Thinking For The Individual

Formerly known as 'Thinking For The People', this site offers some reflections on the state of British society and her people from the perspective of a libertarian Conservative with a passionate belief in the pillars of freedom and responsibility.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

'Re-Privatisation'

It is commonly assumed that the privatisation of coal under Margaret Thatcher did nothing to reverse the decline of the industry. Of course, very few of us in Britain have any problem finding and acquiring our energy. And yes, manufacturing and extractive industries alike were in decline trhroughout most of the twentieth century. And yes, the British economy is moving - perhaps inexorably - towards the new quaternary, high-tech industries of information technology or finance. And yes, now that our economy is more internationalised than ever before, heavy industry can find a much better place to locate than the regulated, taxing modern British economy. Maybe the decline of the coal industry is of no problem to a supposedly affluent and prosperous society like ours.

Unfortunately, I just can't accept this. In the past, conservatives have accused me of either sentimentalism or bad economics because of my belief in the importance of the great industries of yesteryear: the trades which built our nation's economic strength and which made us the foremost power in the world.

Most conservatives agree that private enterprise works. Free markets will always work more effectively - for businesses, for workers and for consumers - than the socialist concepts of collective, centralised planning. The general economic legacy of Thatcherism has been a success, even if its effects still remain barely felt in many parts of our country. As a northerner and a Conservative, I often find myself distancing my position and my philosophy from Margaret Thatcher and her government, not just because my own philosophy is much more libertarian than her actions were, but also because her government did not achieve as much for the long-depressed counties of the north of England, south Wales and the great cities of Scotland as it did for the prosperous pockets of the south. However, the fundamental belief that I and Margaret Thatcher share in private enterprise is something I have no wish to gloss over.

The only problem with Thatcherite privatisation was that, too often, it replaced one State monopoly with a private monopoly. This was probably never more true than in the coal industry.

Back in the Victorian era - to which libertarians and conservatives hark back with glee, for better or worse - coal was a thriving industry. It was of fundamental importance to the modern and exciting railways. It was an important export. The black stuff was what made us great. Of course, coal is undoubtedly a less important resource to our national prosperity today than it was then. But it is still an important commodity, and the lack of evidence of a decline in the industry in other major western economies shows that the typical Tory apology for the decline of coal is flawed.

So coal is still important. If we take for granted that a stronger coal industry in Britain would be a good thing for the nation, and for the individual workers in communities which used to rely on coal, then we can take a trip into the question of how we would boost coal mining in Britain.

UK Coal is the name of the company which controls most of what is left of the remaining industry in Britain. One big, national corporation, looking after all that remains. That's not private enterprise to me. In the Victorian era, coal mines were usually run by a local entrepreneur or a consortium, or a factory owner who wished to diversify for the economic interest of his firm. Despite the onset of globalisation, and the growth of the multinational, I feel that local, independent, private ownership of industry is still possible, and in the best interest of businesses, workers and consumers.

And that is the idea I put forward, in this great debate on our economy: that the government come to an agreement with UK Coal which would dismantle the entire company, and which would put every coal mine in Britain up for sale - even all those which have been left in a disused state for decades. Local entrepreneurs, consortiums and national or international businesses alike will be invited to make offers for whichever coal mine takes their interest. And when all those mines which have been left to rot are back up and running, that will be when we can say we have achieved.

It may not work. It may just be another of those pie-in-the-sky, well-intention but really very fatuous ideas that, I readily admit, men like me are famed for!!!

But it worked in the past. Yes, the British economy was very different when our economy was based on the principles of that independent, localised, entrepreneurial free enterprise. But in our modern era, the manufacturing and extractive industries have been in terminal decline for so long that by now it is fair to say that they are extinct. That is not a good thing for those communities throughout Britain which have been destroyed by this desperate trend. And it is for all those young men who are in need of work, for those communities who are in despair, and for the interest of the nation, that I propose this 're-privatisation'.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Willetts Backs Davis

This is huge! The man thought of as the intellectual powerhouse of the Conservative Party, whose support has been canvassed from all the candidates for the leadership, is set to back David Davis to become the next Leader.

As David Davis finally steps up his campaign, he strikes too all the right notes with his speech calling for a new Tory idealism, stressing the importance of right-wing solutions for the problems of most concern to moderate conservatives, such as tackling the underbelly of poverty in the inner cities throughout Britain (even though I have always believed there was a common consensus in the party about this, as I have discussed after the general election on this blog).

