Opinion: Need, not a magic number, should determine size of the state

Union flag photo credit: Some rights reserved by ianonlineIronically, one of strongest views expressed about the size of the state in The Orange Book was by Vince Cable, subsequently more usually associated with wanting more state spending during the recession but at the time of The Orange Book wishing to see a cap introduced on the level of state spending.

Jeremy Browne has more recently talked of wanting to reduce the size of the state to around 35-38% of GDP but more significant has been David Laws’s comments which in effect put any push by people such as himself in the party for reducing the size of the state into the deep freeze. He attacked the Conservatives, saying:

“Their desire to shrink the state by continuing to cut spending long after the deficit has been cleared trumped their rhetorical commitment to expanding opportunity for young people. Clearly a political dividing line on fiscal policy matters more to them than the effort to reduce poverty and expand life chances.”

That is a view which social liberals in the party readily agree with. It’s also a welcome recognition of the huge pressure there will be for increases in spending once the structural deficit has been cleared.

Delivering a Liberal Democrat vision of society, including sufficient resources for health care, healthy long-term investment in infrastructure and ensuring children’s education is not held back for want of resources, will all put pressure on spending. Even more so because, as I pointed out in Liberal Democrat Newswire #50, the party’s current tax and spend commitments are likely to require in the short-term further cuts in areas dear to the party such as local government.

As a result, the best prospects for the size of the state falling will come from a long period of healthy economic growth, which would let the size of the state could fall as a proportion of GDP despite year by year increases in public spending. Of course, it isn’t only right wingers who would – or should – argue for that. It’s the other half of Keynesianism too – opening the financial taps during a recession, but retrenching in the good times so that you have the headroom to deal with the next recession when it comes.

The problem is, as Tim Harford has pointed out, that although the economic evidence points towards ‘right wing’ economic policies being more suited to the good times (such as reforming welfare – because then you have a healthy job market and the funds to help people through difficult transitions) and ‘left wing’ economic policies are more suited to the tough times (because deficits are the answer to recessions), the electorate tends to operate exactly the other way round.

But that’s why for the Liberal Democrats it is important that we don’t become fixated on some magic number for the size of the state. What matters is it being the right size for the current circumstances – and that number changes as circumstances change.

* Mark Pack is Party President and Co-leader of the party. He is editor of Liberal Democrat Newswire.

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  • It’s not the size of the state, its how you spend the money that matters. Italy, for example, has a very large state but spends a lot of its money very badly. Denmark, on the other hand, has a large state and spends the money well, achieving all kinds of desirable social objectives.

    Anyone fixated on a particular percentage of GDP should really go out and look at evidence from the real world. There is no valid statistical evidence to support the idea that small state “liberalism” works . Those who rail against the growth of the so-called “nanny state”, Jeremy Browne among them, are simply indulging in lazy, knee-jerk theorising.

    We as liberals should move on from the percentages debate and consider the kind of “freedom to” society we want to create, then look at how we generate the resources to fund it. That is how great liberals of the past like Beveridge achieved what they did. Percentages of GDP probably never even crossed their mind.

  • Richard Dean 18th Aug '14 - 2:24pm

    Need is a social construct, so different people can have different opinions on what it is. People can vote on it.. Need is subjective, it’s difficult to separate it from “want”, it’s expandable and contractable, it’s not even equal.

    My son needs a new car. My daughter needs a new outfit every weekend. My wife and I both need a holiday, but the nasty bank won’t lend us the cash because it needs it for something else. Bad bank. Bad bank.

    The country needs a better health system, a better education system, more housing, cheaper travel, less pollution, but the population who must pay for all this need the money for other things.

