The Political Pendulum

These days I’m rooting for Donald Trump to become the next President of the United States. And yet 10 years ago, if I’d seen the choice as between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, I would have been rooting for Clinton. How odd. What happened? Why did I swing from Left to Right? Why did I ever regard myself as Left in the first place? And what does Left and Right mean anyway?

One explanation is that I grew up in post-war Britain. The state seemed entirely benign back then. It provided free school milk. It provided schools and universities. And above all it provided the National Health Service, all courtesy of the Labour government that swept into power in 1945, shortly before I was born. Many of Britain’s industries were nationalised by the 1945 government, if they hadn’t effectively been nationalised during the war.

Post-war Britain was also post-Imperial Britain. The empire was being peacefully dissolved. Colonies were being granted independence. And Britain was broke. The landed British aristocracy, no longer getting an income from the colonies, were in terminal decline. And Britain had run up huge debts during the war.

Post-war Britain was also a remarkably egalitarian country. Nobody was very rich, and nobody was very poor. Rationing continued for years after the war. The state had expanded during the war in response to the need for careful war planning, and the post-war Labour governments were now using the state to plan the peace. Planning was all the rage. Town planning in particular. What Herman Goering’s Luftwaffe had helpfully started, the British town planners completed. Huge areas of housing were demolished and replaced with uniform tower blocks. Motorways were constructed. Schools and universities and hospitals were built. But it was all very dull and uniform.

The Sixties saw a revolt against this uniformity. Many of the icons of the sixties were art students in the new colleges that had sprung up. John Lennon went to art school. Mick Jagger was at the London School of economics. Most of Pink Floyd seem to have been architectural students. Together they invented new music, new art, new fashion, and a whole new culture and sensibility. They may not have been exactly what the planners had been planning, but they were many of them the product of the new colleges nevertheless.

But the state that had been created in response to the exigencies of war kept steadily growing. The NHS got bigger and bigger. The universities became more and more numerous. Local governments got larger and larger.

Margaret Thatcher’s 1980s government reversed the trend a little. Many of the nationalised industries were de-nationalised. Council houses were sold to their occupants. But the state still kept getting bigger.

But at some point, the benign state of the 50s and 60s and 70s began to gradually metamorphose into the bully state. The same happened in Europe, where the benign European Community gradually metamorphosed into the imperial bully state of the European Union.

For me personally what marked the transition was the 2007 smoking ban. For me that was the point when, overnight, the benign state became the bully state.

It was perhaps the inevitable product of state gigantism, rather than of any new ideology. As the state bureaucracy expanded, its managerial class became more and more detached from the ordinary people they were supposed to be serving. They spent more and more time talking to each other, and to other branches of government. They began to inhabit a separate state culture. They became an aristocracy. And they started to treat ordinary people as if they were their masters rather than their servants. And of course this process was vastly amplified in the EU, where the new aristocracy were even exempt from taxation and prosecution.

So one cause of my transition from left to right came from seeing a benign state turn into a bully state, from a benefactor into an oppressor.

This wasn’t the only cause, however. I spent much of my youth outside Britain, in countries in which there wasn’t a boring, tedious, sameness of post-war Britain. They were all countries in which there were stark differences.

And none exhibited such stark differences as Rio de Janeiro. Not only was the mountainous terrain of the city a stark contrast to the gently rolling hills of England, but so also was the poverty of the favelas on the hills above the multistorey hotels along Copacabana beach. Or the beggars on the streets among the prosperous businessmen of the city centre (there were no beggars on the streets of England).

For Rio de Janeiro was part of a capitalist country in which some people were very, very rich, and most were poor – and in some cases desperately poor.

And the inequality of it all seemed greatly offensive in my young eyes. How could such wealth co-exist side by side with such poverty? The same thought seems to have crossed the minds of revolutionaries like Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, who were at that time busy promoting revolution throughout South America. I became something of an egalitarian. And I could see some merits in uniformitarian Britain.

