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The white heat of Britain’s decline Like Wilson's before him, Starmer's grand plan is doomed

(Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images)

(Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images)


September 28, 2023   7 mins

A nation lost in what one American commentator described as “an orgy of self-criticism”; an exhausted Tory government out of ideas; an endemic sense of decline. This might describe the Britain of today, but it also describes the Britain of 1963, 60 years ago this weekend, as Prime Minister Harold Macmillan entered the final few weeks of his premiership, and a young Harold Wilson began writing one of the most important — and misunderstood — speeches in Britain’s post-war history. His promise was simple (at least in how it was reported): to unleash the “white heat of technology” to make Britain great again.

Today, we might not think of the Sixties as a time of crippling self-doubt and doom — we save that stereotype for the Seventies. And yet, for many at the time, 1963 was precisely such a moment. This was the year Macmillan was harried out of power under a cloud of scandal, having first failed to take Britain into Europe and then failed to get a grip on the Profumo Affair. The country was fading as a global power and had suffered the indignity of being rejected from joining the new European club by Charles de Gaulle — the man Macmillan had worked so hard to defend during the war. Books at the time captured the mood of the nation with titles such as the Stagnant Society and even Suicide of a Nation.

Dig a little deeper into this moment in time, though, and not only can you see the narrative of decline that Britain was telling itself, but also the fable underneath — the morality tale about why it was apparently decaying. In 1963, the fable went something like this: Britain was failing because it was led by crusty old men incapable of understanding the modern world, amateur-gentlemen such as the patrician old prime minister himself. “His decomposing visage and somehow seedy attire conveyed the impression of an ageing and eccentric clergyman, who had been induced to play the part of a Prime Minister,” wrote the satirist Malcolm Muggeridge. That the Conservative Party chose the 14th Earl of Home as Macmillan’s replacement only heightened the power of the country’s national lament.

If voters needed any more proof of this fable, all they had to do was look across the Atlantic. While Britain had Macmillan, the kind of man who read Aeschylus sheltering in no-man’s land, the Americans had Jack Kennedy, the very symbol of modernity. But it wasn’t just the US that seemed more advanced than Britain; to many — including Wilson — even the Soviet Union seemed more in tune with the modern world, its leaders apparently able to throw the full weight of the state behind the technologies of the future.

Today, it is hard to think of Wilson as a figure of modernity. Perhaps it is the pipe-smoking or the holidays to the Scilly Isles. Or perhaps it is because we know what he was to become: that sad, defeated figure prone to midday tears and drink who left office broken by the weight of the country’s problems. And yet, in 1963, Wilson very much was the coming figure. He was ferociously bright and energetic with an easy wit and a ground-breaking normality. In many respects, he represented as much of a break from the previous era of Macmillan as Blair did in 1997.

On October 1, 1963, speaking to the Labour Party conference in Scarborough, Wilson seemed to capture the zeitgeist as all leaders of the Opposition must. To make Britain “once again one of the foremost industrial nations of the world”, Wilson declared, the Government needed to seize control of almost every aspect of economic life. Under his leadership, the Government would “provide the enterprise and we shall decide where it goes”. And once these new enterprises had been created, he added, there would be no shortage of markets for them to sell their products. “The Russians have talked to me of orders amounting to hundreds of millions over the next few years,” he declared, airily. As absurd as this now sounds, it captured the imagination of the Labour conference — and the country at large. It also required not only a change of government, but a revolution.

“The Britain that is going to be forged in the white heat of this revolution will be no place for restrictive practices or for outdated methods on either side of industry,” Wilson declared. “In the Cabinet and the boardroom alike, those charged with the control of our affairs must be ready to think and to speak in the language of our scientific age.” The eagle-eyed will note he did not utter the phrase “white heat of technology”.

This was not a Labour leader scared of frightening the horses. “The speech was, in a sense, ‘extremist’,” wrote the historian Ben Pimlott, Wilson’s seminal biographer. “It advocated government intervention in almost every aspect of the nation’s economic life.” Yet it was also wildly popular. “It captured a moment, saying what many young and intelligent people across the spectrum urgently believed,” Pimlott concluded.

As such, in purely political terms, Wilson’s speech was a triumph, helping him on his journey to No. 10 in 1964 and sustaining him through the first few years of his premiership, injecting it with a sense of purpose and vigour. And yet, what stands out today far more than the radicalism of the speech is how much it actually conformed to the deeper trends in British politics — from its endless fascination with the country’s own (partly imagined) decline to its desperation to find quick fixes and easy solutions, often to meet some arbitrary deadline or fit the latest fashionable idea.

Consider how Wilson’s speech came about in the first place. Less than 24 hours before he stood up to lament Macmillan’s government of “lordly amateurs”, Wilson still had no idea what he was going to say. It was only at 9pm the night before, after Wilson confided to his closest aide, Marcia Williams, that he still hadn’t written his speech, that she forced him to write it there and then. “You will do it now,” she told him, bluntly, dismissing his idea that he turn to it in the morning. It was also Williams who suggested the theme: “the Science Committee stuff”. And so emerged one of the great speeches in modern British history.

The substance of Wilson’s address does not fare much better either. Wilson’s grand plan to restore Britain to some long-lost industrial greatness was always destined to fail because it both misdiagnosed Britain’s structural challenges and offered solutions which could not work. Britain was not declining on the world stage because it was run by amateurs, but because its decline was the inevitable reality of the world that came into being after the war. No amount of professionalism or central planning could reverse this trend.

Just as importantly, Wilson’s plan was also a form of misdirection, designed to avert the need for the kind of hard choices that could not be avoided, from devaluing the pound to dealing with the question of Europe to scaling back Britain’s overseas commitments. Within a few years, Wilson’s plan would, of course, fail. He would be forced to devalue sterling and, in desperation, reapply to join the European Market. The white heat of his revolution fizzled out and the country decided to give Ted Heath’s European corporatism a go instead.

Though Wilson was a remarkably gifted individual, the central thrust of his premiership failed. Yet in this respect, he is no different from almost any other prime minister. In fact, one way to understand Britain’s post-war history is as a long, futile attempt to avert the shame of relative global decline. Britain, after all, could not hope to maintain its imperial power without the empire — and it could not hope to remain so much richer than every other European country. Its relative wealth and power, therefore, were always going to atrophy.

Britain’s reckoning with this reality is like a Sophoclean tragedy, each new government fighting a losing battle against its fate. Wilson offered central planning as the route out of Britain’s decline; Heath believed “Europe” and corporatism was the solution; Thatcher opted for monetarism and free markets; and Blair some kind of third-way “reform”. After Blair, Cameron thought becoming China’s best friend would allow Britain to win the global race, as he put it, while Johnson argued that Brexit was the answer to making Britain global again. Today, many believe rejoining Europe is the grand solution to all the country’s problems.

Yet even the most cursory glance at Britain’s long-term economic growth reveals how little things change. The trend is one of slow, gradual growth lacerated by a few big scratches which tend to come from abroad — the oil crisis of 1973, the global financial crisis of 2008 or the Covid pandemic of 2020. The great turning points we usually think of — joining the European Common Market in 1973 or Margaret Thatcher’s election in 1979 — are not nearly as radical as they seemed at the time. Very little is. All the while, the “declining industries and declining areas” that Wilson identified in 1963 keep on declining.

When we look at the big picture, then, what really jumps out is the continuity. Even Wilson’s great call for a socialist revolution in 1963 was quite conservative: to make Britain “once again one of the foremost industrial nations of the world”. This, in fact, has been the great goal of almost every government. What is “levelling up” if it is not the use of the state to halt the decline of Britain’s industries and regions? It is there, too, in George Osborne’s Northern Powerhouse or Keir Starmer’s Green New Deal. And it is there in today’s anguish over HS2.