  • We have as liberals to balance two things – not to “enslave” people by forcibly taking away their own money in tax against not enslaving them through poverty with poor education and poor health care. I would not say that a pound spent by the Government is of itself good or bad. There were some “luxury” programmes under Labour. There have been some “essentials” cut under this. It depends what that pound is spent on.
    In the end the amount that gets argued about is relatively small. Essentially it is likely to be around the 40% mark. As it becomes difficult when you are taking more than 50% of someone’s income away from them. But equally good quality services demand – or more accurately the people do – around 40% of income spent on them. And overall, if there was no government or no public services I as an average individual am going to spend around 30%-35% of my income on health insurance, education of my kids, unemployment/welfare insurance, toll roads, (my own private!) army, collection of rubbish etc. and around 10% say as a “tithe” as a contribution to “good causes” .
    Ultimately what gets argued about, I think I saw somewhere recently is the equivalent of a few £100 if you translated it into a household budget.
    There is always an issue over borrowing and total debt. Essentially borrowing is a “time preference” – I will have less today but have it today against more tomorrow. Personally I am fairly sanguine about overall debt saying close to 100% of annual GDP. And there is an argument to borrow to invest in capital projects and also to my mind “human capital.” The temptation though always for politicians is to borrow a lot as the long term for a politician is the next election.
    Ultimately all governments do virtually what is a quote from Yes, Minister it is said the treasury do – try and raise as much money as possible (with the least howls of protest) and then work out what to spend it on!

  • Matthew Huntbach 18th Aug '14 - 3:34pm

    Mark Pack

    Ironically, one of strongest views expressed about the size of the state in The Orange Book was by Vince Cable, subsequently more usually associated with wanting more state spending during the recession but at the time of The Orange Book wishing to see a cap introduced on the level of state spending.

    We are continually having it put in front of us “The Orange Book wasn’t really about pushing the Liberal Democrats to the political right, look, Vince Cable was one of its main contributors, and he’s to the left of the party”.

    This line supposes that Vince Cable IS on the left of the party. I’ve never seen any real evidence for that. I always saw him as more centre or even centre-right. Thanks for reminding me of his Orange Book contribution, as that is evidence for this point. It seems to me this is a national media construction – the national media only see politics in terms of the Westminster Bubble, and so they can only perceive left-right differences in terms of personalities the Westminster Bubble know about, and so needing a figure to represent the “left” from the tiny number of Liberal Democrats they know about, Cable was picked as somehow “leader of the left” against Clegg as “leader of the right”.

    So we have seen attempts to paint unhappiness in the LibDems at the way the party is being pushed to the right by Clegg as somehow a plot by Cable or Cable’s friends. Which is all complete nonsense. It’s been very clear that Cable has no interest in taking over as leader. He’s independent enough and senior enough and not seeking any further career to the point where he clearly feels he can speak his mind and not always go along with Cleggie nonsense. However, that does not make him a LibDem left-winger.

  • Matthew Huntbach 18th Aug '14 - 3:45pm

    Richard Dean

    The country needs a better health system, a better education system, more housing, cheaper travel, less pollution, but the population who must pay for all this need the money for other things.

    I think it’s more the case of the failure of the political left to point out that these things do need to be paid for.

    Look at all the attacks we have faced over the student loans and tuition fees thing. Almost all the attacks (I’m only putting the “Almost” here because perhaps someone somewhere could find an exception though I’m not aware of one) on the Liberal Democrats for this have given the impression that the Liberal Democrats could have just voted against the tuition fee rise and that’s it. The attacks are never combined with any mention of the necessary balance that would be needed if university tuition continued to receive heavy state subsidy. Same with most other attacks on “the cuts” from the political left, one would imagine from the wording used that the cuts are put ion place just to be nasty, one would not suppose there was a budget issue.

    As a consequence, the left plays into the hands of the right. Since the left hides the fact that additional state spending requires additional taxation, the right is able to get away with its usual argument that tax rises are just a spiteful thing, proposed by nasty politicians just to be nasty as some sort of “politics of envy”. No-one dares put the case for higher taxes, especially taxes that would hit people in a way they haven’t been hit before, such as any sort of proper property tax, because the left hasn’t bothered to explain the balancing argument of why such taxes might be needed.

