I was born in the winter of discontent, which swept Maggie to power and began a thirty year consensus that deregulated markets know best. I was politicised by the crash, which so conclusively discredited that view of the world. 2008 should have marked the end of free marketism, just as 1989 marked the end of Marxist Leninism.
Unfortunately, people aren’t always motivated by a dispassionate examination of the evidence, and the British public has let itself be persuaded – against all the evidence – that our troubles are due to too much public spending rather than capitalism run wild. What has led me almost to despair in the last couple of weeks is the hard evidence that the generation of young adults (23+) born after Maggie came to power (the generation I am older than by a year) are the age group most signed up to a Thatcherite agenda of hostility to the welfare state, and a presumption that those who have not succeeded are lazy and feckless.
I have three speculative theories to explain this, in ascending order of importance:
- The current Labour leader’s lack of charisma – I like Ed Milliband, as, unusually for a politician, the things he says are not entirely stupid. However, ‘We will make different choices within the same fiscal envelope’ is not a good rallying cry.
- New Labour’s failure to celebrate the welfare state – To a certain extent New Labour redistributed wealth (although without dealing with economic fundamentals this merely slowed down, rather than reversed, the increase of inequality). However, a fear of returning to its long years in opposition meant that it redistributed by stealth, did not celebrate its progressive achievements, and always presented itself as ‘tough on welfare’. In this way New Labour did nothing to challenge, and did every to reinforce, the Thatcherite consensus in the public mind.
- Lack of political music and comedy – The 80s were marked by a massive growth of inequality and social division. On the bright side, this led to some great satirical comedy. Now 60% of people in the charts are privately educated, and the only satire we have is ‘Have I got news for you.’ There is an impressive amount of young political activism in the UK post 2010. But a political movement needs to reach out to those who aren’t going to go on a march, or handcuff themselves to a bank, at least not in the first instance. There needs to be a mainstream force to counterbalance those powerful parts of the media driven by private interests; and if that doesn’t come from music, comedy, and popular art, I don’t know where it will come from.
These factors seem to me to some degree to explain the problem. However, I have no idea what the solution is, and I can’t see things getting any better.