Britain and Australia elected “pragmatic” center-leftist governments. They are a warning to America.
The political careers of Tony Blair in Britain and Kevin Rudd in Australia have some positively eerie resemblances of that of Barack Obama so far.
Both became the leaders of left-of-center parties whose prior leftism had rendered them unelectable, and gave them a new image of post-Cold War, post-political pragmatism and Big Tent political philosophies that could appeal to mainstream right and left, mainstream liberal and conservative, and seemed to transcend the ideologies of the 20th century. Both men were extremely vague and fuzzy about what they stood for, apart from evoking the mantra of “change.” Both had previous careers as professionals: Blair a lawyer, Rudd a diplomat.
Both, pre-election, strenuously distanced themselves from any association with leftist ideology. Both were electorally very successful with this strategy. And both are now capable of being examined in a more objective light.
On April 14, 1998, Blair declared: “It is indeed a third way, not old left or new right but a new center and center-left governing philosophy for the future….It seeks to modernize Britain but for a purpose: to create a one-nation Britain…”
Does anyone hear an echo of this in Obama’s 2004 speech to the National Democratic convention: “There’s not a liberal America and a conservative America. There is a United States of America.”
Blair was said to regard the “ideological” approach to politics as “almost a perversion of the 20th century.” Among many other statements along these lines he told the 2001 British Labour Party Conference: “The 20th century killed those ideologies [of rigid forms of economic and social theory] and their passing causes little regret.”
While Blair himself kept up the appearance of a post-political pragmatic managerialist to the end, and while he maintained the American alliance and kept up close relations with certain favored capitalists, in almost every other aspect of society and culture he and his government gave the left its head.
After 11 years of “New Labour,” Britain’s traditions and values seem in ruins across wide swathes of what is now commonly called the “broken society.”
THANKS DIRECTLY to the British government’s anti-family taxation policies, and indirectly to the whole style and ethos of many figures associated with it, both married couples and births within wedlock have become minorities for the first time since records were kept.
There are no-go areas for police in some cities and, it has been estimated, hundreds of feral teenage gangs. Rates of juvenile drunkenness, drug abuse and under-age sex are among the very worst in Europe (according to the statistics, teenage drunkenness is far worse than in Russia). In what is only the latest the latest of endless such reports, two policemen were recently reported attacked and bitten by an instantly assembled mob of 30 teenagers after telling a 15-year-old girl not to drop litter. Prisons are so full that even those convicted of serious crimes such as recidivist home burglary can look forward to non-custodial sentences.
The armed forces have been slashed. One coroner’s enquiry after another has blamed the deaths of British servicemen in Iraq and Afghanistan on bad equipment, without these findings apparently resulting in improvements. Servicemen disabled in action have received derisory compensation. Hundreds of people are estimated to have died of infections caught in filthy government hospitals, but neither media nor official reports on these scandals seem to result in any improvement. Immigration is out of control and there is no idea how many illegal immigrants are in the country.
In 1979, when Margaret Thatcher came to power, the public sector had numbered 735,000. By 1983 she had reduced in to 635,000. By 1998 it was down to 450,000. After Labor’s coming to power in 1997 it expanded to 980,000 in 2004, and is still rising. Total government spending rose from 39.8% of GDP in 1997 to 43.3% in 2005 and is also still rising though hard to keep up-to-date track of. The complement of this has been a huge rise in taxation, open and hidden and government raids of private pension funds.
A vast and permanent underclass (and what Labor no doubt hopes is a locked-in voting constituency) has been created and bound by welfare-dependency and poverty traps. A by-election has recently focused attention of the Parliamentary seat of Glasgow East, in the very heart of Labour’s heartland: According to former Tory Leader Iain Duncan Smith, who has regularly worked in and visited it, thousands of children in East Glasgow are heroin addicts. The area’s life-expectancy for males is possibly the lowest in Europe at 63, but in one ward, Calton, it is 54, below North Korea, Iraq, and some of the better African countries.
Now a major economic crisis has come to crown these achievements, with the cost of household essentials such as food and fuel skyrocketing (choose between “heating or eating,” one headline put it). Home ownership is decreasing. The Thatcher government introduced very successful legislation allowing the tenants of public housing to buy their houses. Now in true socialist style the present government is advising people caught by plummeting house prices and negative equity to sell their houses back to the public authorities and resume renting them.
It seems that after the Thatcher interregnum and the revival of Britain’s health and spirits that it brought, socialism is back with a vengeance — and vengeance is the operative word.
The bright spot in all this is that the government is clearly doomed and without any hope of survival at all. At a recent by-election its candidate managed 3% of the vote and fifth place on the poll. In the meantime, however, Britain has in many ways reverted to all the worse inefficiencies, repression, corruption and cultural destruction of ideological socialism. Adam Smith said it took a lot to ruin a nation and the Labour government seems determined to spend its last miserable months finding out just how much.
BLAIR’S ENEMIES FURTHER to the left have often called him “B’Liar” over the British commitment to Iraq. But Blair’s biggest lie — which he may in some confused way have actually believed — was that under him Britain would have a pragmatic, non-ideological, managerialist government.
Australia’s new Labor Party Prime Minister Kevin Rudd similarly came to power at the end of 2007 projecting an image of pragmatism and moderation. He claimed specifically to be an “economic conservative.” He began his term of office with meaningless stunts and PR exercises — an “apology” to Australian Aborigines on behalf of whites for having taken their land, whose effect in actually improving Aborigines’ conditions has been precisely zero, and a bizarre “summit” in Canberra of 1,000 unelected people, supervised and guided by the government, to distill ideas for policies looking towards the year 2020 — an exercise in extra-parliamentary and corporate-state fascism only mitigated by the fact that it seems already forgotten. Practically no one except some of those involved took it seriously.
Now, however, it seems Mr. Pragmatic Nice Guy has had his day and Mr. Not-So-Nice Ideologue is coming forward.
Despite the fact Australia produces only about 1.2% of the world’s carbon emissions, which makes no difference whatsoever to climate change, be it real or imaginary, the Rudd government has adopted a hard-line ideological position on climate change and carbon trading, which will impose on Australian businesses and consumers the biggest load of regulations ever, and desperately handicap industry and mining.
It would be a worse-than-dubious idea at the best of times, but when Australia, export-dependent, is already suffering the effects of the world economic turmoil, it is bizarre. The Wall Street Journal Asia has commented: “Rudd just wants to do what every Labor politician likes: tax industry and redistribute the proceeds, at huge cost to the economy.” Leftist ideology stops dead any thought of nuclear power, though Australia has very limited oil reserves. To quote Australian commentator Janet Albrechtsen: “No more Left and right? Wrong. As Australian voters are now discovering, under the post-partisan talk is crafty election rhetoric.” America, perhaps, might observe and heed.