The irony in all of this, of course, is that when Wilson gave his speech lamenting Britain’s amateurish decline, the country was still one of the foremost industrial nations of the world — and the richest place in Europe. Indeed, even amid our own “orgy of self-criticism” today, Britain remains one of the foremost industrial nations in the world, overtaking France to become the eighth largest manufacturing nation in the world this year and the sixth largest economy.

As Keir Starmer prepares to deliver the most important speech of his career at the Labour Party conference next month, there will be plenty of people urging him to find a way to capture the mood of the nation in the way his hero, Wilson, managed to do 60 years ago. And they are right to do so. As leader of the Opposition, it is Starmer’s duty to present a plan that will achieve all of the things Wilson once promised: to revitalise the areas of the country which need revitalising; to use the white heat of our own 21st-century technologies to Britain’s advantage; and, most importantly of all, to ensure the UK remains one of the foremost industrial nations on earth.

But if we are to draw one lesson from Wilson’s speech it is that whatever grand plan Starmer announces, it will almost certainly fail to change the fundamental dilemmas facing Britain. Grand plans never do. There are no easy solutions, quick fixes or sweeping changes, only grinding conservative management of conditions largely beyond a government’s control. Wilson’s speech remains defining because it encapsulates so much of Britain’s post-war travails, managing to both overstate the country’s failings and his own ability to change things. And if there is a great, circular rhythm to our national life, this is surely it.


Tom McTague is UnHerd’s Political Editor. He is the author of Betting The House: The Inside Story of the 2017 Election.

TomMcTague

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Peter Kwasi-Modo
Peter Kwasi-Modo
8 months ago

My heart sinks whenever I hear a politician announce that he/she is going to make Britain the “world leader” in whatever is his/her brief. If you Google recent uses of the phrase “make Britain a world leader in “, you will find that our Labour politicians are going to make us the world leader in (amongst other things) digital skills, steel making, “clean steel”, “the industries of the future”, green technology, electric cars, science and R&D. Meanwhile, the Tories are going to make us the world leader in (amongst other things) animal welfare, the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), “transparency”, the digital economy, clean energy (well that was Boris), regulating artificial intelligence, mini nuclear reactors and agricultural trade. This is just a sample: the list goes on and on.
I could not care less about being a world leader in anything whatsoever. I just want government to be quietly competent.

Last edited 8 months ago by Peter Kwasi-Modo
John Galt Was Correct
John Galt Was Correct
8 months ago

I agree. Britain is like a first time pole jumper telling everyone they will win at the Olympics next week. Basic functionality would be a reasonable target.

tom j
tom j
8 months ago

“Basic functionality would be a reasonable target.”
This is, I guess unironically, funny. Things are neither as bad as the politicians and pundits say, nor will they ever be as good as they promise they can be. To quote Tom McTague “Yet even the most cursory glance at Britain’s long-term economic growth reveals how little things change.”

Martin Butler
Martin Butler
8 months ago

So true

Andrew Dalton
Andrew Dalton
8 months ago

“transparency”

I did actually laugh at that one. I can only assume they meant glass manufacturing, as even the Conversatives couldn’t claim legislative transparency is a goal with a straight face. Unless they meant leaked Whatsapp discussions – they’re pretty good at that.

Peter Kwasi-Modo
Peter Kwasi-Modo
8 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Dalton

Britain definitely trails behind North Korea and Vatican City on transparency.
But I am guilty of taking this one out of context. That context was a very worthy attempt to have a registry of owners of UK property available for scrutiny. Although we don’t need to be a world leader, I personally hope that eventually we get such a registry and I thank John Penrose for promoting it.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
8 months ago

In 1997 when New Labour came to power most people in Britain were working in government or for large corporations. Now most people work in small businesses, their own or someone else’s. Can you name three members of the Parliamentary Labour Party who have any knowledge or experience of that sector?
More than anything we need electoral reform so that ordinary people have some kind of voice in a Westminster system which currently exists solely to divide the spoils between bureaucrats and bankers.

Peter Kwasi-Modo
Peter Kwasi-Modo
8 months ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

Sure, Labour is not au fait with small business. But here in Scotland, things are so much worse. Our First Minister, Mr. Youseless, has told us that “Scotland will be a world leader in entrepreneurship and innovation”.
The Scottish Greens tell us that Scotland is going “to become the world leader in circular economy”. Their first step in this directions is to make Scotland the world leader in bottle deposit return schemes.

Rob Mcneill-wilson
Rob Mcneill-wilson
8 months ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

Perhaps that explains the imposition of IR35 and the irrecoverable damage that wrought in that sector.

Jacqueline Burns
Jacqueline Burns
8 months ago

No that was to benefit Mr SunaK’s father-in-law!

Susan Grabston
Susan Grabston
8 months ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

We own 2 SMEs. When I thnk about the amount of regulation over the past 10 years in the 2, wildly different, sectors i can say we are suffocating with admin at the expense of the topline. We recently agreed that we wouldn’t have started either business if we knew then what we would be required to do now. Next week we’re going to a jurisdiction with a much less restrictive environment with a view to pivoting (one’s digital so a run from anywhere enterprise).

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
8 months ago

Yes indeed, why constantly refer to the league table of who leads the world in what area of making stuff, much of which is for killing people or destroying the environment. A complete rethink is needed

Julian Newman
Julian Newman
8 months ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

Liam – don’t underestimate the importance of defence industries. Remember Jefferson’s maxim that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance, and consider that without previously acquiring the capacity to destroy an aggressor, it will be too late when the wolf is at the door. Not that we want to kill people, but that we need to be able to do so if we are to prevent them killing us or depriving us of our liberty which is possibly worse.

Mark Phillips
Mark Phillips
8 months ago
Reply to  Julian Newman

Speak softly, and carry a big stick.

Steve White
Steve White
8 months ago

Boundaries are important, and they work both ways. Not only should you not let someone touch you in a place where you don’t want to be touched, but you should not go touch other people in a place where they don’t want to be touched. These politicians feel like Brittian (The US is like this also) is so important and so exceptional that they can go touch the world wherever they want. They feel entitled, because after all, they know best, they are the best! They’re going to win whatever it is we’re all supposed to be winning, and they’re going to meddle because they can.
After all they are one of the global partners of the USA, who’s dollar controls everything, and who also go around the world touching nations wherever they want. If the people in that nation scream “no, you can’t do that” , and kick them out, they talk behind the back of that nation, because they control the megaphone, and they tell all the important people and the whole world whatever they want. They can say, “all we were tying to do is human rights, or democracy, but these people kicked us out! Sanction them, bomb them, turn their neighbor against them! They do what they want to do, and get away with it.” Getting to define reality and getting away with things they should be accountable for only makes them bolder.
This is BTW what a narcissist does to their victims. They feel entitled to use them, and when they want to discard them or abuse them, they do, and of they leave the narcissist, the narcissist gets revenge! Anyway, boundaries. Narcisists lack them… They don’t know where their boundaries end, and so what they are truly supposed to be over and take care of often gets neglected and abused, and what they have no business being over, they have their hands all over it. They will gaslight anyone who try’s to hold them to account, and they will never ever take responsibility for something that makes them look bad.
One more thing…. they are drawn to power like a moth to a flame. They love power, and glory. Anything that puts them on top of the world.

Last edited 8 months ago by Steve White
Alan Thorpe
Alan Thorpe
8 months ago

We are a world leader in decarbonising and destroying the economy, although the politicians don’t see the second part.

