Saturday, May 09, 2009

Conventional wisdom

Polly Toynbee writes sense about Thatcherism in her piece on the expenses scandal and Labour's record on equality.
This week marks 30 years since Thatcher walked into No 10, creating the myth that it marked an epochal change in attitudes. It didn't. It marked the day when Britain's dysfunctional electoral system allowed a small rightward shift to let in an unrepresentatively radical party. When unions over-reached themselves, 44% voted for her but 56% still voted against. British Social Attitudes showed year after year that people stayed wedded to the welfare state, the NHS, the BBC and social security. The majority always voted to the left of her, and her savage cuts made her the most unpopular PM to date, saved only by the left's exceptional disarray.
Thatcherism actually did mark a change in consensus. However, it was only the elite consensus that changed and it was one that smacked of opportunistic self-interest. Arguably, this was the central error of Labour's 'modernisers'. They mistook the views of the elite with the views of the populace as a whole.

However, my suspicion is that there is a bit more to it than that. New Labour despised the views of ordinary, left-leaning people, seeing them as ignorant and behind the times -'dinosaurs'. It was their own self-perception as being new, young and holding the secrets of modernity that was their undoing. And, as an enlightened elite themselves, they saw no reason why they, too, should not grab a piece of the burgeoning wealth at the top. Those of us locked into egalitarian ideas and shaking our heads in incomprehension were derided as 'the forces of conservatism'. Well, their nemesis is with us now and it gives me no pleasure, no pleasure at all.

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