I was watching Margaret Thatcher, Death of a Revolutionary, today. What interested me about it was not so much Thatcher herself, but the accompanying political analysis, which went something like this:
Post-war Britain had a post-war political consensus. Much of industry – mines, ports, railways, communications, etc. – had been taken into state ownership by the Labour government. And the Conservative party, which was largely made up of the wealthy and aristocratic landed classes, accepted this because they were no more economically liberal than Labour, and saw it as their job to run the country from the top down.
But the new monopolistic state-run industries soon became outdated and over-manned and uncompetitive, and Britain became the Sick Man of Europe.
Enter the economically-liberal grocer’s daughter, Margaret Thatcher, who managed to oust the wealthy and aristocratic Conservative party leadership, and then be elected Prime Minister, and go on to de-nationalise most of the state-run industries, transforming Britain’s economy.
But 12 years later, in a counter-coup, she was herself ousted by the wealthy and aristocratic Conservatives she had largely sidelined throughout her administration.
Since the programme was about Margaret Thatcher, the political analysis did not continue through to the present day. But what it seemed to suggest was that the post-war political consensus had been restored, with the slight difference that most of her liberal economic reforms were retained by both her Conservative and Labour successors. There was no re-nationalisation.
And so now we have an Eton-educated, upper-class, Conservative Prime Minister with an Eton-educated cabinet. It’s just like Britain in the 1950s. And furthermore, just like then, the Conservative government hasn’t been rushing to undo what Labour did under Blair and Brown. There’s been no real change.
But if state-run Britain in the 1950s and 60s was economically illiberal, it was culturally highly liberal. You could think what you liked, write what you liked, and sing what you liked (and grope who you liked). So while Britain’s exports were dwindling, and its economy declining, it was exporting the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and quite a few other cultural products.
And while in 1964 we had a largely state-run economy and a liberal culture, in 2014 we have a liberal economy and an increasingly state-run culture.
And nothing symbolises this more than the smoking ban introduced in 2007. This is a kind of state control of culture which would have been completely unthinkable in 1964.
And it’s not stopped at tobacco. State control is extending to alcohol, diet, and sex (e.g. Dave Lee Travis conviction for groping a woman 20 years ago). Conformity is now expected in more or less every respect, including belief in the doctrine of Global Warming. And there are more and more rules and regulations about everything, mostly emanating from the EU superstate. Because we aren’t just state-run these days, but superstate-run.
And, in fact, state controlled political culture plus economic liberalism now seems to be the global model to which almost every country adheres. It’s the EU model. And it’s the Chinese model. It’s the Russian model. And it’s largely the US model too. The authoritarians among us have shifted from trying to control the economy (which they were never any good at), to trying to control and modify cultural values and beliefs.
I never had the sense, back in the 1960s, that Britons were being brainwashed into adopting new values. But in 2014, I strongly believe that the government and the media are working as hard as any East German government to propagandise and regiment citizens into conformity. It’s the principal reason why I no longer watch TV, listen to the radio, or buy newspapers.
Back in Britain in the 1974, we had a deepening economic crisis. But what we now have is a deepening cultural crisis. Are we to have the cultural freedom to think what we like, say what we like, write what we like (and also grope who we like), or is it all to be dictated to us by an army of bureaucratic busybodies in Brussels and the UN and NGOs (like ASH)?
Because I suspect that having a liberal culture is just as important as having a liberal economy. Because the two aren’t separated from each other. A liberal free market economy also needs liberal new ideas, new hopes, new aspirations. Innovative new products require innovative imagination. In what way can a nation of conformists ever dream up anything new, ever step ‘outside the box’, or ever hope to storm the world like the innovative and imaginative Beatles and Rolling Stones once did?
We don’t need a new Margaret Thatcher to transform our economy. We instead need something like a new Margaret Thatcher to transform our culture, and restore the freedoms we’re currently losing hand over fist.