  • David Evershed 18th Aug '14 - 6:50pm

    Contrary to popular belief, Keynes, a Liberal, was no advocate of a big government. In correspondence with economist Colin Clark after the war, Keynes wrote that a 25 percent tax/GDP ratio “is about the limit of what is easily borne.”

    So if the deficit is zero (no borrowing) the tax take is the same as spending, and so Keynes would say a spending/GDP ratio of 25% is about the limit.

    The ratio is currently about 44%. It did fall to below 40% from 1996 -2004 but of course Gordon Brown did not follow his own prudence advice and raised government spending unsustainably in the good times when he should have been reducing the ratio.
    Source: http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2010/apr/25/uk-public-spending-1963

    It is of course a great temptation for all politicians to increase spending so as to get re-elected and for their successors to have to worry about the consquences. Live now, let someone else pay later – this is the problem to which we really need an answer.

  • “Live now, let someone else pay later – this is the problem to which we really need an answer.”
    Amen to that David. ~ Who pays for the Cornucopian, Keynesian dream.?
    Where is the thinking for a plan ‘B’? What if the Keynesian dream, based on future economic growth,…. GDP,…… nominal GDP,…….pick your potion(?)…..does not materialise?

  • Little Jackie Paper 18th Aug '14 - 8:16pm

    I don’t disagree Mark, but in recent years we have seen another alternative emerge – ringfencing. This started under Labour and was ramped up under the Coalition. Things (‘needs?’) have been identified and budgets given (some level) of protection and it has been unspoken that the net effect of this is deeper cuts elsewhere. Ringfences have been a seriously underscrutinised issue in the past few years and the pension triple lock may well make the problems caused by ringfences acute.

  • Stephen Donnelly 18th Aug '14 - 8:18pm

    This article seems to be asking the wrong question. Just as there should be no artificial limit on state spending, we should not presume that there is merit in any particular level of state spending..

    It must be possible for us to, in Matthew’s words, “agree that there are somethings that need to be paid for”, without defending the existing way of providing those things.

    The provision of state services must be kept under constant review and challenge by politicians. We must always be looking at better ways of doings things, but without allowing the interests of finance to dominate.

    Our aim should be to increase the liberty of the individual (in the broadest sense) not simply to protect the state or the status-quo.

  • Eddie Sammon 18th Aug '14 - 11:51pm

    I broadly agree with the article. State spending as a proportion of GDP is a useful metric, but nothing more.

    My ideal economic situation is one with lower taxes, higher interest rates, but a wealth cap. Once people have net worths approaching 100 billion the percentage begins to matter less and the total amount of wealth matter more.

    I’m quite proud of my unique vision – state spending as a proportion of GDP is not the main thing.

  • Eddie Sammon 19th Aug '14 - 12:19am

    By the way, when I say “lower taxes”, I don’t mean continuously taking people out of tax, I mean helping the middle class and the lower affluent class too. We need a balanced tax policy, not one where state spending is low, but taxes on the top half of society are high. Who is that going to please?

    In order to not sound like a right winger, I will emphasise my point of a wealth cap. Maybe it is not a good idea, but wealth still seems to soar with 50% tax rates, so what other options do we have? They do this through monetary stimulus, as I have repeatedly pointed out.

    I don’t mean to bang on about taxes, but it is within the wider context and it shows the state spending to GDP figure can take up too much focus.

  • The road we seem to be embarked on with further “taking people out of tax” (ie direct, fair, progressive, taxes) is very dangerous, and as Mark has recently pointed out, will lead inevitably, to cuts in vital services, which, inevitably, in turn, will lead to the less well off in society suffering more, as they do not have the money to buy equivalent services. I have regularly pointed out in these threads the dangers, but the party leadership continues to insist that raising the threshold “has been one of our most successful policies”, and benefits the poorer off. Neither of these claims are, IMO, accurate.

  • Tim13

    “ie direct, fair, progressive, taxes”

    Are you kidding?

    The minimum wage it a level that we as a country have deemed so low that to pay anyone less than it can ultimately result in the employer being fined up to £20,000 (refusal to pay will eventually result in imprisonment). Yet you think it is ok for governments to take from those people that the country has deemed to be so poorly paid?

