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Archive for Wednesday, January 4, 2006

British conservatism unravels under Blair

January 4, 2006

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— In his New Year's message, British Prime Minister Tony Blair promised "critical decisions" in 2006 which, he said, will determine his country's future for generations to come.

He might begin by dismantling the big government he and his Labour Party have built on the ashes of the British welfare state demolished by former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

In a recent society section of the liberal Guardian newspaper, several pages advertised vacancies on the government payroll, some of them offering six-figure salaries. They include outreach workers, diversity coordinators, policy advisers, liaison officers and a racism awareness counselor. The average annual pay for these jobs is 10,000 pounds higher than the comparable private sector wage. These are not real jobs - like nurses or business owners - but government positions whose reason for existence is to steal power from the individual and award it to the state.

In his New Year's address, Blair said, "Investment will continue but it must be matched by further change to meet the ever-higher expectations of the public."

Investment is code for more spending and in that one sentence Blair has at once recognized the problem and promised not to do much about it. No liberal (and too few conservatives) in Britain, or America, is about to tell people to stop asking government to look out for them and to begin looking out for themselves; not if they want to stay in power and satisfy the many who desire more of someone else's money.

Britain's post-World War II and pre-Thatcher history was of a once-great empire sinking slowly into irrelevance because its people bought into the inevitability of decline. The British mostly emerged from the war with a deep longing for stability and security. The nanny state was formed to address these concerns. Much of Britain's industry quickly was nationalized to help pay for it. Britain's economy had been the best in the world, but by 1978 it had declined to 69 percent of the American economy.

When Margaret Thatcher became prime minister in 1979, she quickly began dismantling the welfare state, cut taxes and sold off nationalized industries to the public, transforming many of them into stockholders for the first time. Britain's economy revived and Thatcher's policies and optimism reversed the sense of decline.

In a 1990 lecture at The Heritage Foundation, Thatcher summarized her conservative political philosophy. She said that liberalism's approach to government and society was "fed by a mixture of high-brow dogma and low-brow self-indulgence." Ronald Reagan, she said, shared her philosophy, which is why he, too, cut taxes and began removing regulations that restricted free enterprise and risk-taking. America's economy, which had been stagnant, responded with the biggest post-war boom in history.

Such lessons have been forgotten, or deliberately suppressed, in Britain and America. The failure of strong conservative leadership has allowed Blair and his Labour Party to resurrect big government.

Thatcher spoke of self-restraint. The Blair government - which also has presided over same-sex "marriage" and child adoption by nearly any adult in any living arrangement - fears the words "no," "enough" and "no further."

Commenting on growing government, a Dec. 30 editorial in The Daily Telegraph said, "By bloating the state in this way, Labour has created a caste of people with a vested interest in pursuing certain policies. It doesn't much matter how we vote, nationally or locally, as long as decisions are in the hands of strategy coordinators and policy directors."

Britain has retreated from the days of Margaret Thatcher, who said, "A man's right to work as he will, to spend what he earns, to own property, to have the state as servant and not as master. These are the British inheritance. They are the essence of a free country." The alternative is a less-free country, which is what Britain is again becoming.

Perhaps this is due to what was summed up by another "Thatcherism": "Many of our troubles are due to the fact that our people turn to politicians for everything."

In his New Year's address, Tony Blair strongly suggested he does not intend to discourage them.

Cal Thomas is a columnist for Tribune Media Services.

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