As ever, Will Hutton remains wedded to Nanny State and Dominatrix EU
It is a truism in life that highly intelligent people living in the same universe will always agree about what the data say; they just won’t agree about how it happened and what to do about it. This explains why I was able to read Will Hutton’s assessment of Britain’s condition in today’s Observer, and agree with every word – even though I know we would disagree violently about the reasons, cures and all the rest of the usual endless debate that surrounds them….those many and mixed clouds of obfuscation and fanciful theory from Government and Opposition respectively.
I’ll pick out some key passages here, because they do show that Will is a very bright guy indeed:
‘…there is official acknowledgment that a country burdened by bank assets five times its GDP and chronically poor productivity is being dragged into the deepest and longest economic setback in modern times….In the 1930s, Britain had an empire to fall back on as a protected market to help support recovery; in the 1970s, North Sea oil was to come to our rescue; in the 1990s, the great credit boom seemed to solve the economic question. Nothing like that is going to happen now. Britain has to answer the riddle about how to make its living in the world with no soft options – with a grossly unbalanced and underperforming economy….This is a crisis of bad capitalism, a capitalism distorted by the ideological prattle that claims it is moral and efficient that all risk be borne individually.’
Therein is everything the policymakers need to know in order to decide what to do next. And give Will credit, like me he has been saying this for years. I’ve just been back to the album upstairs to confirm that he and I argued for more UK manufacturing and more closely regulated banking over a dinner table in Menorca during 2002. In fact, Will and I are always fine during the first course; it’s during dessert that we tend to wind up flicking custard at each other.
As regular Sloggers will be unsurprised to learn, I’m still with Will in the Observer piece as he asserts that, ‘We need vision and visionaries – but what we have is journeymen espousing bankrupt world views’. We are thus both at one about the nature of the problem, and the unworthiness of the problem-solvers: so what could possible go wrong, and where?
Well, roughly here: (my italics)
‘…everyone else will not just go hang. They will ask ever harder questions about how reward and risk are distributed in our society. What are the 2,800 bankers in London estimated to be earning more than £1m a year doing to deserve such rewards? As the pension age is extended to 67, the education system Balkanised, unemployment institutionalised and workplace rights removed, what is the quid pro quo, the social deal?
I differ radically from this view of what will happen. Putting the italicised bits in a different order, thanks to the Education System having been Orwellised by the fluffy Left, no hard questions will be asked because (a) they weren’t on the syllabus, (b) the downmarket unemployed don’t know what quid pro quo means, and (c) they’d rather have a riot and grab some trainers.
Britain’s central social failure of the last forty years has been education – during which time an anti-individualist, Left-of-centre ethic has suffused the system from end to end and without respite. The chances are that most of those between 30 and 50 will not rebel against the obscene rationale of investment banking madness, because Health & Safety would tell them it was fraught with danger and the bankers themselves might be infectious.
Britain’s consequent and second biggest failure was to hand the economy over to the City. We have Thatcher and a shedload of greed to thank for that….and New Labour’s 13 years of licking them all over until it was far too late.
Adventurous as he is – and I do love Will, he is very good value indeed – the bloke is, I’m afraid, still saddled firmly (and happily) on the idea that Dobbin the State Horse can and will provide what he calls ‘a social contract’….and that this will be honest, have substance, and be delivered. Sadly, this Stateist belief extends to the EU, and a somewhat flabby assertion that Britain cannot ‘allow itself to become disconnected from the continent to which we are bound by geography and history.’ To which there are two questioning ripostes: why would it have to? And why not?
One area where we might find ourselves on common ground is in my enthusiasm for mutualising many of the State sector and civil service functions. But Will never seems to mention this (for me, important) economic diversity factor in his pieces. Now that Camerlot have started trying to hijack the idea, perhaps he fears – and perhaps he’s right – that it is about to be tainted with spin.
Ultimately, history is useful, but this is now: history needs to inform the future, not chain us down so we can’t get there. Will Hutton gets the reality alright – and expresses it better this morning than anyone else so far. But he’s part of the cultural Establishment. And that’s no longer anywhere near radical enough to make the big difference.