    One service I would like you to explain how it is “vital” is the administrative burden of administering these taxes on the low paid then to administer it in handing it back in the form of benefits.

    There is no justification for taxing (including NI) people so poor that we make it illegal to pay them less.

  • Eddie Sammon 19th Aug '14 - 2:06pm

    Hi Psi, I broadly agree, but what about the deficit? Tax cuts, protected spending, more spending, how is the deficit going to be reduced?

    All main parties seem to be hoping for economic growth to do a lot of the lifting, but I’m as convinced as ever that the recovery is fragile. The New York Times has lost the plot with its editorial board yesterday pretty much asking Europe to abandon monetary and fiscal discipline. They know this is extremely risky, but they see it as the only option, because only a high risk strategy will save the banking sector from another collapse.

    The probability of the recovery continuing is low, hence their high risk strategy. People shouldn’t panic, but they should stop offering freebies.

  • Eddie Sammon 19th Aug '14 - 2:32pm

    It’s important to emphasise as well that even if the banking sector does get into more difficulty that it doesn’t necessarily mean the rest of the economy will. Keep calm and carry is a good motto, if you are on the right path.

  • Sorry, psi I was obviously writing in shorthand. I wasn’t weighing what I said in terms of minimum wage, actual tax rates or whatever. By raising the allowance (for all on basic tax rate) we are benefiting many people in terms of pure cash in hand, not just the less well off. We are cutting the effective money +”social” income (ie the value of services received). If we do not cut services / benefits etc, we then have to load taxation on to indirect, and regressive taxation, as this Government did on to VAT, which further disempowers the less well off.

    Yes, OF COURSE, minimum wage should be higher, yes, OF COURSE, we should re-empower trade unions to push for better wage rates at the bottom. Yes, of course, we should outlaw non-recognition. Yes, of course, we should reintroduce a lower rate, and a better sliding scale of income tax. Yes, of course we should reintroduce a policy of introducing local income tax, perhaps this time in combination with LVT or similar for local services.

    I would ask you whether you are kidding? Or whether you feel there is no way forward to a more equitable system for our modern world. The world took a profoundly wrong turn with Thatcherreaganomics. We need to recognise the mistakes, and start turning the ship around, not encouraging it by devastating our services and our society. This approach may be neoliberal, it is certainly not Liberal, Social Democratic, or even early years Liberal Democrat. We are following nuLab down a false trail.

  • John Critchley 20th Aug '14 - 8:37am

    Tim, I agree with a lot of what you say. We have been tinkering with the systems for decades, particularly tax, instead of exploring better, fairer, more progressive ways of helping the less well off. We now need bold far sighted changes. So far sighted that other countries already have them!

  • Malcolm Todd 20th Aug '14 - 9:13am

    “And yet we have done this while allowing the ‘higher’ rate tax band, brought in to tax the wealthiest 20%, slip to the point where it covers over 40% of the tax paying electorate.”

    Really? According to this Guardian Factblog the proportion of higher and top rate taxpayers is 16.7% – i.e. one in six.

    And in case anyone doubts the partiality of the Guardian, the Daily Telegraph, while complaining about the burden on higher rate taxpayers, points out that they are “outnumbered almost six to one by their lower-paid counterparts”.

  • Tim13

    Am I kidding? No.

    Another point along side the admin cost is also the tendency of admin complexity of preventing some people preventing people inneed receiving the recycled cash. In addition monay that you earn from a job doesn’t tend to come with conditions and errors on the scale that benefits do, governments always want to add conditions and “claw back” errors that the government made. Much better to leave the poor with their own money and then top it up than take it to recycle it back to tehm with conditions attached.

    With regards to your question of what about the benefit to other workers, as jedi has pointed out the 40% rate has been dropped to cover impact this on the above average middle class.

