Friday, 17 August 2012

Unchained Thinking Not Joined-Up Thinking

Five backbench Conservative MPs from the 2010 intake, who we might call, in Gladstonian terms, the "stern unbending Right" have written a book called Britannia Unchained which can loosely be described as an "alternative Conservative prospectus" or perhaps Johnsonian Conservatism writ large.

Essentially, the five MPs, Pritti Patel, Chris Skidmore, Liz Truss, Kwasi Kwarteng and Dominic Raab, have argued that the future economic prosperity of Britain depends on us all working harder and being more like the economies of South-East Asia, Brazil or India rather then Europe or the USA.

In short, for them, not only has the European economic and social model been discredited but the Anglo-Saxon model has failed too - perhaps the greatest lesson of the 2007-08 financial crisis and subsequent global economic downturn has been to recognise that. The future, they argue, lies in the BRIC countries and in South-East Asia.

They are not shy in condemning the British for being lazy or unproductive and contrast the prevailing work ethos in Britain, Europe and the US with that of places such as Singapore and Hong Kong.

Apart from the obvious observation that if they think these countries are so good, why don't emulate their colleague Louise Mensch and leave Parliament and make their fortune in these countries, this whole peo-work, anti-government meme is little more than a tirted old rehash of proto-Thatcherism when the state to idolise was Japan.

I would contend in fact that the economic success stories of Hong Kong and Singapore on the one hand and Brazil and China on the other are quite different and offer little or nothing of value to Britain in the 21st Century.

Britain was the first country to industrialise - it was in its time and economic powerhouse and built that strength first on its internal resources of raw material and population before seeking out those same resources further afield. In the 18th, 19th and early 20th Centuries, Britain plundered the world to gat what it needed to maintain its economic strength and colonised large parts of the world in so doing.

Inevitably, other powers would follow if not the colonial path then the path of economic development, first within Europe, then the USA and Russia. As night follows day, industrialisation and economic development is continuing to ripple out across the world. In the absence of empires and colonies, suitably large countries such as Brazil, India and China are undergoing their own economic transformations predicated on resources of population and raw materials.

They are going where we have been and can get there quicker thanks to our technological innovation and skill. What took us a century can be done in a generation. One day, perhaps, Africa will have its own economiuc miracle. The point is that once done, it's done. Yes, technology and innovation enables progress but nothing on the scale of the initial socio-economic metamorphosis. We should not worry that we are not like Brazil or China - we were once, we don't need to be again.

As for Hong Kong and Singapore, they are different. Historical accident placed them as prosperous enclaves for commerce in a time when transportation by sea was dominant. More recently, they emulated the political and economic mores of their colonial masters but aided by the enormous resource of a cheap and willing native population. You only have to go to Hong Kong to see the impact of the vast and increasingly prosperous Chinese population on that former colony's borders.

Behind the glowing economic facade, however, lies a much less comfortable truth and perhaps the core of the message these Conservatives want to spread. In places like Hong Kong and Singapore, there is no real pluralist democracy as we understand it - there are elections of a sort but the political process is so rigged and blatantly manipulated that the same party or elite always retains power.

Yet there is no dissent. Why?

Put simply, the people have signed up consciously or unconsciously to a Faustian pact - in exchange for continued economic prosperity and growth, they have given away any demands for political or social reform. In truth, power is concentrated and perpetuated within the hands of a very few individuals and families - they are the modern-day equivalent of feudal lords living off their serfs toiling in the offices, factories and call centres and returning to their little out-of-town flats late at night after working ten or twelve hours.

Don't forget that democracy is unfamiliar to the serfs - the rule of others is all they have ever known whether the overlords are Communist or capitalist. Persuading those who have never known political freedom to give away that freedom for a better lifestyle and more material possessions is easy.

It wouldn't work here.

How dare these young fools tell us we need to give up our rights and reforms and simply continue to vote Tory once every five years in order to have the privilege of working harder to stand still in terms of prosperity and prospects.

In truth, most people don't want to work - they work to live, they don't live to work. They need the money to live and want enough for a decent standard of living but I think the recession has alienated people from hard work - where, they argue, has all the hard work of the good times got them? It didn't save their jobs or businesses so why should they bother?

We enjoy our lives outside work and these fools seem to have forgotten, in their desire to provide a coherent Conservative orthodoxy, that their own Party leader, David Cameron, has espoused the virtues of "worklife balance".

In short, we don't work hard because we don't WANT to work hard. We work enough to live and do that we are supposed to do but nothing more. Those who have to work extra hours to make ends meet will do so but don't confuse that with some renaissance of the work ethic.

As usual with the Tories, they come up with 1980s solutions to 2010s problems. This bunch of morons have got this so wrong it's unbelievable. They are as discredited as their worthless ill-thought through ideas. It's not surprising they are eulogised by the Right-wing wrong-headed Evening Standard in London but most sensible people will see their ideas for the pile of reactionary piffle they truly are.


Mike Sivier said...

I was appalled by Britannia Unchained and have blogged on the subject myself. Here's the link, please read and comment:

Reimer said...

Thanks for an interesting post.I'm still gobsmacked: first that these creeps espouse such a cartoon view, second that there is seemingly no comeback for their essentially insulting most of the pop'n's character (and intelligence). I share your view of the lack of compelling reason for a Brit to kill yourself to live,esp when the product of it all appears since 07-08 to be a surplus of antimatter.

And I too recall the hectoring calls for us to ape the Japs back in the day. Plus ca change...

Not sure I'd term the five bastards' programme "reactionary" though: like their Thatcherite predecessors they're far more perniciously radical in their aim (they don't want something laudable like a revival in religious observation) and likely have few qualms about the shortcomings of the kind of political 'culture' of the Far East. I suspect they regard stump-speech democracy and local libraries as anachronisms.