well remember Will Hutton’s columns
in the Guardian and Observer during the dark days of Thatcherism;
here was the riposte to the idea that there was no alternative.
At that time Mr Hutton, along with William Keegan, were conducting
a desperate rearguard battle against a tidal wave of monetarism
and neo-liberalism. Hutton was indefatigable in his attacks
on the new orthodoxy and became a focus of anti-Thatcher
sentiment as well as the champion of Rhineland capitalism.
Rhineland capitalism described a type of capitalist economy
prevalent in mainland Europe which was based upon industrial
banking, a comprehensive welfare state, small equity markets,
dynamic and research-intensive manufacturing, comprehensive
training and education, strict company laws and also a tightly
regulated financial sector.
Times have changed it seems. Judging from his most recent
articles Mr Hutton seems to have undergone some sort of Damascene
conversion. In hindsight and by his own admission it appears
that he was wrong about the Thatcher ‘reforms’.
Consider this for example: ‘Looking back after 20 years,
it is clearer that the defeat of Scragill was vital for the
economy, the labour market, the environment, the public interest
and progressive politics … With the miners defeated,
Thatcher’s reforms of the labour market could proceed
apace and New Labour has not been minded to revoke them’.
(Why King Cole Had to Die – Observer 6 March 2005).
So there we have it, Mrs Thatcher was right all along and
the Blair/Brown axis have wisely accepted the tenets of the
1979 settlement and the continuation of her market based
solutions to economic problems. Moreover, far from extolling
Rhineland capitalism any longer Mr Hutton now actively opposes
it praising the virtues of the once reviled Anglo-Saxon model.
Britain we are told ‘ … is in remarkably good
shape … and in a position to shape the European debate
so vital to our interests, a tribute to how the Blair-Brown
leadership has run the country and which its critics from
both the traditional left and right could never match.’ He
even goes on to say that sclerotic old Europe should adopt
our superior mode of economic organisation. ’Britain,
to our collective surprise, offers Europe a distinctive economic
and social model from which it needs to borrow and whose
strengths more and more Europeans recognise.’
People like Mr Hutton might like to enquire as to why the
neo-liberal prospectus has never had any appeal among the
European electorates. If deregulation, privatisation and
liberalisation are so good why do these misguided people
always seem to vote against? But let is pass.
Mr Hutton is right about one thing though: smashing the
miners’ strike did indeed pave the way – it paved
the way for grinding down and intimidating the rest of working
people with the fear of unemployment and some of the toughest
anti-union laws in the developed world. The scene was now
set for the creation of a low wage, post-industrial economy.
The other features of the period were two deep downturns:
one in the early 80s and another in the early 90s. These
were more than simply recessions since they involved the
collapse of asset prices and a massive shake out in British
manufacturing. The long upturn since 1995 has its origins
in the massive devalorisation of capital which took place
during the Thatcher slumps, together with factors such as
the house-price bubble and household debt which have kept
the growth momentum going since then.
It seems that Mr Hutton has fallen victim to the British
Wirtshaftwunder myth now widely propagated and rarely challenged
in the political or media milieux.
The sad story of Will Hutton is hardly novel however. This
is what happens to almost every British radical – with
the possible exception of J.M.Keynes - who attempts to challenge
the system from within. The Labour party and its leaders
are, of course, the paradigm example of this process. One-time
crusaders with a will to effect change from the inside simply
become absorbed and integrated into the existing structures
and political values (with apparent alacrity in Blair’s
case); eventually they transmute into defenders of the existing
order; often very partisan defenders.
This is a systemic feature of bureaucratised societies.
Moreover, given the track record there seem no compelling
reasons to think that it will ever be any different. One
is reminded of Michels’ closing words in this respect: ‘It
is probable that this cruel game will continue without end.’ (Political