I spend a lot of time criticising nationalism and the SNP. This is primarily because of experience. I’ve seen the power of nationalism in Eastern Europe. It destroys lives and divides people. I’ve also experienced a government that tried to impose socialism on a human nature that opposes the attempt. I can assure you first hand that it leads to poverty and a loss of freedom. It would lead to that here too. But it’s all very well constantly criticising. Some of the more reasonable people I discuss these sorts of issues with quite rightly ask me what I am for? Well I can answer them. I want Capitalism with a human face.
I voted for New Labour in 1997. It’s rather hard to get across to younger people what that moment felt like. Tony Blair has an absolutely terrible reputation. His interventions over the summer didn’t go down at all well. The New Labour candidate (Liz Kendall) got 4% of the vote in the leadership election. Yet New Labour won three elections in a row. An awful lot more of the British people voted for New Labour than 4%.
What did we like about New Labour? We liked that we weren’t going to get the seventies all over again. We weren’t going to get the “Winter of Discontent” that had so damaged Old Labour’s reputation. We liked that over a period of many years under leaders like Neil Kinnock and John Smith, Labour had reformed. We liked that Labour had ceased to be a socialist party and had become Capitalism with a human face.
The vast majority of UK voters are capitalists. We accept free markets are the best way to obtain growth. We accept inequality of outcome so long as there is equality of opportunity. But we don’t want ‘tooth and claw’ capitalism even if it would make us richer. We want universal free healthcare. Personally I’m not bothered about the method by which this is achieved, but I never want a UK citizen to be denied treatment because he can’t afford it. We want a welfare state. All of us have known people down on their luck and many of us have experienced that position ourselves. We don’t want someone who is struggling to be cast to the four winds. We want to have a degree of security in work, so we want workers to have rights as well as responsibilities. We want to have the right to paid holidays and to continue to be paid when we are sick. We nearly all of us like to get some things for free, or rather to be paid for by the tax payer.
What we want is the Holy Grail of British politics. We want the Government to run the economy successfully so that it grows over the long term, but we want them to use that economy to make everyone’s life more pleasant. This can be described as being fiscally conservative, but socially liberal. Another way of describing it is Capitalism with a human face.
The New Labour project failed. There’s no point going into the reasons. Perhaps the problem in the end was that the ordinary members of the Labour party just didn’t have their heart in it. They didn’t want Capitalism with a human face, they wanted socialism. That’s why all those long years of reform have in the end come to naught and we’ve gone back to 1983 or is it 1917? The idea of New Labour being a new danger may not have applied to Blair himself. I don’t believe that his eyes were really red. But socialism never went away from Labour. It was there in the hearts of all too many MPs and supporters who waited through the dark years for their moment to come. That moment is now.
New Labour didn’t work out and it isn’t coming back any time soon. The membership doesn’t want it. But the British people still do. The party that best presents the Holy Grail of British politics, sound finance with compassion will win and keep on winning. Where does someone who voted New Labour go now? Well you can still vote for Capitalism with a human face. Will you find that with Corbyn’s Labour party? No. Will you find it with the SNP? No. But why is that?
Imagine I used my savings (capital) to start a sweet shop. My aim would be to provide a service and to bring some happiness into the world, but I would also aim to make a profit. Not to make a profit is not to be a capitalist at all. A country is not a sweet shop, but a country that continues to make a loss is not going to be prosperous long term. The British people want prosperity, because it increases the standard of living of all of us and it allows us to spend some of this profit on the things we like such as healthcare and the welfare state. Not to make a profit is long term not to be able to provide those services.
What do capitalists do when they are making a loss? They try to increase profits and cut down on expenses. They try to run their business more efficiently. Which party in the UK at present is trying to do this? The Conservatives. The method by which they are doing it is to very gradually try to make the UK make a profit (cutting the deficit) and then very gradually to pay back our debts. They are doing this because they are capitalists and that is how any capitalist would behave. Both the Labour party and the SNP at present oppose these measures. They oppose austerity. But anyone who opposes austerity, by definition doesn’t want the UK to make a profit at all. So they can hardly be described as capitalists at all, let alone capitalists with a human face.
