Jon Cruddas has an interesting article in the Guardian today, offering some opinions on the toxic legacy bequeathed the nation by Margaret Thatcher, or more accurately her neo-liberal economic approach (Hayek, Chicago School, etc. etc.). As even the quickest glance at the comments will show, the commenters remain unimpressed – they spot the glaring inconsistency: that New Labour have worshipped at the feet of Mammon every bit as much as Margaret Thatcher ever did. Nonetheless he did make a few important points, even if what he sees as solutions others might be inclined to see as exacerbating the problem.
Quick example, Cruddas has a pop at the Housing Act, an initiative which turned many hithertofore dependents into a property owning class, as having helped create a property bubble that helped make the rich richer and the poor poorer. Which is only half true. Leaving aside the fact that Labour have fuelled this bubble enthusiastically as the very basis of the middle-class wealth they have cultivated so assiduously, no-one really doubts that selling council homes was a successful policy. The unsuccessful bit was not building anymore – which, of course, was/is precisely what sustains the bubble.
Further on, Cruddas makes the point,
In 1978 there were 7.1 million employed in manufacturing, by 2008 that had fallen to 3 million. There has been no significant private investment in the deindustrialised regions. They have still not recovered their social fabric or productive economies and are now sustained by government spending.
Agreed. There exists very little wealth or diversity of job markets beyond the M25. The mistake here is to think that the sustenance provided by government spending has necessarily been beneficial in the medium to long term. As a BBCR4 programme explored today, certain towns in the north-east are so dependant on public sector jobs, often at the expense of a flourishing and innovative private sector, that they will be decimated when the inevitable cutbacks occur. Talk about rebuilding social fabric around employment? It won’t be done by having a third of the local populace working in government call centres or information lines, but by helping them develop a genuinely competitive industrial sector, through which a proud community can export their wares around the world.
Lastly, Cruddas makes the important observation (again without accepting Labour’s culpability), that
The Conservative economic legacy is a massive transfer of wealth and power away from the majority of the people to capital, away from the poor to the rich, and away from the country to London. The economy has been financialised at the expense of more equitable productive wealth creation.
Which is patently obvious, though no less important for that. So much political effort and attention has gone into building up London into a world financial centre, providing lots of jobs for middle-class people living in the south-east, that the rest of the country has become downgraded to a series of supplicant regions, devoid of economic autonomy and dependant on London for their own economic and indeed social security (tax receipts etc.). Job markets have become distorted, wealth distribution has become distorted (not just socially but geographically: people in the North quite often simply cannot afford to accept jobs in London), and educational and economic markets have become distorted – all moulded to better service the financial sector and all who dwell within dank grey noose that is the M25.
Whether articles such as this (and related musings from James Purnell) will make a blind bit of difference, I’m not sure, and these kind of ideas are certainly not wholly alien to the Conservative Party, what with their adoption of the Red Tory. However, banking crisis aside, it would be a brave Prime Minister that dared to undermine the one sector within the British economy that has for so many years been the most vibrant, successful and profitable – and upon which reams of government initiatives and programmes are dependant.
But there does seem to be a blossoming realisation that all is not as it could be – that Labour have failed to spread the wealth, and the Conservatives failed to conserve. This can only be a good thing.