    Of course an LVT replacing many other taxes would be preferable but until we get there we need to work on getting a sensible approach to what we have. (Other issues such as citizens income have been discussed on here, I’m not convinced but that may be as a result of the issue not being discussed in enough detail with sufficient consideration of impacts).

    “regressive taxation, as this Government did on to VAT”
    Which the IFS found to be mildly progressive due the relatively larger amount of VATable purchases made by the better off and the greater concentration of non-VATable purchases by the less well off.

    “minimum wage should be higher”

    I can’t agree with you on raising the minimum wage, you will price the least valuable out of the market at a time when they need to gain experience. Many of my early jobs would not have existed had the minimum wage been in place and the experience of those made finding other work paying better easier.

    What we need is to increase the value each employee is able to offer there by increase what they can demand from an employer. That is where the efforts need to be focused. A year ago plumbing and electricians courses were being cancelled (apparently due to lack of demand) but the building trade is stretched to keep up with demand one year on.

    “we should re-empower trade unions”

    As to trade union strength remember where it lead in the past, large monopolistic industries (kept afloat by government at unions demand), which couldn’t survive by giving their customers what they wanted. In terms of employee protection this monopolistic situation is a nightmare if you don’t like your employer the fact the union will make it hard for them to fire you leaving you stuck in a kind of “work to rule” set up. It is not the same as the ability to move to an employer who offers a similar job but operates in a way you prefer.

    A “back to the 70s” approach is not an attractive prospect. I am suspicious of anyone who uses “Thatcher” to describe the current approach to anything, as the name has become a short hand for “stuff I don’t like” for those on the left. If someone were to advocate the French or German model of health care for the UK people would call it “Thatcherite” (would she ever want to be associated with anything French or German?) rather than engage with the issue, it is lazy and weak argument.

  • Malcolm,

    I think Jedi may be picking up his figures from a projection (I can’t remember who carried it out) of how it would have to be re adjusted if the allowance and NI allowance were adjusted to the level of the minimum wage. So it probably is the wrong figure for how things are not but useful to a discussion on future equivalent adjustments to thresholds.

  • jedibeeftrix 20th Aug '14 - 2:36pm

    Yes I was, though I got the exact figures wrong regardless.

    The point holds: we have at the same time increased the tax free threshold while letting inflation lower the effective threshold of the 40p rate.

  • paul barker 20th Aug '14 - 8:42pm

    The problem with this approach is that there is no objective level of “need” only levels of demand which are potentially infinite. I would say theres an excellent Liberal & Social Democratic case for broad limits to Total State spending. I would suggest a lower limit of 33% & an upper one of 40%, outside periods of “Total” War or sudden & overwhelming Natural Disaster.
    We all have lots of different Social needs including a need for minimum levels of Independence & control over our own, individual lives.

  • Briefly, psi, as I don’t have much time. Thatcherite / Reaganite is not a lazy shorthand. It is direct and specific, certainly the way I use it. It stands for an attempt to divide and rule economically, as much as anything. I do not seek to return to the 70s in everything, but I have to defend the public economics of the 70s as much better than the (post-Thatcher) situation we find ourselves in now. We took a wrong turn under Thatcher, because, in pursuing divide and rule, she was able to pick some scapegoats that the right wing press, and therefore those who were influenced by them, could sympathise with. It is that process that I oppose, and I think all Lib Dems should, in pursuit of a politics and an economics done a different way. I can tell you, the Alliance in the 80s never supported what was seen as Thatcherism then, and we should be equally strong in our opposition now.

    The report you allude to on IFS and VAT, is only one of many, and IIRC, it was criticised at the time for not being thorough in its approach. The more mainstream economic view of indirect sales taxes, even with zero-rating of certain things, is that it is regressive.

    As someone who has spent considerable time in the training and development field, I am very sceptical of any approach which says that what we need to do is constantly “upskill” people (the underpinning of the Blair “employability” line, the Cameron “we’re in a race internationally” line, and the Clegg “social mobility” line). We have (Thatcher – wise) got ourselves in a position where people at the bottom end of society have been profoundly disempowered, and that is at the root of our problems.