I think now, looking back, that I saw Rio de Janeiro as somewhere where wealth and poverty had become fixed for all time. I think I felt that Rio de Janeiro would remain as it was in the 1960s for all time thereafter. I didn’t realise that I was watching an unfolding process. Rio de Janeiro was a prosperous seaport that exported sugar and coffee and any number of other agricultural and mineral products all over the world. And it was this wealth that attracted people from all over Brazil, to find employment as bus drivers and maidservants and cooks and teachers. And the only place that many of them could live was in the ramshackle, corrugated-iron terraces on the steep slopes where there were no roads, and where the rich didn’t want to live. In time, those same terraces would become much-sought-after bijou residences with astonishing views across Guanabara Bay – much like many former slums of London are now the residences of millionaires.

For the dull, tedious, uniformity of 1950s Britain had followed on from the imperial Britain of a century earlier. Britain in 1800 or 1850 had been much like Rio de Janeiro in the 1960s, where the rich and the poor lived side by side, the one in palatial country houses, the other in rickety slums. In the Britain of 1850 there had been a rich aristocracy and an entrepreneurial middle class and the urban poor who had come to London or Manchester or Liverpool for the exact same reasons they arrived in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro.

And the Britain of 2007 was a Britain that had followed on from the Britain of 1950. Over a century or so, between 1900 and 2000, the power that had been concentrated in the hands of the rich British aristocracy and entrepreneurial middle class instead became concentrated in the hands of a state bureaucracy which had itself become a new aristocracy, as tyrannical as in any previous era.  In a century privately-owned power has been exchanged for publicly-owned power. And the result is just as oppressive. Perhaps it’s the inevitable result of too much power being concentrated in too few unaccountable and unresponsive hands.

And the Left-Right pendulum swing is perhaps simply the swing from private to public and back. At one extreme of the (rightward) swing, all power is highly concentrated in private hands, perhaps even a single man (e.g. Louis XIV of France), and a century later at the other end of the (leftward) swing it is concentrated in the hands of the public, and perhaps even a single man (e.g. Napoleon Bonaparte). The Britain of the 1950s marked the mid-point of the swing, when there was neither a concentration of private nor public wealth and power, and hence very little oppression. But power and wealth were at that time passing from private to public hands, and 50 years onwards it has become highly concentrated in the hands of an unaccountable and unresponsive new aristocracy, and therefore become oppressive.  And the backswing is now beginning.

And the same seems to be true across the whole of the western world. The presidency of Barack Obama seems to have been one of unaccountable public power (Congress has been a rubber stamp), and the presidency of Hillary Clinton (a woman with a monstrous sense of entitlement) looks set to be even more unaccountable and crooked and corrupt. Donald Trump, by contrast, is an entrepreneur with considerable private wealth, and a Trump presidency would see the beginnings of a swing from public back to private.

At the extremes of the Left-Right swings (which are mirror images of each other), autocrats or dictators are thrown up. It’s not impossible that the imperial EU and USA may yet produce dictators. But at present it would seem that, having expanded to 28 members, the overlarge, over-bureaucratic, over-regulatory EU is set to either contract or disintegrate.

One might also suggest that in Russia (or as it was then, the Soviet Union) the extreme of unaccountable public state power was achieved under Joseph Stalin, and a century later it has swung back to the private ownership of an oligarchy, perhaps under the control of a single man, Vladimir Putin. A century ago, the USA was privately owned, and the Soviet Union publicly owned. But now more or less the converse is true.


About Frank Davis

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13 Responses to The Political Pendulum

  1. That’s why a constitutional republic is the best form of government if its not destroyed by partisanship and political appointed judges and thieves………That’s what Americas morphed into!

    Socialism via political and Business interests…….Individualism and freedom are damned by any one taking power to the max. The point of government is to get out of the way and let us take care of ourselves,today the government believes they own us instead of we own them! What we don’t need is a we own the government attitude,what we need is individual freedom to do as we need or please to take care of ourselves. Government should be so limited that its a cripple in a wheel chair with nobody to push it anywhere.

  2. Darryl says:

    As Sir Humphrey Appleby GCB,KBE,MVO,MA would say ” swings and roundabouts Minister”.

  3. Tony says:

    Kevin Barron was chairman of the house of commons health select committee which advocated the smoking ban. He is an utterly obsessive anti-smoking nutcase and the committee meetings were a farce.

    There’s not much information about his precise involvement with the drug company unfortunately and the charity is just a local one so this may be a bit of a non story.

    “A Labour MP broke the Commons code of conduct by accepting payment for hosting events for a drug company in Parliament, it has been found.
    But Sir Kevin Barron’s breach was “minor” and “inadvertent” and the fees received were donated to charity, Parliamentary Standards Commissioner Kathryn Hudson said.
    She recommended no further action be taken regarding the matter.”