Cutting expenditure is tough, but not cutting it is tougher still. If you disagree with this you really ought to visit somewhere like Greece. When a government tries to make a country live within its means hard choices must be made. Unfortunately any policy that applies to 64 million people will give rise to situations that are very difficult for some. But the correctness of a policy cannot be judged by isolated examples. Rather we must consider whether the policy generally is having a good outcome for the country as a whole.
No capitalist country can continue to see the solution as raising taxes ever higher. If you raise the taxes that my sweet shop must pay beyond a certain point I can hardly expect to be able to make a profit. At some point I will vote with my feet and go to somewhere where I can. Again if you disagree you are simply not a capitalist at all.
Rather than try to reform human nature through re-education, capitalists accept human nature as it is. What that means is that we accept that people respond to incentives and disincentives. Britain would be a much healthier and happier country if all those who could work did so. But all of us have the temptation to prefer idleness. How many of us would continue to get up and go to work if we didn’t have to? The incentive to do so is usually called ‘wages’, the disincentive to leaving work is that I would be poor. But this situation also benefits millions of us in the following way. Even if work is sometimes a chore, working makes our lives more fulfilled. It is therefore kind for a government to encourage people to live fulfilled lives. It is good for a government to discourage people to live without work. Moreover, as more and more people find work in a UK which is creating jobs at a miraculous rate, we will be able to be more generous to those who are identified as really being unable to work. Again if you don’t believe in incentives and disincentives, you can hardly describe yourself as a capitalist at all, because that is how capitalism works.
Imagine if the UK could get to a position where there was no debt at all. Imagine the money we would save on interest payments alone. This is a prize worth having. It is a goal worth reaching. But only one party is even trying to get us there. It’s not Labour and it’s not the SNP.
Lots of New Labour people are on a journey back to Capitalism with a human face. It will take time for them to realise where their journey is leading. Why? Because of prejudice and tribal hatred of a word and the memory of a lady who haunted their childhood. I’ve been reading certain New Labour journalists who in their youth hated Tories, but who now can no longer hate them. The reason for this is that they agree with them. They are far closer to the politics of David Cameron than to the politics of Jeremy Corbyn. Only prejudice stops them making the next step. But isn’t the left all about trying to abolish prejudice? Well there is one prejudice left in Scotland especially that is allowed and even encouraged. It’s OK to hate Tories, because they are Tories. There's a word for a hating someone for what he is. It's not a very nice word.
New Labour voters are correctly called “Red Tories”, so really it’s a small step to becoming a blue one. If you believe in Capitalism with a human face that’s what you are.
The battleground of British politics over the next few years is back to be a debate between capitalists and socialists. In Scotland the SNP is full of socialists. They despair of ever bringing socialism to the UK, but they think they can bring it to Scotland. It is for this reason primarily that they support independence. New Labour voters in other parts of the UK are going to desert Labour in droves for the simple reason that they want Capitalism with a human face not socialism. With a gradually improving economy the Conservatives have the argument to win, not only in the UK as a whole, but also in Scotland. The vast majority of Scots also want Capitalism with a human face. They are not going to get it from Corbyn and they are not going to get it from the SNP. It is for this reason that all of us who think breaking up a successful capitalist country in order to live in an unsuccessful socialist one must join forces. Socialism does indeed make you “too wee, too poor and too stupid”. The SNP is the anti-Tory party, but that equally makes them the anti-capitalist party and indeed the anti-prosperity party.
Capitalism with a human face is the argument that can defeat nationalism in Scotland. There is one thing that hinders it. It’s the word “Tory”. Scotland isn’t in reality 88% left wing we just think we are. But it is this that creates the division between England and Scotland, because in England most people are happy to admit what they are and be that. We can never heal the division in the UK until people in Scotland get over their hatred of Tories. It drives voters into the SNP. The folly is that the huge numbers of SNP voters are also Capitalists with a human face, ex New Labour voters who would find their natural home with the modern Conservative party. Nearly all of us in the centre ground of UK politics want the same thing. It’s time to vote for a party that agrees with you. There’s only one remaining, which has any chance of winning.