At Large

Britain Regresses Into Socialist Ideology

In its final months in power, it's out with "New" Labour once and for all.

By 9.16.08

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British Labour's promise that it was "New Labour" was all a lie.

I wrote recently that, after being elected by presenting an Obama-like image of morphing from the left into the post-ideological mainstream, the British Labour Government has reverted to full-blown leftism.

It appears that this is about to go further in several directions: British Labour apparently intends to use its last months in office to entrench yet more -- every bit it can -- of the ideological socialism which, before it was elected, it had pretended to abandon.

It has undone Margaret Thatcher's achievement in cutting the public-sector payroll -- Thatcher almost halved this, then Labour in power more than doubled it.

Another of Thatcher's great achievements in revitalizing Britain and rolling back the advance of the State is now under attack. She made it possible for occupants of public ("Council") housing to buy their own houses. This meant they were also free to sell them and move to follow jobs and prosperity instead of being locked for life -- in what was actually a form of serfdom -- into decaying, workless slums. (If, in pre-Thatcher days, you had a council house you could not only not sell it or borrow against it but if you left it you could never get another anywhere else, no matter that there was no work in your area while another area was crying out for a work-force.) Further, owning their own houses or even establishing a substantial equity in them gave people the incentive to maintain and improve them, and to improve their neighborhoods.

The results, in both economic and social terms, were hugely positive. The policy was also enormously popular. From 1981, when Thatcher made the opportunity to buy public housing available, the number of council houses dropped from 6.1 million to 2.5 million. Britain got an incalculably more mobile workforce, new entrepreneurs using their houses as security to start businesses, and brighter, neater, better maintained and improved, more crime-free cities. There was an atmosphere of hope and enormously enhanced civic pride. I remember how sheerly pleasant it was to walk, in an ex-slum, down a street of ex-council houses in the 1980s with their new paint, bright gardens and hanging-baskets of flowers.

The Labour Government is now set to re-socialize housing, apparently feeling the existing evils of inner-city decay which its 11 years of misrule have cultivated, with sky-rocketing rates of social dysfunction and an unemployable underclass locked in poverty traps, are not enough.

It is reported that, with the present drop in house-prices (which, after all. is nothing more than an ordinary function of the market and which, if bad news for sellers, should also be good news for buyers), the central government will give local authorities cash and powers to intervene in the market to buy back repossessed and unsold properties for the purpose of re-socialized housing. The Times of London has reported that local authorities will also be encouraged to offer first-time buyers help with deposits in return for what is called "a small equity stake." Look for some Devil in the detail there. And, of course, there's the matter of where the money is coming from. Britain is facing a recession and should be pruning government spending hard. As one commentator pointed out recently: "There are only three countries in the top 50 world economies with more profligate public borrowing policies than Britain: Egypt, Pakistan and Hungary." Or is this some sort of mad neo-Keynesianism?

While Thatcher freed up some of the most important areas of British life, this policy will lock socialist control back into place. It can only be seem as part of a multifaceted effort to make a controlled, dependent, underclass culture permanent. Already the army of control-freak bureaucrats in running wild in all manner of other ways. One blogger posted recently, in words I can't better:

Imagine telling somebody twenty years ago that by 2007 it would be illegal to smoke in a pub or bus shelter or your own vehicle or that there would be 80 pound fines for dropping cigarette butts, or that the words "tequila slammer" would be illegal or the government would mandate what angle a drinker's head in an advertisement may be tipped at, or that it would be illegal to criticize religions or homosexuality, or rewire your own house, or that having sex after a few drinks would be classed as rape or that the State would be confiscating children for being overweight.

Imagine telling them the government would be contemplating ration cards for fuel and even foods, that every citizen would be required to carry an ID card filled with private information which could be withdrawn at the state's whim. They'd have thought you a paranoid loon.


To round out the picture, Councils are recruiting what has been predicted will become a mini-Stasi-like forces of "citizen snoopers" or "environmental volunteers" to report people -- i.e., neighbors -- who commit crimes such as failing to sort out their garbage properly before placing it in litter bins. The London borough of Tower Hamlets, for example, calls these "environment champions" and proudly claims they report on "a number of environmental crimes, issues and concerns, such as graffiti, dumped rubbish and abandoned cars."

The snooping, reporting neighbors will add to the general socialistic atmosphere. Hundreds of security guards, park-keepers and other minor officials are to be given powers to issue fines or stop vehicles for trivial or regulatory offenses. The whole thing has the atmosphere of one of those bad dreams where one waits to wake up with increasing impatience and perhaps some growing fear.

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About the Author
Hal G.P. Colebatch's "Immram," Counterstrike, is being published by Australian publisher Imaginites.