Pedro the Exile
Pedro the Exile
8 months ago
Reply to  Alan Thorpe

“The Saudi Arabia of windpower…”….Bojo-

Stephanie Surface
Stephanie Surface
8 months ago
Reply to  Alan Thorpe

You already have competition with that in Germany. Let’s see who can destroy their industry fastest. I would put my bet on Germany as there is more of an industry to obliterate

Last edited 8 months ago by Stephanie Surface
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
8 months ago

His promise was simple (at least in how it was reported): to unleash the “white heat of technology” to make Britain great again.
Britain’s own Donald Trump

Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
8 months ago

Starmer is going to make Britain a world leader in being a world leader.

Chipoko
Chipoko
8 months ago

Hear! Hear!

Walter Marvell
Walter Marvell
8 months ago

The point about continuity of failure in the battle to create a dynamic prosperous UK is well made. As is the skewering of Wilson’s empty rhetoric. I hope Tom returns to skewer Starmers empty rhetoric in a few weeks time. He surely knows that there is a dark ideological black hole at the heart of his Zombie Labour Party. Cross out White Heat. Add Green Heat. Its the same old corrupted Statist Red. His Labour is wedded to a corpse; clinging to our GDR style unproductive failing public sector and Blob. Wedded to welfarism, the entitlement culture, the deranged toxic equality and DEI cult, the repressive Regulatory Regime which suffocates enterprise and kills wealth creation. Class envy and a repulsion for business seethes in them. Labour cannot muster any new vision to reverse the story of decline. They and their Blair- Brown created New Order is the primary cause of its acceleration.

Martin Butler
Martin Butler
8 months ago
Reply to  Walter Marvell

This is all very well and would sound convincing if you could point to the the successes of privatisation and liberal free market economics of the last 13years of the Tories and the Thatcher years, and of course there have been successes. But overall it seems that the more statist governments of Northern Europe have economical fared better than us. Germany, Scandi countries, Netherlands have big problems but you can’t say that ordinary people feel worse off there than they do here. Public services are better and standards of living are on the whole better. The argument of the free marketeers then becomes the one Truss gave – ie free market economics has not actually been tried properly. But that begins to sound like left-wingers who say socialism has never really been tried. I think I reflect many in the country who say the right have had their chance I really want something different – not socialism but a society where the state does actually take responsibility for stuff.

Walter Marvell
Walter Marvell
8 months ago
Reply to  Martin Butler

I respectfully disagree. Thatcher was a free marketeer yes and she revolutionized our economy by unshackling it from the corpse of statism and suffocating union power (thanks CS :)). There were errors with utility and rail privitisation but we cannot lose the bigger picture (telecoms?). We became dynamic more meritocratic and prosperous But then came Blair and the EU and a whole counter revolutionary new system of governance by diktat and Quangocracy. This Third Way has been fully embraced by the Lib Demmed Wet Fake Proud To Be Woke Uniparty ‘Tories’ from Cameroon to Sanook. They are neither right wing nor free market nor Conservative. With the Fool Bojo they fully embraced the Soviet style Statism you seem to want – 5 Year Eco Nut Plans/A Railway to Nowhere/Lockdown Hell/Bailouts and more. They are happy with an expanding inefficient wfh public sector, cripplingly high taxes and an anti enterprise anti meritocratic culture. The failures of our NHS are nothing to do with investment levels. As for the Europeans, they alas are suffering from the same basic systemic economic malaise – the anti growth anti innovation plagues spawned by the same EU Empire virus: top down Codified Hyper Regulation, hostility to free trade and total inattention to national security and resilience. Their health services are better because they have a superior non 1948 Bevanite socialist model (and do not have striking 1% Rich/ 2m + pension fat consultants screaming for 35% pay rises while our grannies expire at home on year long waiting lists). Lucky them. But they will share the same ultimate inevitable No Heat decline. Same system. Same outcome.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
8 months ago
Reply to  Walter Marvell

Sadly Lady Thatcher was an aberration, who, like Caesar before her, was cut down in her prime.

The other post-war, so called Tory leaders, Churchill, Eden, Macmillan and Heath were worthless. They all supinely acquiesced in the aggrandisement of the wretched Welfare State, the complete antithesis of true Tory belief, to the undoubted detriment of the nation.

As I recall only the siren voices Ian McLeod and Enoch Powell spoke out against this madness.
So whilst you are correct to castigate such buffoons as as Boris, May, Cameron, Blair & Co, the ‘rot’ or national terminal cancer’ had set in well before they were even born sadly.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
8 months ago

Cut down in her prime? Don’t be so silly. The country was sick to death of her.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
8 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Nonsense, she had a good five years left in her, even if the deplorable Jocks and associated fellow travellers* couldn’t stand her!

(*Former coal miners for example.)

Alphonse Pfarti
Alphonse Pfarti
8 months ago

I’m half ‘jock’ and I liked her. Apart from the Poll Tax, foisted on me a year early as a spotty teenage student. Other than that, mostly fine.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
8 months ago

Wasn’t she the one who sold off everything? Well of course the country binged on the proceeds but look at the place now. Ye own nothing but you ain’t happy about it, are ye?

Caradog Wiliams
Caradog Wiliams
8 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Couldn’t wait for her to go – hectoring, bullying tone.

Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
8 months ago

Whether you agreed with her or not (and I often didn’t), she at least was intelligent and hard-working, and rational. One struggles to find modern politicians that would merit all 3 descriptors.

Alan Elgey
Alan Elgey
8 months ago
Reply to  Frank McCusker

…..or, in some cases, any!

Martin Butler
Martin Butler
8 months ago
Reply to  Walter Marvell

I clearly don’t share your politics. But what I’m interested in is there anyway in world that is close to your idea of a good society? I personally would like UK to move closer to somewhere like Denmark. I’m sure that kind of social democratic model is not your cup of tea, but what is?

Walter Marvell
Walter Marvell
8 months ago
Reply to  Martin Butler

The Scandis are fine. I would like a French style NHS, a few more German engineering firms and a Sovereign Fund like Norway. But no one nation offers an ideal model. We must simply construct a new path to right all the wrongs and missteps of the past 40 years. We have all the Right Stuff in our national DNA and history. Yes or No? Liberty of speech and genuine freedom from state coercion, support for wealth creation and enterprise, a genuine democracy operating above a now rogue permanent unelected Blob – yes. Rule by arbitrary authoritarian EU style Diktat & Mass Quangocrat Regulation – no. Low taxation and support for SMEs – yes. More Magic Money Tree/High Taxation/ NHS First/Bailout Socialism and mass Welfarism – no. Reservoirs and airports and fossil fuels and council houses – yes. An end to the communal harming tyrannies of Extreme DEI and the Equality Cult – yes. National control of immigration and borders – yes. Tactit state support for criminal people smuggling and ongoing unplanned chaotic public service provision – no. So many of the Nos are new. So many of the Yes are old. I do not think these are at all radical. Nor do I think it is hard in principle to readopt the good and excise the bad and so map a new path out of the pit we have fallen into. The problem is the Uniparty and Blob. There is no political force arguing this case.

Desmond Wolf
Desmond Wolf
8 months ago
Reply to  Walter Marvell

You wish we’d had a soverign wealth fund as Norway made with their north sea oil? Well it’s a shame then that your beloved Thatcher spaffed all our north sea oil money on tax cuts to the wealthiest

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
7 months ago
Reply to  Desmond Wolf

Try reading Tony Benn’s biography that included his stint as Labour Energy minister. You’ll discover that it was Labour who started spaffing the money and Benn regretted he had any part in it because when the Tories got in and did the same he couldn’t so easily attack them for it. But then I suppose marking all those books means you haven’t time to read Benn’s book.