This is very good news for David Davis and for the future of the Conservative Party, not to mention the whole country!

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

The Politics Of Trust

There can be little doubt that trust is the decisive issue in any electoral campaign. No political party in living memory has ever been elected to govern with a decisive mandate in this country without the having the trust of the British people to run the economy. The Conservatives were kicked out of office in 1997 after scandal upon scandal which made the people inevitably lose faith and trust in their ability to govern. In 1979, the people refused to back Jim Callaghan's Labour government after it took the country down a perilous path and into a serious economic downturn, not to mention the Winter of Discontent. Trust in a political party to run the economy and govern honourably and well is the decisive issue in any electoral campaign, and is the foundation without which any elaborate manifesto will fall to pieces.

If the Conservative Party wishes to return to government soon, we can only do so if we are trusted. Trust is the one weapon we need in our arsenal, and it is one of the very few weapons that we can only attain through our own behaviour and our own efforts, and one that we can lose at any moment.

Trust is key to our future as a political party.

However, a radical Conservative platform might turn the issue of trust into something different: a pledge to the people, rather than their feeling for us. A radical Conservative platform would be plain with the British people, and we would get out on the high streets up and down our country, and tell them, "We trust you!"

No mainstream political party trusts the British people with their own lives right now. No political party trusts parents and teachers with the education of children, because all of them are seeking little or no fundamental reform of the structure of state education. No political party trusts patients and doctors with healthcare, because all of them are seeking no fundamental reform to the National Health Service. Indeed, this Labour government is moving in the opposite direction. Labour has no trust in smokers to be responsible with their behaviour in public places. Labour has no trust in parents of toddlers, because they want to provide something they term 'affordable childcare' in a big State network of nurseries and playgroups. Labour has no trust in the British people.

And that is where a Conservative vision for Britain can provide something different. If we trust parents and teachers with the education of children, if we trust doctors and patients with healthcare, if we trust people with their own affairs, then the Conservative Party will be forever remembered as the only political party which had faith in the people of this country, however much they earned, whatever colour their skin, and no matter how they exercised their freedoms and their responsibilities.

These should be the terms of the debate come the next election. The choice facing voters should be clear: do you want a government which thinks you are too foolish, silly and incompetent to run your own lives, or do you want a government which has respect for your choices, which believes in your capacity and your skills and which has trust in each and every one of you?

I believe that a political party which is ready, willing and eager to trust its citizenry is the one which will not only win a great victory, but which will bring deliverance to the people of these isles and build a stronger society, more at ease with itself, and more eager to achieve great feats.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Hurricane Katrina

It is still very hard to come to terms with the enormity of Hurricane Katrina. In the short history of this blog, I have always been rather slow to respond to natural disasters and tragedies of this kind, largely because I never felt I had anything new to offer other than more sympathy and emotion. But with Hurricane Katrina, I feel more confusion than emotion and more a strange kind of anger than sympathy.

The confusion is how this all happened: not the hurricane, as the force of the earth is well known to the people of the Gulf States of the USA; but the aftermath. How is it that this tragedy failed to pull together the people of New Orleans in rugged, gritty harmony, no matter what dangers came their way? How is it that this tragedy, unlike the Asian tsunami or the man-made disasters of September 11th, 2001, and the more recent attacks on the city of London, made the people of New Orleans loot and steal and even shoot and kill? Some thinkers go as far as to say that this is symbolic of how an individualist state of mind destroys society. And then I, as a conservative, capitalist, individualist question my whole philosophy and outlook on life thanks to the behaviour of a few people in the United States whose lives have been ruined.

And then you remember: what kind of fool talks politics after a tragedy of this scale? Disasters do not call for philosophical debates, but for a proper response, and a keen and determined attempt by the authorities to save as many lives as you can. But then you see the response of George W. Bush's administration, which has been at best lacklustre in recent days, offering little other than heavy-handed troops to quell the riots or the stealing or whatever else is going on down there. Bush has visited Louisiana and is due to return tomorrow (Monday), but has been criticised for only seeking a photo opportunity. It's not a good performance from the man, is it?

