Serious debate is vital for our future

From: Dave Berry


The Telegraph and its readers are to be congratulated on the excellent collection of letters around the economy and public services which appeared on February 3.

It is vital for our democracy that serious debate around this subject continues in order to break the consensus that operates across all mainstream parties, not only in the UK but across much of the world.

Patrick Jenkins misses this point in his letter when he takes Gordon Brown to task for the latest economic recession and the collapse of the world banking system. Gordon was just the latest Government leader to be caught out in the toxic game of “boom and bust pass the parcel”. The rules of the game are that you allow unregulated capitalism to run riot and hope that someone else is in power when the music stops. Philip Hutchinson rightly defines this as “primitive capitalism” and points to the people who benefit from the system. When in power all the opposition parties, both Tory and Lib Dem criticised Brown for trying to regulate too much and sought to portray him as a socialist monolith.

Patrick’s heroic portrayal of Vince Cable as a glorious Cassandra is not correct as in 1999 Cable spoke in the House of Commons Debate on the Finance Bill; “No one,” he said, “is arguing for an increasingly severe, more onerous and dirigiste system of regulation.” Any regulation, he said, should be “done on a light-touch basis”.

Furthermore his record as a Shell economist and contributor to the Orange Book, the Lib-Dem guide to neo-liberalism shows him as a true supporter of the economic consensus. He has also conceded that “The trigger for the current global financial crisis was the US mortgage market,” rather than UK public spending. His true talent is predicting disaster after it has happened and although he may be high profile for the Lib Dem television audience the real power on economic Lib Dem policy is with Danny Alexander and the soon to return David Laws. Poor Vince is not even allowed in the Treasury as Osborne has banished him to the Business Dept.

Philip Hutchinson is bang on when he points out that “only by gaining democratic, political power can we stop....the policies of primitive capitalism.” It is this lack of control that threatens to turn our democratic system into an X-Factor style sham, with the public voting for different colours of neo-liberalism. It was remarkable that more political speeches during this election referred to satisfying the needs of the Bond Market and the City and their “confidence” rather than the confidence of the electorate.

It is highly debatable whether this Government has a mandate to carry our its economic policy given the lack of manifesto coverage for any of its recent policies. Patrick’s call for an apology from Gordon Brown for the recession may mean he has to wait in the queue as we wait for the apologies for the recessions of 1979-83 and 1990-93 as well as the debacle of Black Wednesday and the ERM, with David Cameron in the TV background as a Treasury advisor to Norman Lamont.

The policies on privatisation and public services had their dangers well highlighted in letters by Gerry Bates and Mike Simpkin and carry real fears for those of who can remember Thatcherism and for our parents and grandparents the fear of the depressions of earlier tries at “primitive capitalism”. Democracy itself in the UK came from failure of the private sector to provide adequate public services, if any, and it drove economists like Keynes and Galbraith to recognise the failure of unbridled capitalism. The excellent Galbraith book “The Affluent Society” and its quote of “private affluence and public squalor” demonstrated the unequal societal results of the system and its relation to today is uncanny.

Brown may indeed be damned for his claim to have banished “boom and bust” but his real failure was to trust the global consensus and its financial conjurors. However, he is merely one in a long line of Governments past and current. Given the lessons of history and it may be that our economic salvation is likely to come from history students rather than modern day economists. The writing on the wall was clearly visible as we read of the sacking of council and public service workers and the celebration of a new Sky call centre. I hope we hear more from readers on the fight to change the global consensus which threatens our children’s futures and re-runs rather than rewrites history.