Paul T
Paul T
8 months ago
Reply to  Martin Butler

No one country has every brilliant version of everything. Labour keep telling people that we should, and can easily, have the best version of everything if only they were in charge and people stopped voting “against their own interest”. This lie that we just need to go and pick’n’mix the best stuff whilst retaining the failing NHS and hyper-privileged public sector – better pay, more job security, longer holidays, better pensions, shorter working week, more “equal” – is laughably naive. Even Germany when it was hundreds of billions of Euros in surplus every year didn’t manage to get anywhere near that outlandish position. One thing Labour are going to deliver in spades is being the best at being the worst; something they are truly comfortable with.

Last edited 8 months ago by Paul T
Martin Butler
Martin Butler
8 months ago
Reply to  Walter Marvell

No mention of housing or the massive generational divide. Going on about the blob doesn’t really take us anywhere – just kind of GB news, culture war stuff. Don’t even know what it means apart from a kind of irrational loathing for anything in the public sector. But more importantly there is a tendency – which I see in your posts – to think that free market equates to meritocracy. But nothing could be further from the truth. What happens, as is the case in the US, you just get entrenched inequality. Low taxes and small state just means some families acquire wealth – initially this might be through hard work and initiative. But then you get what is known as ‘hereditary meritocracy’ where the rich ensure their off-spring get all the advantages of a private education and the right connections etc, and so it goes on. Don’t tell me someone going to a private school with well-off parents living in the South is on a level playing field with someone from a council estate in the north-east. We like to celebrate examples of rags to riches but of course such cases are not typical at all. Social mobility in this country is pretty low – Denmark is far better as are most of those awful EU countries! It is only state intervention that can begin to balance the scales. And of course in this country inherited wealth is almost a must for the housing ladder in the south. All this is pretty obvious isn’t it?

Michael Cazaly
Michael Cazaly
8 months ago
Reply to  Martin Butler

Private education was dying until the grammar schools, a truly levelling up mechanism, were destroyed.

Desmond Wolf
Desmond Wolf
8 months ago
Reply to  Martin Butler

It is obvious, but not to those who prefer throwing around right-wing talking points for internet validation rather than actually looking at numbers and policies to work out a constructive way forward. And yes your points about meritocracy (a word orginally coined as a pejorative in Michael Young’s 1958 The Rise of the Meritocracy) are spot-on. I also recall a feakonomics episode arguing that you are twice as likely to achieve the American dream in Canada as in America, for the same reasons you give for the greater social mobility in western Europe.

Last edited 8 months ago by Desmond Wolf
Desmond Wolf
Desmond Wolf
8 months ago
Reply to  Walter Marvell

Not so – I live in the Netherlands as a teacher and am around ÂŁ10,000 a year better off than my counterparts in London who are barely able to save a bean. Why? Stronger trade unions (and a government willing to work with them, see the 10% pay rise agreed the other week) and also more state involvement in the housing sector (I pay 330 a month for a room while many in London are paying 800+) whose deregulation in the UK has led to its capture by wealthy interests who, as Roger Scruton noted in his conversation for the Spectator with Douglas Murray on the future of conservatism, are often ‘connected to the Conservative party.’
As to health services being better here because of privatisation, I’ve heard that with my health insurance I’d be advised to get a taxi to the hospital to avoid ambulance fees. You claim the NHS is not underfunded but the health services of other European countries do better in proportion to their higher state spending on health, so tell me again that underfunding isn’t an issue.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
8 months ago
Reply to  Martin Butler

As you may have gathered this site isn’t replete with socialists or even left centrist types..

Walter Marvell
Walter Marvell
8 months ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

No harm in the abandoned centre and centre right!

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
8 months ago
Reply to  Walter Marvell

..but it’s the slippery slope isn’t it? When the left shifts yo the centre there’s nothing for it but to shift rightwards or you become surplus and redundant.. It’ll be interesting ti compare and contrast Starmer leftism (?) with BJ leftist tendencies. My feeling is they might be in danger of ‘crossing’ rugby style.

Walter Marvell
Walter Marvell
8 months ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

Bojo stole Labours entire socio-economic agenda! Net Zero Green Mania!!!! NHS First! HS2! Spend Spend Spend! Nationalise and bailout! Supercharge the Entitlement culture! The State will Provide!! The Fool Johnson took it all – lock stock barrel. All Keir has left is a ragbag of residual class war nastiness and the promise of SNP style wokery. So he will just do the Sleepy Joe trick. Sit in a hole bleating – we are Not Them! We are now living with the consequences of the lockdown catastrophe and Bojo Neo Socialism and Money Tree Insanity. You’d think people might have worked out by now how toxic The joint Programme is…

Desmond Wolf
Desmond Wolf
8 months ago
Reply to  Walter Marvell

Green mania? Nhs first? Nationalising? If only! Where exactly have they invested in green industry? Did Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson build any of the 40 hospitals he kept promising? What was nationalised? Please tell me – it seems I’ve been asleep the last 13 years!

Martin Butler
Martin Butler
8 months ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

I realise I am very much out of tune with most here – I subscribe to the Guardian for goodness sake. But then I often find the articles interesting and I have sympathy with with many. E.g Paul Kingsnorth and Yanis the Greek.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
8 months ago
Reply to  Martin Butler

I’m a big fan of both.. incisive commentators for sure..

Desmond Wolf
Desmond Wolf
8 months ago
Reply to  Martin Butler

You are but don’t give up – some level-headedness is desperately needed on some comment threads here! (and as to the guardian, I’ve reduced my subscription since though I want them to continue to exist I don’t think they’re on the side of ordinary people in the way that Novara media or politics joe are, being not in receipt of big money – unlike unherd and it’s hedgefund owner I might add..)

Last edited 8 months ago by Desmond Wolf
Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
8 months ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

Which is what makes it so readable.

P N
P N
8 months ago
Reply to  Martin Butler

 “…free market economics has not actually been tried properly.” Hard to argue otherwise when we have cradle to grave welfare; when the state takes half of your income, 20% of what you spend and 40% when you die; when the tax to GDP ratio is as high as it’s been since the war; when the NHS consumes so much of our economic resources; when building HS2 is 6 times more expensive than it would be in Spain or France because of our planning regulations (source: Ferrovial); when even Lizz Truss is promising to spend unlimited billions in bailing out consumers for high energy bills; when the state has printed over ÂŁ900 billion; when Sunak and Johnson spent ÂŁ400 billion paying people not to work during Covid; when we have NICs, a minimum wage, maternity leave, compulsory pension enrolment, diversity quotas.
So where is this free market economy? I’ll tell you were as a freer market. Scandinavian countries. That’s right. Whilst they have a higher rate of top income tax for high earners, income tax as a whole is actually less progressive than the UK with lower earners contributing more. Then they have a more open economy.
If you want to talk about the last 13 years, in 2019 the UK had record low unemployment, record high employment, low inflation, low absolute poverty, the lowest budget deficit since 2002 and strong real wage growth from 2014 to 2019. Then we got Covid. Did you think there wouldn’t be negative consequences?
Comparing one country with another at any one time doesn’t tell us much because every country will have unique reasons for success and failure and will be undergoing its individual economic cycle. If you want to compare free markets against non-free markets, it is better to compare one country against itself. Look at what happens when countries free their economies. Look at India, Israel, China after Deng, Chile, Ireland, the UK and the USA in the 1980s.

Martin Butler
Martin Butler
8 months ago
Reply to  P N

40% when you die! You mean for a tiny minority who pay inheritance tax. Agree about planing regulation however. But no mention of the key problem facing this country at the moment- appalling generational inequality and an obscene housing crisis. The big divide in this country is between those who own property and those who don’t – that latter group made up mainly of those below 40.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
8 months ago
Reply to  Walter Marvell

I think SHACKLED to a corpse might be better than “wedded”, otherwise a pitch perfect synopsis, thank you.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
8 months ago
Reply to  Walter Marvell

There is no shortage of wealth creation in GB.. Indeed GB’s wealth is vast by any standard – why wouldn’t it be having looted half the world for 200 years. The problem is that vast wealth has, in the last century been looted from GB’s own population, the bloodsucking predatory class having run out of colonies to prey on. A paltry 2% annual wealth tax would easily bring in several hundred billion. A 5% annual wealth tax would solve all of GB’s economic woes overnight! Do the maths.. 11+ stuff.