But then you ask: what can Bush really do? I don't know the answer. More food and clean water, yes. Somewhere for the victims to stay, yes. But then you ask: are governments capable of providing all of that to people? And then you remember not to talk politics after something like this disaster.

And then you think the unthinkable. Is the federal government failing to act decisively because many of the victims are black? As I was sat with friends yesterday evening, one of them said, "Of course, you know why nobody's doing anything about it, don't you?" It wasn't said, but we knew what she meant. But then you think: is it really possible that a western government would ignore a crisis because of the race of the victims? Am I so naive that I'm the only one who thinks it's impossible that a president and a government would even want to behave like that, and then be able to get away with it?!

And then, when your train of thought gets back to where it started, with a natural disaster that has killed so many, and reduced a society to breakdown, when you stop trying to find someone to blame, and when you've given up trying to talk about what it all might lead to in the future and what it means for our understanding of society, you can't help but look at the pictures and hear the stories of the disaster and think, "Bloody hell!"

Friday, September 02, 2005

You Serve In Government For Years And This Is What You Get!!!

After glancing at Gyles Brandreth's diaries of his time as a parliamentarian during the nineties today, I decided to put my investigative skills to the test. Looking through the pages of this chronicle of a government in decline, there are some insights of varying degrees of importance (usually low) which are worth taking a look at, particularly if, like me, you take particular enjoyment out of personal gossip or tales about senior politicians, no matter how old the gossip or the tales are!

Ken Clarke is a man noted for his desire to lead the Conservative Party, unless he is taking part in some elaborate wager to prove that the old saying 'third time lucky' is true. As Chancellor of the Ex-Chequer, Mr. Clarke did succeed in bringing what had been throughout the eighties a volatile economy to heel. However, on March 15th 1994, Brandreth wrote to him, sharing his concern that the Clarke Chancellorship lacked any coherent theme. In his diary, he wrote 'KC has been in government so long and is so comfortable in government, so easy with himself... if he's himself... he assumes the message'll get across'. If opinion polls canvassing the opinions of the general public are anything to go by, he has, over the years, appeared to have done that. However, you have to ask whether that kind of attitude is going to strengthen the Conservative Party's electoral prospects. On the one hand, we have a political climate at present which is unashamedly presidential, and the image of the leader is vital to the success of the party. But no political organisation can succeed without a broad and coherent theme. Ken Clarke's theme as leader of the opposition might end up being devoid of any plan for government, and nothing more than 'Look at me!'.

On Friday 22nd October 1993, Edwina Currie explains to Brandreth why she didn't want to rejoin the government front bench. Of course, now we know a little more about the lady's past, her comments twelve years ago might be taken with a pinch of salt. But she was nonetheless emphatic about Clarke. "Who'd want to be Prisons Minister? And I couldn't stand working for Ken Clarke again. He's impossible."

On Sunday 21st April 1996, Brandreth writes that David Davis (known as 'DD of the SS'), who is by now Europe Minister, is 'unhappy, already difficult, potentially more troublesome... believes he should be in the Cabinet now, now, now'. It's no secret that he's an ambitious man, and certainly by no means a criticism of him!

On Tuesday 15th June 1993, David Cameron was sacked as Chancellor Clarke's special adviser, and Brandreth describes him as someone coming 'from the Right'. That's a rather interesting perspective considering the suspicions many Conservatives have of him now as the candidate of the Soho modernisers (although perhaps not too surprising considering the transition many right-wingers, such as Portillo, who appeared to lose their faith in free markets and capitalism, went through at the end of the last decade).

There appears to be little love lost between Ken Clarke and Malcolm Rifkind when they held the chancellorship and foreign secretaryship together before the election when Rifkind squarely dismissed the idea of the EMU. Clarke was agitated in his private conversation with Brandreth, unhappy that Rifkind had gone against the government line. Perhaps that is why optimists keen on the idea of the 'old guard' regrouping in this leadership election look to be proven wrong.

And finally he may have been ignored on Newsnight's recent coverage of the leadership contest, but I am keen to include him. Dr. Liam Fox is at least twice referred to as 'giggling' in some way. Whatever conclusion you take from that is your own!

Of course, to dredge up all of this many years later is unfair and puts me firmly in league with the most scurrilous of tabloid journalists!! But you can't help think back to the past, for the past shapes our view of the future.