2020 vision — the broader picture
The Blair/Clinton and friends project represented the final flowering of the old post war consensus, but of course Thatcher and Regan had already torn up the old social contract it was built on. It was doomed as a vehicle for carrying it forward, but that was not its purpose. The creepy cabal of war mongers and delusional free market ideologues who wanted to pretend history was over and capitalism victorious needed a quiet period to consolidate the changes they had made and keep the rump of the working class union movement quiet while they did so. This wasn’t conscious, but I remember that in the UK there was definitely a feeling of exhaustion towards the end of the Thatcher era, and the credit boom was making it look like we needed a more optimistic, forward-looking government.
The defeat of the unions had been spun into a great victory for the country as a whole, and indeed the ultimate justification for New Labour. If I talk to others who were around in the 70’s and 80’s they mumble about the strikes in the coal and rail industries, and the three day week that meant we had to get by on candles occasionally before Thatcher came in and sorted the unions out. Nobody starved, nobody died, and the strikers were extremely careful not to compromise hospitals and other emergency services. These workers were defending their jobs and the services they provided, they stretched their industrial muscles, they were defending the needs of their members and the working class in general. The delusion and nascent atomisation of solidarity was so well done that people can no longer see who us and them really was. Looking back, this was one of the first victories for the right wing press spinning things to break up the consensus, although they’d been doing the usual lying through their teeth for years.
Once history was over government became a competition between which management style would work best, and the aggressive and somewhat deranged bark of the old Tories wasn’t wanted. New Labour promised to undo the anti-trade-union laws, and the beginnings of the NHS sell off hidden in the splitting of the authorities into commissioning bodies and service delivery, but in fact they made them worse and didn’t undo the work. What they did do was soften us up, reassure us that things were getting better after the long trauma of the Thatcher years, and at first it seemed like it was true. UK Plc had a new smooth CEO and all was right with the world. He left the…