    We have not discussed globalisation, but clearly there is a need to rebalance globalisation so it has an effective democratic, bottom up and regulatory coordination dimension.

    The powerful and those who have become hyper-rich on the backs of those without power have been in the ascendancy for the last almost 40 years. I thought our mission as Liberals (and I thought, Lib Dems) was to ensure that we do not create huge disparity between people, and buttress class systems. In order to change this, we should be trying to move forward economically to a more equal world. Our party leaders were quick to condemn Peter Mandelson and his comment about “relaxed if people become filthy rich”. In government we needed to make our views on this more well-known.

    Lastly,your comment on adopting a “sensible approach to where we are”. This is rather like the argument for adopting fracking as an interim measure to more renewables. The trouble with creating / amplifying momentum in one direction, whether it be using new sources of fossil fuels or tax-cutting with the inevitable effect of service cuts, is that you then find it EVEN HARDER to reverse those trends. You may feel the trends should not be reversed, I do not, I am a radical liberal, not a Cleggite “centrist”.

    I have no time to address your administrative time points (as a public servant in various countries for 30 odd years, I hope I know a bit about it!), Citizen’s Income, of which I am a supporter, or the effects on greenery of perpetual growth. Maybe that is for another day.

  • Tim13

    “Thatcherite / Reaganite is not a lazy shorthand. It is direct and specific, certainly the way I use it.”

    So what is this specific meaning?

    ” It stands for an attempt to divide and rule economically,…”


    “… as much as anything.”

    Ha ha ha.

  • Psi No need to resort to sarcasm!
    I was trying to draw in a few words a summary of what I meant by it. I had thought that my rather longer post than I had intended explained a fair amount of the detail. You are clearly interested in economics, so it would not be new to you that the “post Thatcher settlement”, so-called has been accepted by rather a lot of mainstream politicians, ie, a reduction in state and local democratic provision of services, the acceptance of privatisation rather than an attempt to either reverse it or reduce it, the acceptance of emasculation of trade unions or other bodies giving power to workers within their workplaces, the use of independent regulators rather than direct democratic control to steer important aspects of the economy an acceptance of a one-sided globalism, and in some cases (certainly Nigel Lawson), a denial of the effects of global climate change on the world, its life, people and economy.

    You are damned right in your first post, I don’t like Thatcherism, but I think you probably don’t like it applied to what appear to be your economic views because you don’t like Thatcher? There is too much dismissal of 70s economics, and that in itself is probably what you would describe as lazy thinking. Sometimes psi, you have to dig below the surface and realise current models are not working, and go for something different.

  • And add yet another meaningless target for the statisticians to debate over? No, I’m strongly on the side of the original article on this. Need should dictate spending, and the collective opinion of the elected representatives of everyone should decide what constitutes a need.

    Of course its up for debate, obviously one person’s need is another’s extravagance, but that is the whole point of having a democratic process for deciding things – we debate it. I can see nothing to recommend a system where state spending of 40% gdp plus one penny is ruled out as inconceivable on account of the opinions of the Parliament of 2010.

    There are principles that should be enshrined by states in a permanent constitution that lasts as long as that state does. Year to year spending levels as a portion of a fairly arbitrary gdp construction is not one of them. And it would be a sad situation were Britain to end up enshrining that as a permanent principle while still lacking all the other points of constitutional government.

  • Thoroughly agree, T-J.

  • Tim13

    “No need to resort to sarcasm!”

    From what I can see, I have to be harsh in response to people using lush sloppy thinking as this illustrates.

    The reason I highlight the use of “Thatcher” as a lazy in defined term is it makes people sloppy about how they address things it has become a term that is lazily used.

    If I take your example, you object the raising of the tax threshold and removing the lowest paid from tax well the strongest opponent of that I am aware of is Nigel Lawson, there aren’t many people who could be considered more “Thatcherite” than him. But what does that fact actually prove about the relative merits or drawbacks of the policy. Simply nothing, other than being able to childishly accuse left-wing opponents of the policy of being “Thatcherite.”

