Clegg, but they can't be the sort of Liberals I've ever met - tend to be just younger, cannabis-smoking versions of the blue-rinse brigade? Maybe that's just the sort of people I meet generally, dunno... This mean-spirited viciousness is just what I'd expect from them.

Oh, and didn't the Liberals used to be known as the gay party (no offence intended)? What happened to that? They're no fun at all now.

Mr. Piccolo said...

@Mr. Clark,

Great article. What happened to the old social conscience conservatives? Perhaps the closest thing we have today are the anti-globalization paleoconservatives, but they don’t seem to have much real political clout.

As for the faux Left, I think it just goes to show that calling yourself a “socialist” or a “progressive” doesn’t mean much anymore. In my own country, there are some self-described conservatives like Pat Buchanan that are probably more pro-worker than many so-called progressives.

@Mr. Gagic,

I hear Baja is nice this time of year, maybe I should brush up on my Spanish? All kidding aside, I was shocked by the new statistics, but was even more shocked by the comments on the news website, for example "well, those people want/deserve to be poor" or "they can't be poor if they own cell phones." I think many people fail to realize that if it wasn't for the government intervention they loath so much, the poverty rate would undoubtedly be higher, and they might have been included in those statistics.

olching said...

Hi Neil.

You are quite right, though of course the Orange Bookers did make explicit their lovefest for neoliberal politics before the election. I suppose it took this for many leftish LibDem voters to realise that the liberals are dicey enough.

Today Nick Clegg will tell his party that a left-turn is not an alternative for the LibDems. I feel somewhat sorry for the Kennedys and others in the party, but their option is to leave the party (or for voters simply never to vote the NeoLibDems again).

As for Papandreou: Yes, it's the same old story. Once a government agrees to sell out its country, it's described as progressive; resistance to that by contrast as reactionary. Look at Bosnia or Hungary. It became open business, and there is nothing local left anymore (other than the flight to religion); it's all Tesco, Lidl, and Volksbank with the wages not matching the living costs. Yes, great progress thanks to the liberal market.

Neil Clark said...

Hi Vladimir: ‘The world's great war machine is the world's great poverty machine as well.’

jock- great to hear from you.

Mr Piccolo- many thanks. You ask- 'what happened to the old social conscience conservatives? - sadly there are few, if any left. The Conservative Party in Britain has been taken over by neoliberals. As I've said before, Harold Macmillan would be branded a hard-core leftist if he came back today with his pro-mixed economy, pro-welfare state views.

Olching-Hope all’s well. Yes, a lot of people on the centre-left and left did fall for the Lib Dems, thinking that they were ’progressive’ because of their stance on ID cards and civil liberties. But they didn’t realise the extent to which the neoliberal Orange Bookers had taken over the party. The big clue as to what was up was the Lib Dems changing their policy on the railways- in 2005 Charles Kennedy’s Lib Dems had pledged renationalisation, but in 2010 the pledge was absent from the manifesto. Instead there were pro-privatisation policies. Clegg’s Lib Dems are basically socially liberal Thatcherites- the party is now a British version of Germany's pro-privatisation, pro-capital, anti-welfare FDP.

john said...

@vladimir gagic

And it was the US that engineered the destruction of Mexico starting in the 70’s with Kissinger as a means of population control instituting economic policies bringing in multi-national banks and corporations to take over Mexico’s national banks and production companies like food coupled with the CIA drug trafficking networks operating from Florida putting thecountry under the control of Mexican drug lords.

Anonymous said...

Good article, Neil.

Let's face it, though, the liberals' social welfare programme that began immediately after the Gladstone Report in 1895 and the disastrous Boer War campaign in 1900 - where working-class soldiers were too weak to even reach the battlefields - was a knee-jerk response to the dire poverty and ill-health that was apparent right in the midst of a quintessential free-trade era. They don't REALLY care, they just feel a bit guilty and willing to cough up to clean up the inevitable mess that their odious economic system creates. There's something of Zizek's 'fetishistic disavowal' about the liberal mind-set; they know how fundamentally obscene their system is, but they don't want to know, so they don't know. What really concerns them are business opportunities and the protection of the value of their money and property, hence their obsession with deficit and inflation and their willingness to trade off the unemployment of others as the Philips Curve demands.

They have never REALLY cared; not truly, not deeply, and not enough to join the genuine Left. Despite their endless gestures towards rights, progress, freedom and so on, they are still at root Calvinists, and God only helps those who help themselves.

Let's hope this can stay in the memory and nobody trusts them again.

- questionnaire

Undergroundman said...


On pre-1914 liberals and their connection to now.I can see what you are saying. I wish you would thunder back on to CiF.

Don't forget The Fabian Society as well, a number of whom went on to praise Stalin.

Now , of course, liberals have decided that uncritical support of the USA is the new Future of Humanity.

Meanwhile, British soldiers continue to get killed in Afghanistan for a load of spurious reasons

My own blog tries, perhaps imperfectly, to understand WHY. It blasts away the Rationalisations.

The Afghanistan War is a War for the TAPI pipeline. Nothing much more. The evidence seems to be compelling to me know

Anonymous said...

Hi Karl, nice to hear from you again.

I agree - crude economic and geopolitical reasons are underneath every neoliberal move.

No more Cif for me, though - the place is swamped by Thatcherite Times-paywall dodgers in whose presence intelligent conversation just cannot get off the ground, or at least for very long, anyway.