O'Driscoll
O'Driscoll
8 months ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

And a 100% wealth tax would give every citizen a holiday in the Maldives every winter! I don’t see why the bloodsucking predatory class should have anything that I can’t have, sitting on my arris all day claiming benefits! What have those millionaires done to deserve their wealth except work hard, take risk and invest wisely? Pah, any fool can do that. In fact, tax them 110%, they won’t even notice it.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
8 months ago
Reply to  O'Driscoll

I repeat, do the maths; you’ll be utterly amazed, I guarantee it!

Christopher Peter
Christopher Peter
8 months ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

Really? That easy, eh? You should be Chancellor. Except – it seems odd that no Labour government (even the relatively left-wing one – by today’s standards at least – of the 1970s) ever did that. Maybe because it wouldn’t work, as anyone with half a grasp of economics would understand.

Last edited 8 months ago by Christopher Peter
Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
8 months ago

Wealth taxes are common.. I repeat, do the maths; it’s very simple.. the transfer of wealth from the 90% gathers pace and is the true reason for the economic decline in the US and UK. Wealth (disposable income) at the bottom makes its way, inexorably from the 90% (consumers) to the manufacturers/ owners (rich) obviously, via a mechanism called the economy. If you tax that wealth and redistribute it the cycle begins all over.. If you leave the wealth at the top (the current situation) there is far less economic activity as the consumers have less disposable income AND that untaxed wealth is spent on French yachts, Italian super cars, Caribbean islands, Greek villas, World cruises etc. (none of which benefit the UK economy) ..and when what remains is spent of lucrative funny money speculation you can forget about investment!

Rob Cameron
Rob Cameron
8 months ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

I’m sure you are being deliberately provocative. I am very open to a Wealth Tax on the proviso that there is a corresponding reduction of income tax on the working classes.
Income tax should be anathema for any socialist who believes that the workers should be able to benefit from the fruits of their labour. A Wealth Tax to redistribute ‘wealth’ from the relatively privileged (and massively wealthy) top 2% or 3% to directly reduce the income tax burden on the mass of the working class could be a great thing.
Income tax rates of 45% on earnings over ÂŁ125k and 60% (on earnings between ÂŁ100k to ÂŁ125k) should be consigned to the dustbin of history. And the threshold for tax at 40% needs to be doubled.

Last edited 8 months ago by Rob Cameron
Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
8 months ago
Reply to  Rob Cameron

I agree wholeheartedly except for your final paragraph.. CEO incomes at 120 times the average wage is obscene and a very bad optic if you’re trying to keep the same average worker on side! ..your final sentence does have merit of course..

David Morley
David Morley
8 months ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

Upvote from me – but the “deserving” rich (who all worked their way up from the gutter through sheer hard graft) are going to be upset.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
8 months ago
Reply to  David Morley

Nobody got rich through hard work, ever, in history. Greed, manipulated, exploitation and bribery of government is what makes people rich.

Martin Butler
Martin Butler
8 months ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

That is not an unreasonable point – doesn’t justify all the down ticks!

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
8 months ago
Reply to  Martin Butler

I delight in downticks.. I know I’m on the right track given the ‘political persuasion’ of the average Unherder..

Martin Butler
Martin Butler
8 months ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

Yes think I’m a bit like that!

Jacqueline Burns
Jacqueline Burns
8 months ago
Reply to  Walter Marvell

Starmer also fails to implement cost/benefit analysis in his promoted plans eg to add VAT to the costs of Independent/ Private Schools & cancel their charitable status.
BENEFITS (from his point of view): All that VAT & Corporation Tax based on over 600,000 student fees.
COSTS: 600,000 possible students needing state school places (@ ÂŁ8,000 / child). Numerous excellent teachers out of work &, possibly, emigrating if they refuse to work in our chaotic, overcrowded state school system & choose to get a new job in a country where they can teach children who, at least, all speak the same language as they teach in! Or, just ‘retire’ & set up their own private tutoring schemes for children local to them. No additional VAT or CT income.
RESULT: More costs for the tax system, no benefit for anyone!
Perhaps he should remember that those who send their children to these schools have already paid into the tax system for their children’s state education & are using already taxed income to pay their fees. Alternatively, the Associations which represent these schools should demand that the Dept. of Education pay over to them that ÂŁ8,000 / child since they are saving the country the costs of poorly educating them.

Martin Butler
Martin Butler
8 months ago

That sense of decline, which is real enough, is not actually because people feel bad about the latest GDP figures, or because we feel country XYor Z is doing better than us, it is simply because far too many, mainly from the younger age groups, are discovering that the prospect of amassing the kind of wealth their parents had, particularly in terms of housing and pensions, seems a distant if not impossible dream. And of course those whose parents haven’t done that well have no prospect of acquiring that wealth when their baby boomer or gen X parents finally pass away. The opportunity the lucky have is not with regards to their career but with what they can do when they inherit the house (or at least when the bank of mum and dad come up with the deposit for their first house). Equal opportunities it is not. And public services don’t seem quite what their parents enjoyed either. Its all very generational.

Last edited 8 months ago by Martin Butler
Billy Bob
Billy Bob
8 months ago
Reply to  Martin Butler

Welcome back to the days of the landed gentry!

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
8 months ago
Reply to  Martin Butler

I look back to 1972 when I married aged barely 22. I had a poorly paid white collar job but we returned from our honeymoon in the Balearics to our own fully furnished 3b +garage semiD that cost ÂŁ3,400, only 3 times my small annual salary. 2 years later I had 2 kids, a full-time stay at home mum, one small salary. We wanted for nothing. Holiday in the sun every year.. no debts whatsoever apart from a mortgage! What went wrong!

Steve Underwood
Steve Underwood
8 months ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

You are talking about exceptional circumstances in 1972. In 1976 a low end 3 bed + garage semi on the outskirts of London was 20k to 25k. By 1978 it was 40k to 50k, but 1976-1978 saw massive inflation that lead to legally mandated salary increments every few weeks. When those houses cost 45k, a reasonable salary was maybe 8k to 10k, and the interest rates were so high a mortgage was as eye watering as it is today.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
8 months ago

I was privileged in that I had a great mortgage rate (compared to the average) as a perk to my paltry salary.. But if everyone gained from my ÂŁ3,400 house (land owner, builder etc) why is it now more like 12 times an average salary rather than 3 times a poor salary? Qui bono? Some greedy degenerate is growing obscenely rich, right. What’s the other explanation?

Paul T
Paul T
8 months ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

“Greedy degenerate” says it all; you neatly sidestep the growth of single person households, the fracturing of extended families, over a decade of ultra-low interest rates, ossified and restrictive planning rules and gigantic inward migration which are the chief drivers of house price inflation.

R Wright
R Wright
8 months ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

The pension ponzi scheme is what went wrong.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
8 months ago
Reply to  R Wright

How is the Pension Ponzi scheme related? How was it different then?

Paul T
Paul T
8 months ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

The public sector one coupled with the massive tax raid on private pensions by Brown which bequeathed the BTL craze.

Rob Mcneill-wilson
Rob Mcneill-wilson
8 months ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

Politicians stopped attending to the needs of the nation and its people, i.e. their most fundamental purpose.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
8 months ago

Bullseye!