  4. beobrigitte says:

    But at some point, the benign state of the 50s and 60s and 70s began to gradually metamorphose into the bully state. The same happened in Europe, where the benign European Community gradually metamorphosed into the imperial bully state of the European Union.
    The 70s in Germany were far from sedate and benign. For us, as youngsters then, they were just great even though there was a lot of upheaval, especially with the RAF being very active.
    (I did miss a lot as all this coincided with my little brother’s death in 1977)
    Helmut Schmidt became Bundeskanzler in 1974. At this point in time politicians had to be made of stern stuff, whining about people eating/drinking/smoking was not on the agenda. Healthist lobbies (if they existed) were ignored. There was a recession to worry about.
    Schmidt became Chancellor of West Germany on 16 May 1974, after Brandt’s resignation in the wake of an espionage scandal. The worldwide economic recession was the main concern of his administration, and Schmidt took a tough and disciplined line, reducing public spending.[21] Schmidt was also active in improving relations with France. Together with the French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, he was one of the fathers of the world economic summits, the first of which assembled in 1975.[22] In 1975, he was a signatory of the Helsinki Accords to create the Conference for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the precursor of today’s OSCE.[23] In 1978 he helped set up the European Monetary System (EMS), known as the “Snake in the Tunnel”.

    He remained chancellor after the 1976 elections, in coalition with the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP).[24] He adopted a tough, uncompromising line with the indigenous Red Army Faction (RAF) extremists. In October 1977, he ordered an anti-terrorist unit of Bundesgrenzschutz soldiers to end the Palestinian terrorist hijacking of a Lufthansa aircraft named Landshut, staged to secure the release of imprisoned RAF leaders, after it landed in Mogadishu, Somalia. Three of the four kidnappers were killed during the assault on the plane, but all 86 passengers were rescued unharmed.[25][26].

    “Can you get through it? How much passion does one need?”
    HS: “You don’t need passion. You need a strong will….. and cigarettes.”

    Sadly, Helmut Schmidt died of “smoking related diseases” a month before his 98th birthday in 2015.

    I would wish Trump had a little “Helmut” in him…. I know Hilary hasn’t.

    For amusement:

    Helmut Schmidt trying an e-cig. The interviewer asks how many cigarettes Helmut smoked; a packet?
    Helmut Schmidt says that he didn’t know.
    Then he tries the e-cig. And after he says: “I prefer normal cigarettes”.
    No condemnation, just his own judgment for himself.

    • beobrigitte says:

      Spotted this on Netzwerk Rauchen:

      First picture before, second picture after.

      The covers can be ordered from there.

      • beobrigitte says:

        Sorry, Frank, can you please delete the second picture? (I assumed they were 2 single ones…)

      • Ana says:

        Every time I see such images I’m left speechless…like this can’t be real, not in a democracy which claim to respects its citizens and protect property (be it intellectual or physical). The next thought is that there are some really mentally sick people around us. When we hear of mentally disturbed people we imagine those locked away in padded cells with disheveled looks and who mumble gibberish all day. But those who thought out and support this kind of trash, are they really sane people? I very much doubt it. For clarification, I don’t mean all the politicians who voted for it without really knowing what they voted for.

        • beobrigitte says:

          To this I have a wonderful experience – happened only last night.
          After the NWR meeting (in Germany) we decided to go to a local pub in the Bundesland Hessen. There there is currently no total smoking ban, so the pub filled up rapidly. At some point some youngsters were using the cigarette machine which was right behind me. As we were sampling the local Pils (a beer), this youngster had problems (you also need an ID cad + a bank note that is not crumpled). Cut a long story short, the lad was amused when we handed him a sticker to cover these photographs (It was the diabetic leg ulcer), but he did it and asked a few questions which one of my friends answered.
          Shortly before leaving another young lad drew cigarettes of the machine. When we offered him a cover sticker, he hid his ciggie packet – because it was a plastic “Marlborough” packet without the anti-smoker pornography on it. As he was a foreigner, he initially didn’t get what we were giving him but once the penny dropped he laughed, relaxed and HUGGED us all!!!

          Cigarettes for him are even more a symbol of freedom than we know?

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