    I shouldn’t have to explain to people of the left Orwell’s warning from 1946 about using language in this way. The fact that you cannot see that using terms such as “Thatcherite / Reaganite” have no agreed meaning and will not communicate any meaningful point suggests that you spend too much time only around people who share your opinions.

    To take the citizens income example, the fundamental idea appears to be something that I would have sympathy, but I have never heard anyone make a convincing case for it, probably based upon the fact that everyone I have come across trying to make the case for it seems a little too used to preaching to the converted.

  • Tim13

    To your specific comment:

    “You are damned right in your first post, I don’t like Thatcherism, but I think you probably don’t like it applied to what appear to be your economic views because you don’t like Thatcher?”

    Actually I don’t like people using terms that have no clear meaning. I have issues with Thatcher’s approach but that is not to say that everything she did was wrong or right. Also to the point she has not been in power for nearly 24 years, too many people dog whistle to an Thatcher hatred to make their arguments. I don’t hold hatred for someone who by simple logical reason can not be responsible for all ills in the way some of the “haters” believe.

    If you actually pick through the period of “Thatcherism” which I would say is her time in power and the Major years where many of the ideas continued by people who were involved there were positives and negatives. Some on each side were not due to her governments policies, but the point is to actually focus on the specifics not vague terms free to be interpreted in whatever way the audience fancies.

  • Tim13

    To your examples:
    “a reduction in state and local democratic provision of services”
    Which services? Post Office Telecommunications? British Leyland? I’m quite happy we have the current choice on offer rather that nationalised car manufacturers. I can imagine people could argue the Nisan Sunderland plant is a form of “Thatcherism” but I again don’t understand how it really helps with any discussion. You may need to expand more, as I think I have misunderstood your example.

    “the acceptance of privatisation rather than an attempt to either reverse it or reduce it”
    Are you advocating to Owen Jones type “nationalise the mobile companies” approach I remember the nationalised telephone system and it is not a world I have any desire to return too.

    “the acceptance of emasculation of trade unions or other bodies giving power to workers within their workplaces”
    Well, some of that “emasculation” was the implementation of democratic rules on some unions who weren’t keen on them. Some of it was the loss of status of the unions that were self-inflicted (Scargil, crazy delusions and running tactically the worst Miners strike, while simultaneously abolishing the historic democracy of his movement). The biggest problems here (in the UK) has been the unions leaderships themselves always being opponents of change giving them an even poorer image with the public. There is also the move to different methods of production and changes in types of industries which are inherently less suited to old British style unionisation.

    “the use of independent regulators rather than direct democratic control to steer important aspects of the economy”
    Again there are quite a few here I can think of but I’m not a fan of having politicians trying to do the food standards agency’s job. The key “steer” I can think of is the Bank of England’s control of interest rates. That was implemented by Labour, having been resisted by the Conservative (“Thatcherite” if you must) government.

    “an acceptance of a one-sided globalism”
    I’m completely lost by that statement, I could think of thousands of possible interpretations of that.

    “in some cases (certainly Nigel Lawson), a denial of the effects of global climate change on the world, its life, people and economy”
    How can that be considered “Thatcherism?” If you mean to suggest that the involvement of Nigel Lawson make it so I would ask if the actions of David Mellor makes having sex in a Chelsea Strip “Thatcherism?”

    My concern is that you fetishize the 1970s the way that many UKIP supporters fetishize the 1950s. Those eras are gone, we have to work out what we want the future to look like, learning from history not trying to recreate it.

  • psi
    An even briefer response (I notice it has become unbrief, for which I am sorry)!
    You seem to ignore Blair (and Brown) and nuLab as a continuation of – not thatcherism, if you like – but “the post Thatcher consensus”, which as a term is widely used, and in an academic context.

