No hint of radicalism?

published by Head of Zeus

Glyn Ford on Omission and Commission

This Time No Mistakes: How to Remake Britain by Will Hutton – published by Head of Zeus

Hutton hits the nail on the head with his devastating catalogue and critique of all that’s wrong with Britain in a reprise of his 1996 The State We’re In. That was intended to serve as a platform for the incoming Blair government. The long quarter century after initially saw a timid New Labour recognise, but singularly fail to address the country’s multiple failings. For every Sure Start success – the one-stop health and education shop for the under-fives – there were matching fiascos. By 2007, £68 billion of Private Finance Initiative contracts had been signed that were to cost £215 billion to service. All in the name of keeping borrowing off the government’s balance sheet by betraying the future. While the City of London, the cancer at the heart of the economy, went untreated. Hutton holds Thatcher responsible for stamping on the accelerator of decline, and indicts Blair for the boast he built New Labour on the sands of Thatcher’s foundations. 

Yet Labour cowardice and lack of imagination was as nothing compared to the following fourteen years of systemic vandalism of public space wreaked by the Tories – abetted for five years with Liberal co-conspirators in joint enterprise. Minus London, the UK is poorer than Mississippi. Britain’s children are stunted not by their parents’ life-style choices, but by enforced Tory poverty. Their, almost theological, aversion to public spending has wrecked society. It’s unclear whether all the King’s horses and all the King’s men can put it back together again. This Time No Mistakes – a mission statement for Starmer – demands the marriage of progressive liberalism and ethical socialism to deliver nothing less than Roosevelt’s New Deal with British characteristics, with a massive programme of public works, financial reforms and state spending.

Hutton orienteers through wasteland Britain as he illustrates how we prop up Western league tables across the metrics in terms of investment and health, housing and education. Manufacturing has been starved by an investment strike leading to deindustrialisation, the working class has become the non-working class, while those with jobs are impoverished in employment, local government is reduced to barely more than the skeleton of its statutory obligations with councils teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, and the NHS and education are serially interrogated to do much more with much less. All conducted under the noxious oversight of a right-wing populist media determined to maintain state capture for the rich, by the rich.

Brexit wasn’t vandalism, Brexit was self-harming. It was an unintended consequence of the punishment beating that Tory-Liberal austerity inflicted on the working class of our disadvantaged communities and regions following the 2010 General Election. When serendipitously the 2016 Referendum came around the opportunity for revenge on the establishment sent those left far behind berserk. In retrospect, a radical Labour campaign around ‘Our Europe, Not Theirs’ could have saved the day. The full import of the state we’re in and how far the mighty have fallen is when Hutton optimistically forecasts, if Labour gets it right, we could be challenging the best in South Korea.

He’s a man with a plan with his New Deal sized investment in infrastructure and industry, the rebuilding of the health service, education and local government. The delivery of purposeful companies that serve a social function, rather than purely acquisitive capitalism and breaking financial capital’s casino economy. A new social contract that allows the growth of human capital and the regeneration of Britain’s Trade Unions. Nonetheless, it’s a gamble that requires a renewal of our democratic institutions, with ultimate success predicated on the adoption of proportional representation for the House of Commons and a ‘reformed’ House of Lords, where behold three-quarters of its members are to be elected.

It’s a rich text that engages with a rather English deep history going back to the transition from waterwheel to winding wheel. It contains a jigsaw of worthy proposals that put together make the whole. Many of these pieces will be taken in hand by ministerial teams in the incoming Labour government. The problem is while Hutton offers light at the end of the tunnel, there is no tunnel. Quite where the progressive Liberals are hiding is unclear, for there is little evidence they are in Ed Davey’s Liberal Democrats. Ethical socialists there are aplenty, but to save Britain being relegated into the league of former important states the whole is greater than some of the parts. Hutton himself cautions that it is totally unrealistic to believe that ‘managing the status quo better and more decently’ offers any answer to the hard questions besetting Britain and the British. For him it’s our last, best opportunity. He may well be right. Nevertheless, the election campaign gave no hint of any radical pivot for the future. Perhaps we can only hope it was the sin of omission, rather than commission.

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