Quercus offers the fifth article in this series. The fourth article was published last Friday and can be found here.
A previous article on the pitfalls of libertarianism touched on the role of the state.
Libertarians of course detest the very idea, yet it was our state – the UK – for which we fought the great fight in 2016. In winning that battle we appealed to our fellow countrymen and women of wide political persuasions and none to give us the victory, and they did, but one major part of our nation responded whose interests we should not – must not – now abandon. We continue to need its support to make sure Brexit really happens; and we need it to help us win the elections of the future. Yes, the people we should not, must not ignore, are traditional working class voters, the backbone of our country, who fight its wars and ask for little more than some security in their lives – security which only the state can give them. Libertarians overdo the difference between state and country: the former is merely the formal working face of the latter.
Securing the support of these good people will entail some new thinking on what sort of a country we want and what policies we need to build on these mutual interests. This should not pose a great dilemma: a true one-nation approach with an enhanced role for the state is not only politically necessary to increase our vote, it is also moral and achievable.
The question is: are we going to stick with business as usual, or think laterally? Are we to rely on the increasingly discredited shibboleths of liberal market economics or think very seriously about what an enlightened government can do to initiate and oversee change to get the industrial juices flowing again and the economy better synchronised, to see the end of regional divides, food banks, zero-hour contracts and poverty wages, and at the other end of the wealth gap, absurd fat-cat pay levels and unalloyed greed?
This is hardly wholesale socialism: we already have roads, the rail network and the national grid in the state sector, apart from defence, police, health, education etc, so extending it to the rail operating companies and some of the utilities, as in many European countries, is really only a matter of degree. We might want to help other industries too, but it would still only be a fraction of the whole economy.
After the last great effort for national survival, the generation that won the Second World War set about building the land fit for heroes that had been promised after the slaughter of the First but never actually delivered. They were not going to get caught out by the establishment again. There was much more involved than the mere idea of rewarding themselves. They had seen what could be achieved when the nation, faced with the direst of existential threats, had pulled together, organised itself, decided what had to be done and proceeded with great focus and expedition to get on with it, single-mindedly overcoming all obstacles and ultimately achieving victory. (We can pride ourselves on the reflected glory of our own rather less dangerous Brexit campaign endeavours, but now we have to transfer our energies to another, broader front).
If only the same spirit was abroad in our country now – well, 23 June 2016 shows that at least some of it still is. We must decide what we want and summon those same qualities again, and UKIP should lead the way.
Thus after the Second World War we saw widespread nationalisation, energy boards, training boards, marketing boards – you name it. The only great institution that has stood the test of time is the NHS, which has weathered many assaults from free marketeers but has proved one of the most efficient health services in the world. Though still under-funded, it shows what can be done if resources and proficient management can be put to work.
The reason nearly all the other institutions disappeared is their deliberate underfunding, and then their abandonment to ‘the market’, by Tory governments for ideological reasons, in the same way that they have recently used ‘austerity’ to starve local authorities of the funds needed to provide essential services, when their real purpose is to ‘roll back the state.’ Unfortunately there were other problems too. We failed to modernise British industry, and then failed to support it, so lost nearly everything, and we allowed the unions to get out of hand – all, one way or another, the consequences of mismanagement.
Now the world has moved on and the main threats have come from globalisation, with cheap imported goods and labour hollowing out the remnants and undermining our workforce, and again at every level we have been slow to react, indeed we have contributed enthusiastically to the very forces which have caused many of our problems. Let us hope the new reality brought in by this last year of change will continue and lead to the strong government we need, and that this time we get it right.
We admire the excellence of the Armed Forces, who seem to get by without competition and privatisation. The internet, the human genome and digital communications have all come about through government research, and some costs are so high that only the state can realistically meet them. We do not just need a modern infrastructure, but also a national investment bank to support industry, a training board to supply it with the skills it needs, a proper industrial policy to get us making again and to truly give the north and other old industrial areas real cause for hope, not gimmicky slogans. We cannot allow our long-term prosperity to depend on the service sector indefinitely.
Whatever the mix of state and private, whatever the extent of our extrication from the EU, we are going to have our work cut out to turn our dire economic situation around. The state is no panacea, but we should be enlisting its great potential to help.
Do we want to win – or not?