Barrie Clements
Barrie Clements
8 months ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

Just wondering where you were living ? I started work as a graduate engineer in 1972 on a similar salary and a 3 bed semi without garage where I was living in a Manchester superb was about ÂŁ5 – 6 thousand. I was also refused a mortgage as I hadn’t been working for 2 years.

Andy Iddon
Andy Iddon
8 months ago
Reply to  Martin Butler

Dispossession took only 40 years.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
8 months ago

The government prints money and gives it to banks who invest it in the property market where, for the most part, the profit is not taxed. At the same time the government brings in millions of new people on the pretext that this is good for the economy when it’s most palpable effect is to push up rents and house prices, making the property market even more profitable. As a consequence we have a financial system under which the most reliable way to get rich is to work for the government and get a mortgage.
And we wonder why the economy is stagnating?

Walter Marvell
Walter Marvell
8 months ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

100%. A Potemkin Village with an Open Border. A Debt Bubble economy with an Elite Propetocracy pulling off the greatest Rigged Market Heist in History.

Tyler Durden
Tyler Durden
8 months ago

His ‘grand plan’ seems to be to copy the Democrats’ green corporatism, negotiate an associate membership of the EU single market and with some SNP and Liberal campaigning if not parliamentary support set off down the road to a referendum to the euro for 2030.
Other ministers make some noises about introducing a more Continental funding model for the NHS but that’s about it, apart from the usual tinkering with state education.

Walter Marvell
Walter Marvell
8 months ago
Reply to  Tyler Durden

They are plain infantile, unfit for adult political responsibility. An empty vessel. Let the clever people in Brussels and the EU command us again and despatch boxes of new laws to us every Monday!! Ah the easy life!! Let the unknown ECHR Judges determine our laws on borders and migration in secret in the night! Let the corrupt UN command us on lockdown & health policy!!. Look and see just how multilateral and internationalist we are!!!! Well….the tide will soon be out once they start to speak – and the blank Emperor and his Army of the Entitled Metro Blobs (plus in the rear his raging class warriors eco fruit cases and race obsessives) will soon be seen to be naked..
on their knees of course…feeling very cold, empty handed and in great need of heat and resuscitation. Hopefully a more clued up people will deny them both.

Ron Wigley
Ron Wigley
8 months ago
Reply to  Walter Marvell

Great posts Walter, so uplifting, then back to reality!

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
8 months ago
Reply to  Walter Marvell

Yes, give ’em all a damn good thrashing, Basil Fawlty style.. after they freeze to death they’ll soon come to their senses! Yar..

Alex Carnegie
Alex Carnegie
8 months ago

Interesting slice of history but basically more of the fatalistic pessimistic moaning that dominates UnHerd. No hint of a solution. At the risk of betraying my age, it reminds me of the mood in the late 1970s and early 1980s when the optimists talked of “managing decline” and the pessimists of assorted dystopias. This was followed by a period of renewal, energy and restored self confidence. Maybe Britain is like an alcoholic or substance abuser who has to hit “rock bottom” before staging a recovery. At this rate, we may get there quite soon.

R Wright
R Wright
8 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

“This was followed by a period of renewal, energy and restored self confidence.”

A bonanza born out of the proceeds of sale from the selling off of much of the British state to foreigners. That high wore off.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
8 months ago
Reply to  R Wright

Yep, ‘sold off the family silverware and now unhappy using wooden spoons..

Christopher Chantrill
Christopher Chantrill
8 months ago

Maybe the answer is that politicians should stay in their lane and restrict their ambition to defending the borders and cudgeling the criminals. Yes, major, I quite agree: a bit of a c**k-up on the border front right now.

And let the rest of us get on with working on the white heat of technology, not to mention wiving and thriving and birthing and like stuff.

Steve Underwood
Steve Underwood
8 months ago

“Today, we might not think of the Sixties as a time of crippling self-doubt and doom” was clearly written by someone who wasn’t there. The 60s and early 70s were the period when Britain turned from moving forwards to moving downwards most clearly. Nothing went well. In 1960 the UK was still a clear industrial leader. BMW would have given a lot to be Rover. By the mid 70s Britain was failing badly in every new industrial area, like semiconductors and software. Even the technologies Britain was at the very foundation of in the 60s, like optical communications, were slipping away. Everything since has just continued this slide. Some people make a big deal of immigration, and completely transforming the population of a city like London in 50 years is definitely going to have its consequences. People talk less about emigration, where many of the best minds have left for real opportunity elsewhere. Its a long time since I heard the term brain drain outside a historical documentary, but it continues. British people are still the highly innovative people who built the industrial revolution. They just aren’t innovating in the UK any more. Go anywhere in the world where interesting things are happening and you will find them sprinkled about.

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
8 months ago

“Britain, after all, could not hope to maintain its imperial power without the empire — and it could not hope to remain so much richer than every other European country.” The suggestion that Britain could not expect to remain the richest country in Europe because it did not have a n Empire is totally illogical. Germany became the richest country in Europe and it didn’t have an Empire post-1945. The explanation for Britain’s relative economic decline IS the nature of the people that have been in government. Too many lawyers and students of PPE and the Classics and too few scientists and business people.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
8 months ago

Maybe so.. certainly the Germans seemed to expect their leaders to have some qualifications pertinent to the engineering/scientific/business world we live in, rather than “career politicians” who seem to major in graft, jockeying and bone idleness.

Paul T
Paul T
8 months ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

But Merkel is the chief reason for Germany’s growing economic decline.

Adrian Doble
Adrian Doble
8 months ago

Today is National Manufacturing Day. The UK produces ÂŁ224bn of which 49% is exported. The sector employs 2.6million people.

Positive people will always find opportunity. Negative thinking will only ever find fault.

I remember UB40 releasing “I am a 1 in 10 (unemployed)” in 1981. 12% 1983. Today, as Hunt and Bailey celebrate impending recession to bring inflation down from 6.5% unemployment is 4.3%.

Last edited 8 months ago by Adrian Doble
rob drummond
rob drummond
8 months ago

you say ”The white heat of Britain’s decline” – but at least you also explain that UK has just overtaken France as an industrial power – quite a feat since, like Ireland, France also has ”funny money” as a significant part of its economy. Strip that out (and lets not mention France’s obligations to the ECB/Shadow banking) and the picture is quite different with regards to GDP PPN.
In the case of France, the funny money is along the lines of:
Where (say) Quantas buys an Airbus, and choses Rolls Royce Engines, then up to 60% of the value of that airbus, is from The UK. These include – obviously the engines at ÂŁ12m or so a pop. The wings at goodness knows what, the wiring loom, seats, landing gear and a lot more.
France basically assembles the whole thing with parts from many countries, but the value of the assembley is a small part of the value of the whole aircraft.
Instead of the value of the assembley (and perhaps a little bit of manufacturing) – they get to book the whole value through their ”GDP” – thus inflating the value of French GDP. This sort of thing totally accounted for the French economy showing ”economic growth” in the last quarter (due to a bunching of activity like this) – strip that out and it would be a different story.
The UK has – rightly – booked its 60% value, as it invoices Airbus for the parts & supplies.
Then on top – France gets to boast massive ”exports” – as the full value of the plane is billed to a non-EU country (in this case Australia).

Last edited 8 months ago by rob drummond
Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
8 months ago
Reply to  rob drummond

All modern money at state level is funny if you ask me.. conjured out of thin air via quantitative easing, massuve borrowing and u affordable debt.. all banksterism..

