Describing the Labour Party

Mr. Dillow:

Instead, the party has become, at best, just another consumer good provided by big business, and, at worst, a cabal of megalomaniacs clinging to office for its own sake.

I\’d argue slightly. At best "a cabal of magalomaniacs…."

At worst would be "a cabal of competent megalomaniacs…"

There\’s an awful lot of ruin in a nation and one of our best defences against those limits being breached is that those who put themselves forward to try and rule it are inevitably dipstick third raters.

9 comments on “Describing the Labour Party

  1. “those who put themselves forward to try and rule it are inevitably dipstick third raters.”

    But it didn’t used to be like that. If you look into it, the academic credentials of both front benches in Parliament used to be impressive through to the end 1980s.

    Think on it: Harold Macmillan – Oxford first in history; Maudling and Denis Healey, double firsts in Greats; Powell, a professor of classics at 26; Gaitskell, Wilson and Tony Crosland, all economics dons; Clement Attlee, law lecturer at the LSE; Hugh Dalton, reader in economics at the LSE; RAB Butler left politics to become Master of Trinity, Cambridge; Sir Keith Joseph, Fellow of All Souls; Mrs T, Oxford research degree in chemistry and member of the Bar, Douglas Jay, Fellow of All Souls; etc etc.

  2. Better some questions: Why do we keep electing third-rate dipsticks? What makes the political climate so unpleasant, that competent people of intelligence and integrity are no longer interested in being part of the process in spite of the rewards?

  3. Eva – There are at least two mutually reinforcing factors at work nowadays which didn’t apply a generation ago.

    By several accounts, the average earnings premium which graduates can attract is greater now than it was in the 1970s so there is less incentive for graduates to seeks careers in politics to earn fame and fortune. As best I can gather, the inequality of pay in work generally diminished on trend from the 1930s through to about the mid 1970s and has increased on trend since.

    Secondly, we now have much less faith in what governments can accomplish in office than we used to so there is less motivation for those who feel impelled to go into politics to sort out the troubles of “society” and “the world”. Besides, control freaks are more likely to find a business career more conducive to the realisation of their proclivities.

    Harold Macmillan wrote a book: The Middle Way (1938), to introduce Keynesianism to the Conservative Party. We emerged from WW2 with great hopes that governments would reform an economic system that had inflicted what we considered to be the appalling social evils of the depression in the 1930s – and regardless of the warnings of Hayek in: The Road to Serfdom (1944).

    We had fiscal and monetary policies through the 1950s and into the 1960s that were widely described as Butskellism – a political consensus embracing the policy prescriptions of RAB Butler and Hugh Gaitskell. As PM in 1961, Macmillan announced the creation of the National Economic Development Office and Council – in admitted emulation of French institutions which were widely believed at the time to have promoted faster economic growth in France than in Britain during the 1950s. He also made the first (albeit abortive) application to join the European Common Market. By the 1980s, Macmillan was describing Mrs T’s policy of privatising the nationalised industries as “like selling the family silver”. Macmillan’s government was the high point of corporatism in Britain.

    In 1998, Tony Blair attempted to restore a belief in a vision of “The Third Way” – notwithstanding that its provenance extended back to Mussolini – and that was widely panned in much of the MSM. As Ted Honderich put it: “I’m increasingly coming to the opinion that Blair’s main problem is that he’s not very bright.”
    http://education.guardian.co.uk/egweekly/story/0,,1442559,00.html

    The prevailing current political vogue for Libertarianism then took off.

    A personal view is that the frequent cry for “free markets” is an unmitigated nonsense. Functioning and efficient markets crucially depend on complex infrastructures of laws, regulations, enforcement mechanisms and politically independent judicial systems. Scrap that and we end up with bandit capitalism. The politically productive argument is about how to tweak the infrasture to achieve better economic growth providing, as best we can, that externalities (spill-overs) are internalised.

