Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Something of the night

As the newly conjoined twins of the establishment get to work, there may be wailing and gnashing of teeth in many quarters, yet some liberal voices are raised in, at least, qualified hope. I would expect Henry Porter to be rejoicing but Anthony Barnett?

Barnett thinks that the coalition has given Cameron the opportunity to abandon Thatcherism and return to one-nation conservatism.

"One way of describing it, uncomfortable as it may be for me to report, is that the transition from New Labour to a Tory led coalition promises a distinctly more progressive government in the UK. If indeed the Coalition agreement is carried out, then the new government will be to the left of its predecessor by being:

* tougher on the bankers
* more focused on helping the very poor
* more democratic
* ending New Labour’s assault on liberty
* Europeanising Westminster politics
* implementing greener policies
* reintroducing cabinet government "

There's that horrid and increasingly meaningless word "progressive" again, but hang on a second. Most of this is about governance and the role of the state. Thatcherism was essentially a type of political economy, not a theory of the state. State centralisation was the by-product of corporate-led marketisation combined with a notion of human behaviour that understood it as a reaction to the crude stimuli of enlightened self-interest. Thatcher was part of the neo-liberal intellectual revolution that broke the old social democratic consensus. This is the source of most of the mainstream assumptions about the workings of the modern economy. I don't see much of a challenge to economic orthodoxy coming from George Osborne's treasury. And let's not forget that Orange Book Liberals were fully signed up members of the neo-liberal club.

The doctrine isn't in the best of health, having taken a bit of a battering in the credit crunch. It may not be alive and kicking, but it is certainly undead. It is currently stalking the corridors of the IMF waiting to suck the blood from vulnerable, unsuspecting countries with nice weather, whilst here it is about to launch two years of unprecedented public spending cuts.

Surely the Labour Party will spend its time in opposition sharpening the stakes that would send Thatcherism to a dusty, eternal oblivion. However, listening to the platitudes of the leadership contest (do politicians really think in clichés as well as speak them?), I am not hopeful.

In the meantime we are promised six billion pounds of magic cuts this year, cuts that we are promised will miraculously not affect 'front-line services', though god knows what they will do to front-line staff. Contemplating this, I can only paraphrase Wordsworth:

Bliss was it in that dawn to be retired.

1 comment:

scott neil said...

well said Peter. i left part of your comment up in response to Barnett as i'd already had a few comments - to which he was good enough to reply to - up there and we were going round in circles. not a surprise Henry Porter runs whole hog w the (undoubtedly improved) civil libs changes, but, as you, say a bit of a surprise re Barnett, though not massively.

i note Will has rightly been busy on the Shiraz boards calling Porter out!

i gather Anthony seems a little more optimistic than you or i about challenges to neoliberalism.

i hope his optimism is rewarded.