Kirk Susong
Kirk Susong
8 months ago

“Its relative wealth and power, therefore, were always going to atrophy.”
I find this author’s attempted critique of Britain’s depressive condition to be depressing in its own right.
Why is there a universal assumption that Britain’s decline was fated by the gods from the start? Britain’s decline, in my opinion, came about from the deleterious effect of central planning, socialistic thinking and group politics that become ever more prominent in Britain’s political and social life from the end of the 19th century through to the present.
Britain scaled the heights of economic power, becoming by far the richest and most powerful country on earth in a period of several decades cresting in the mid-to-law 19th century, not due to ‘industrial policy’ or ‘social schemes’, but thanks to a laissez faire economy that unleashed the inherent potential of its calm, orderly society.
Britain’s gradual series of decisions to abandon these principles is what has led to its present feeble state. Just get the hell out of the way, enforce the rule of law equally on all classes of people, and watch people do the rest…

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
8 months ago

 â€œHis decomposing visage and somehow seedy attire conveyed the impression of an ageing and eccentric clergyman, who had been induced to play the part of a Prime Minister,” wrote the satirist Malcolm Muggeridge. 
His decomposing visage and somehow seedy attire conveyed the impression of an ageing and eccentric clergyman – I always thought this of Malcolm Muggeridge

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
8 months ago

The same thought occurred to me.. kettle and pot like! Somehow it was less important though how MM looked.. a bit like Russell Brand MM found God/spirituality later in life.. I don’t know if Mac ever did or perhaps had always been so?

Andy Iddon
Andy Iddon
8 months ago

Mehh.
We have been made a country only suitable for the rich.

Last edited 8 months ago by Andy Iddon
Douglas Redmayne
Douglas Redmayne
8 months ago

Productivity needs to be increased. This means encouraging automation through relief on corporation tax for capital investment and upskilling the workforce appropriately. The government should also improve rail infrastructure ( especially freight) and build new towns and only allocate housing in them to younger people who are IK citizens In engineering or technologically based employment which will be encouraged to locate in such towns via grants. The relevant technologies are robotics, self driving vehicles and life sciences such as genetic engineering.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
8 months ago

Didn’t Orwell caution against such measures? What will better productivity achieve? More stuff we don’t need, using more fossil fuels, creating more COÂČ so we can destroy the environment faster?

Walter Marvell
Walter Marvell
8 months ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

Fertiliser Liam?

Jacqueline Burns
Jacqueline Burns
8 months ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

How about grants for changing production to produce the things we do need & used to be able to produce so we didn’t need to import them? Just asking!

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
8 months ago

Now yer talking.. a total rethink on what we do and don’t need. For sure, manufacture can be greener in both senses.. greener production of greener products than really do enhance lives..
I haven’t made a list but I suspect a good 80% of goods are either useless or downright damaging or even designed to kill, maim and destroy lives!
The drive for growth and productivity is crazy.. As you say, government should be promoting quality and sustainability and indeed overall wellbeing.

Kevin Godwin
Kevin Godwin
8 months ago

Oh come on that’s just plain common sense. Couldn’t possibly work!

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
8 months ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

Who’s “we”? I don’t own one of those absurd EVs that require children to labor in hellish lithium mines. Productivity and clean energy would be easily achieved with nuclear power, but that sensible option was thoroughly demonized by moonbats (who are now gluing their appendages to asphalt), so here we are, back to coal, to, what? Be followed by whale oil?

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
8 months ago

I agree with you 100% and cannot see what you find objectionable in what I said?

Dominic A
Dominic A
8 months ago

So if the Pols are caught in some sort of doom loop, then so are the people. With just a few updates (such as still-breathing actors – Leonard Rossiter, Geoffrey Palmer RIP), this sketch could be a cutting-edge parody for our times-
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xb82v7wh1Fw
Any thoughts as to which Unherd regulars most closely resemble Palmer’s character?

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
8 months ago

The biggest obstacle to prosperity and a functioning society is government. Always.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
8 months ago

Yes, the market is always king, except of course, when it f*cks up completely as in 2007. That’s exactly why we have all that tiresome banking regulation in place.

Andy Iddon
Andy Iddon
8 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Can there be a true market without effective regulation to ensure it is not abused by the powerful?

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
8 months ago
Reply to  Andy Iddon

Easy one, that. The answer is a very definite NO!

Ray Andrews
Ray Andrews
8 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Allison should have moved to Somalia by now don’t you think? For a while there they had no government and it was a The Free Marketers paradise. Haiti is good too, their government is mostly gone.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
8 months ago
Reply to  Ray Andrews

How about Italy? it’s closer than Somalia and Haiti.. it’s governments are usually too busy to think about governing the country. Italy seems to manage well enough in its quasi anarachist state?

Dominic A
Dominic A
8 months ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

I have a couple of friends living in Rome – the bureaucracy is off the scale, although the anarchy option (bribes) can speed things up. Then there are the unwritten social and culinary rules – makes Victorians seem laid back.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
8 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

..but surely the 2007 FU occurred because of a LACK of regulation?

Kirk Susong
Kirk Susong
8 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Or were there perhaps govt regulations which caused that problem? This was just ably described in the US context in another article either here or in City Journal… it was govt requiring banks to undo their standard risk assessments (in the name of equity, of course) which created a huge bag of underwater loans.

Paul T
Paul T
8 months ago
Reply to  Kirk Susong

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac being forced to give mortgages to people with no income you mean?

Dominic A
Dominic A
8 months ago

Name one prosperous functioning society without a government.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
8 months ago

..a bad government, yes. But a good government can surely do great things as well? Look at China!

Bryan Dale
Bryan Dale
8 months ago

Great nations are built by their people and destroyed by their governments. By meddling in business via a grand “industrial strategy” whereby the government tells business how to build the economy and its current incarnation, the civilisation destroying NetZero, the government can be guaranteed to thwart the industrious efforts of its citizens.

j watson
j watson
8 months ago

History never exactly repeats, but some things seem to have a pattern and we can learn from them if inquisitive enough to look. Appreciated this balanced and insightful article on this theme.
The potential Starmer parallels with Wilson all the rage at the moment. If Starmer does get to Number 10 in 24 then he certainly inherits a more difficult economic situation than Blair in 97 and more similar to 64 – where the inheritance was pretty dreadful and Wilson never managed to get on top of.
That said Britain was changed for ever by the Wilson Govt on the ‘social side’ – legalised abortion, legalised homosexuality, abolition of death penalty, tackling racial discrimination with legislation for first time, the Sex Discrimination act (women couldn’t open a Bank acct in own name before!). Now no doubt some of the UnHerd commentariat trace the start of the dreaded Woke to these fundamental changes and would have preferred the ‘Grouse Moor’ brigade retained power, but only a tiny odd minority would go back to pre 64. We changed and for the better.

Last edited 8 months ago by j watson
Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
8 months ago
Reply to  j watson

“legalised abortion, legalised homosexuality, abolition of death penalty, tackling racial discrimination with legislation for first time”.
With the exception of abortion, no democratic mandate existed for any of the other measures.

Most were indifferent to homosexuality, then referred to as ‘queer’ behaviour. Aside from the brief ‘clamp down’ organised by David Maxwell Fyfe MP in the 50’s, the authorities quite rightly rather ignored it.

The vast majority were quite happy with the Death Penalty, vociferous opposition, such as it was, coming from the usual bunch of cranks, such as the late Lord Longford & Co.

Racial discrimination was only exacerbated by the 1965 Race Relations Act. A typical piece of completely unnecessary Parliamentary inference, that only served to inflame the situation.

Aside from that,what Wilson & Co did do, to their everlasting shame was ignore the situation in Northern Ireland until it was too late, and then act in such a spineless manner as to initiate a 30 year Civil War.

Perhaps the greatest social benefit of the age, the invention/introduction of the PILL, which owed absolutely nothing to Parliament whatsoever.

Last edited 8 months ago by Charles Stanhope
Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
8 months ago

What form of intervention should Wilson have introduced in NI and when exactly? I presume you’ll suggest some Draconian measures, with lots of ‘capital punishment’ – am I right?