  4. My experience as someone trying to get into politics is that those that are successful have immense personal ambition (this sees them currying favour with their parties, more than the people). I may have ambitions for my town, for my country, but I’ve not really many for myself. I’m simply not willing to compromise my integrity to succeed, and when one sees those that do do well, one can’t help wondering if that is the key to success: ambitious and duplicitous. The ordinary are at a disadvantage.

  5. Bob B:

    The problem is not the lack of good academic credentials in our politicians, it is a lack of real world experience.

    Besides, control freaks are more likely to find a business career more conducive to the realisation of their proclivities.

    I disagree. If they are a competent, intelligent (and no doubt lucky) control freak, they may do well in private business. However, government is a more forgiving environment for the incompetent. Less competition and all that.

    The prevailing current political vogue for Libertarianism then took off.

    What??? Where? Not under the current British government surely?

  6. Ed:

    I’ve been in and around politics a (dreadfully) long time and have been debating online since December 1995. Hardly anything much was heard of or about “libertarianism” around the mid 1990s.

    The attacks of Von Mises and Milton Friedman on the socialist paradigm were admittedly familiar territory, at least to those who maintained a continuing interest in political economy, but their influence here was relatively minor. Conventional wisdom favoured – and still favours IMO – the interventionist state. In 1996, Phillippe Maystadt, then the Belgian Finance Minister and now president of the European Investment Bank, said that: “The purpose of the single currency is to prevent the encroachment of Anglo-Saxon values in Europe.”
    http://www.brugesgroup.com/news.live?article=18&keyword=14

    A real-life story tells us much about prevailing influences.

    When Sir Keith Joseph took up the appointment of Industry Minister in Mrs T’s first government in May 1979, one of his early initiatives was to circulate a reading list to the senior civil service grades in his department. Prominently featured on this list was Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations (1776).

    This was regarded as an outrage by some – how could a book published at the beginning of the industrial revolution relate to the circumstances in Britain during the last quarter of the 20th century? Believe me, civil servants were still talking about that reading list in the late 1990s. The message had been lost: most had forgotten that industrialisation was pioneered in Britain without state direction or control. How, is still the subject of lively debate and the subject of a recent book by Gregory Clark: A Farewell to Alms (Princeton UP, 2007).

  7. Bob B, my only comment would be whether or not intelligence is something we want in a politician. Let us see how many of your people pass the Churchill test. Churchill, of course, failed every single year in High School (except the last one when he was “socially promoted”) and then went to Sandhurst because he was thought to be too dim even for the City.

    Harold Macmillan may have been academically brilliant, but how does he compare to WSC? Well the less said the better I think. Maudling and Denis Healey? You’re pulling my leg surely? Powell? As in Enoch? We never got to see what sort of politician he might have been but anyone who releases the insane to roam the streets and piss in my garden is not what I would call brilliant. Gaitskell, Wilson and Tony Crosland? Right. Moving on. Clement Attlee, and Hugh Dalton? Might I suggest that it is only in the appallingly dull world of British politics that these men would be regarded as anything other than mediocre. RAB Butler was given a plumb job *after* he left politics and no doubt as a bit of a quid pro quo. Sir Keith Joseph is the one exception as far as I can see. He might have been up there with WSC if he hadn’t done an “Enoch” and been hounded by the Press. Mrs T, of course, was not academically gifted and worked as an industrial chemist before going into politics.

    In fact I’d say the better British politicians the past 100 years or so did not do well academically and certainly did not have academic careers. I’d put the decline of the British Empire down to the fact that Oxford produces many first class minds so capable of seeing every side of every single question that they are unable to follow through on any policy. Sometimes it is better to see one thing clearly – as Mrs T did. The greatest days for the UK were precisely those in which people from Oxford did not run the country.

  8. “The greatest days for the UK were precisely those in which people from Oxford did not run the country.”

    What an extraordinary perspective. Sunny James Callaghan and John Major were not graduates.

    Btw I’m not an Oxford graduate.

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