    What I do accept is that there are changes in society, in technology, which make it often difficult to interpret what has caused change, the politics, the technology, or the social change driven by communication change. I think you must be careful in your memory of the nationalised telecomms industry not to compare it technologically with what came afterwards. I am not sure we have the evidence that says that it couldn’t adapt. Also, to rub salt into the wound over Thatcher, she had overseen a period of run-down of publicly owned industry which had galvanised opinion against such industry. This is part of what I meant by “divide and rule”.

    When I said one-sided globalisation (if I said globalism my apologies for wrong word), I meant that the power and control on the side of individuals and their representatives has not spread, generally, to the supranational level, whereas the corporate power has become internationalised, allowing the latter much greater freedom to evade democratically set rules.

    I am not sure that a straight return to 70s or earlier nationalised structures is what is needed – I am not even sure that was what Owen Jones was talking about in his mobile technology article. But what I do think we lack is an urgent debate about the possible functions and structures which we might use to ensure the balance we need .

    I hope I don’t “fetishise” the 1970s! What I think is that we have a country and a world which has a much bigger population, often much more integrated – “we live in a smaller world” – now. We also have a variety of international problems – global warming, energy supply, food supply worldwide, need for conflict reduction, being only some of the more obvious and well known ones. That should mean we “get our act together” better. As a democrat, what that means is that we should have more democratic control, not less. I know we have the ever-present issue of potential autocracy and authoritarianism, which as liberals we don’t like, but we should be able to work out systems whereby education and regulation could work hand in hand in an acceptable manner.

    My feelings about the 70s are that those who were pushing the new economics then, which we now see the full bitter fruit of, used the disruption mainly caused by international inflationary pressure (the two oil shocks and concomitant commodity price hikes) to do their job for them. Thatcher was, in this country, the tool that was used to amplify that process. So, yes, she was a cipher, and I do think it is quite useful to use ciphers to allude to processes. A problem, I know, when discussing with those who love and praise her (as is the use of a term like Orange Bookery within the Lib Dems!)

    Finally, defending David Mellor, he has claimed he didn’t have sex in a Chelsea strip with Antonia de Sancha, that it was all a tabloid invention! In fact, if anyone is interested, I have just turned up a Mail article from Jan last year, quoting Antonia’s admission that the Chelsea strip bit was made up.

  • Psi
    Your earlier comments on the use of Thatcherism and lazy thinking seems to be arguing against any term which does not have a totally agreed meaning. Yes, we all use different arguments when arguing among those we know to be closer to our viewpoint than others, and I would be more sparing in my use of Thatcherism in the latter case. However, this is supposed to be primarily a site for those supporting, and interested in, Lib Dem ideas. I am surprised that my use of “Thatcherism” as a term is especially controversial here, and I don’t see others taking it up in a critical fashion.

  • Tim13

    “Your earlier comments on the use of Thatcherism and lazy thinking seems to be arguing against any term which does not have a totally agreed meaning.”

    It is a little more than, not a totally agreed meeting.

    To some on the left it has developed a meaning some form of: “something not desirable”

    For some on the right it has developed a definition of something approaching: “the perfect approach to public policy”

    While for most of the population its meaning is something more like: “stuff that happened a long time ago and is irrelevant for today.”

  • psi
    Our discussion seems now to be the only contribution to this dying thread! Your description, I am sure holds water – of course, Thatcher was divisive. Of course, many alive and contributing to debate today have no direct memories of the political actions of the lady. And, possibly by continuing the use of the term, those of us on the left are contributing to a continuation of the practices of the political doctrines concerned. I just think that sometimes, umbrella terms can be useful as a shorthand, among those who know / probably know what you mean. I also think your comments are a bit pedantic, and you were quite happy to divert the argument into one on semantics rather than one of substance!

    Where the real issues come in is that because of the wrong turn that politics and economics took from 1975 ish on in this country, we have managed to cut off at least half the popular and public debate we should be having about the future. Such debates seem to happen only within the confines of political parties, or in academic circles, not among the public where they should be happening, and half a century ago, would have been. If that is what you mean by “irrelevant today”, then it is people who think that who need to be “woken up to smell the coffee”.

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