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
8 months ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

The Army should should have been sent in a year earlier, ie: 1968, and Martial law should have been declared.

Don’t worry Liam old chap, you’re lot (Fenians) would NOT have been the target, but, and to lapse into the ‘local’ vernacular for a moment, the “Proddy dogs” would have been. All clear?

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
8 months ago

It’s not too late for that.. Being serious, the awful discrimination and gerrymandering should have been dismantled years earlier and the civil rights marches (which wouldn’t have been needed if that had been done) should have been heeded and reacted to as a very late response. The IRA hardly existed at the time. Golden opportunities were missed.
The situation might repeat itself on the mainland if there isn’t a redistribution of GB’s vast wealth soon..

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
8 months ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

Absolutely correct, with the exception of your final paragraph.

Unfortunately from 1922 HMG had a sort of gentleman’s agreement with the Loyalist that they would run their little tin pot state on an equitable basis.
They DIDN’T, but HMG didn’t notice as it was too preoccupied with the Depression, another war, building the utopian Welfare State etc etc.
Thus by the mid 1960’s when of much of sainted working class of GB was getting comparatively ‘wealthy’, eg: Cortina Car, holidays in Benidorm etc, Northern Ireland was about to explode because of 40 years of rampant injustice.
I seem to recall that the largest employer in Belfast, the shipbuilder Harland & Wolff, (of ‘Titanic’ fame), had 15,000 employees, and not a single Catholic amongst them, great!

You are also quite correct that the IRA was completely moribund during the Civil Rights protests, and it took 16 months from September 1969 to February 1971 to kill its first British soldier*.

Thus just to bore you, I maintain that Harold Wilson should have deployed the Army a year earlier, declared Martial law, and made the Protestant/Loyalist thugs of the Shankill and Newtonards Roads the priority target, provoked a confrontation if necessary, and thus shot about 50 of them. The proverbial “whiff of grapeshot” you might say!

As it was ‘we’ all had a very nasty internecine civil war that killed over 3,000. Had HMG being paying attention from 1922 onwards this need not have happened.

(* Gunner Curtis, Royal Artillery, KIA, New Lodge, Belfast.)

Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
8 months ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony
Chris Bradshaw
Chris Bradshaw
8 months ago

That Harold Wilson is Starmer’s ‘hero’ is part of the problem.
I don’t want a politician whose hero is another politician. I want one whose hero is Frank Williams or Ranulph Fiennes or T.S. Eliot. Someone with a hinterland.

Edward De Beukelaer
Edward De Beukelaer
8 months ago

Maybe it is the way we approach our economy : piecemeal opinions an views wile it is really a very complex system that in reality evolves everything that happens on this earth. Maybe we should listen to those who think and write about system view of life .. and somebody wrote a book called plan B. Instead of just considering money we could consider life. A huge paradigm shift but in view of all the problems we have Maybe worth investigating.
.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
8 months ago

Great plans seem to be working wonderfully for the Chinese. Our rentier economy is dead in the water.

Phineas
Phineas
8 months ago

Well humility is needed. And reality. The days of Empire long gone. Leaving EU petty and nostalgic. Enough about making England great Settle down like Holland and Denmark. Grow up

Caradog Wiliams
Caradog Wiliams
8 months ago

When Wilson came on the scene, Britain had for ever been governed by the upper class ‘twits’. Wilson was extremely clever, as the article points out several times, and he wasn’t quite working class but he put on a working class act – with his pipe and raincoat and regular references to Mary at home.
Where Wilson could never have succeeded when he became Prime Minister is that the financial institutions were still run by the upper class twits. At that time there was still a need to balance the budget and the ‘twits’ made sure that the value of the pound was never stable, thus scuppering any move made by the government.
The bad news is that the ‘twits’ still control the financial institutions and the finances of the country.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
8 months ago

Come off it the “twits”have been running the ‘City’ quite successfully for four centuries.
True there have been the odd blunders, but still it is an extraordinary record, that saw the successful financing of Jacobean exploration, Imperial conquest, numerous European wars, the abolition of slavery, the Industrial Revolution, and even the wretched Welfare State.
Who else but the “twits” could have pulled that off?

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
8 months ago

It is true that the “Twits” did have two talents: ruthlessness (as you intimidated though in more positive terms) and self enrichment. The benefits that accrued to the state were extracted from the Twits rather than bestowed. Or, perhaps they might have thought “we have to avert a peasant revolt so we better scatter some crumbs” – a thought that seems absent these days thereby making the peasant revolt more likely perhaps.. we already see signs in organised shop looting don’t we?

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
8 months ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

Don’t you mean intimated NOT intimidated?

Otherwise as you well know, it was a very successful application of the concept of ‘Noblesse oblige’, coupled with judicious timing of the Reform Acts of 1832 & 1867.

Sadly the introduction of the Welfare State post 1945 was obviously a serious blunder. Still you ‘can’t win e’m all’ as they say!

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
8 months ago

“…intimated NOT intimidated…”
Either will do. There’s nothing more intimidating in Unherd Comments (for those of a disposition likely to feel intimidated) than your use of the capitalised NOT!

Caradog Wiliams
Caradog Wiliams
8 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Except maybe, attention-seeking by insidting on a small ‘i’ – a ridiculous affectation.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
8 months ago

Thanks for drawing attention to it – yet again. Now toddle off, and stop being such a bore.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
8 months ago

“insidting”?

Caradog Wiliams
Caradog Wiliams
8 months ago

That cider again.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
8 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

I think we shall have to ask Mr John Solomon to adjudicate, yet again!

(Incidentally I would use bold not capitals if only I knew how to work this infernal machine.
Sadly no compliant grandchild is within lassoing range.)

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
8 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Ha ha.. I know Charlie by now.. he’s not all bad, despite his best efforts to be so!!

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
8 months ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

Yes, that’s very much the spirit in which i exchange comments with him; something which our Welsh commenter appears to have misinterpreted.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
8 months ago

Yes of course, ‘intimated’ but wait.. eh, no; let’s stay with intimated! Yes, Noblesse Oblige is again the positive spin, but to be fair, there were indeed some major figures who clearly saw their Christian duty to share – such a pity we don’t have those guys today eh? How about yerself?

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
8 months ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

I employ an ‘army’ of feudal retainers and I think that is enough.

Caradog Wiliams
Caradog Wiliams
8 months ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

Good point about the shoplifting; it is a peasant revolt. You can add those who refuse to go to work because of ‘mental health issues’. The questions, ‘Why work?’ or ‘Why have children?’ demonstrate a revolution against societal norms.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
8 months ago

There are NO peasants left, they have been swept from the land by the industrialisation of farming.

The people you speak of are feral thieves, and should be dealt with as such.

Better photo recognition CCTV and more proactive * security guards might help if the Police haven’t the ‘bottle’ to lapse into the vernacular.

(* Preferably ex military.’

Caradog Wiliams
Caradog Wiliams
8 months ago

Great theory for past times. But I know and you know that it ain’t gonna happen today. So, what’s the point?

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
8 months ago

Vigilantism will break out, followed by mass looting and rioting. The Police will run away, and our somewhat unfit, , blobby, multi cultural, gender neutral Army will try to hold the line.
For how long is a mute to point but I suspect not much longer than the Bastille.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
8 months ago

..would just make matters worse Charlie! Ye can’t keep the lid on it! Share the wealth and stop screwing people to the wall! If it isn’t rebellion it’ll be Mosely2.. or worse still, Nigel Farrage!!

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
8 months ago

At least the rumblings of a peasant revolt maybe? If the greed gets any worse I fear French style revolution. Share the wealth!!