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“It’s a funny old world”

They say that’s what Margaret Thatcher said, the day she fell. I was in the small crowd that watched as the car brought her back from the Commons to Downing Street, a self-conscious little crowd, split about fifty-fifty between sympathisers and opponents, the sort of crowd from which occasional shouts pop out like kittens nervously venturing forth from a cardboard box. I did not shout either to jeer or console; I was only there because at the time I worked in the Treasury building in the next street and wanted to see a little history being made.

It might cheer up any American readers saddened by the result of the recent US election to recall that the first shot in the fusillade that brought the Prime Minister down was this:

On 1 November 1990 Geoffrey Howe, the last remaining member of Thatcher’s original 1979 cabinet, resigned from his position as Deputy Prime Minister over her refusal to agree to a timetable for Britain to join the European single currency.

Howe thought he was making straight the path down which the forces of modernity would march, but he didn’t know the future any more than Thatcher did, or you, or I. I’ll tell you something, though, his political delusion on 1 November 1990 regarding the desirability of currency union looks a lot more foolish now than her personal delusion that she would still have the key to No.10 Downing Street a few weeks later.

That’s the trouble with the future. It won’t stay put.

Today we are hearing much (in tones of glee or despair) about how “a permanent Democratic majority” is emerging, an oligarchy dispensing patronage to fiefdoms of class and race that will only fall when the money runs out, and then with vast misery and perhaps bloodshed. Similar predictions are made for the UK and other developed countries. I do fear that, but a tempering memory, again from my Treasury days in the early nineties, is of seeing earnest policy papers written by Conservative MPs who worried that in order to preserve democracy it might be needful for the Conservative party to split into two, because it was obvious that Labour was never getting back in.

I cannot say quite what I am aiming to do in this post, other than possibly bore some harried souls into tranquility with my recollections des élections perdues and similar political ups and downs. Just saying, it’s a funny old world.

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22 comments to “It’s a funny old world”

  • It’s bad form to comment first on your own posts, but I have a bleg. The day after Thatcher fell (i.e.on or about 23/11/90) the Guardian ran a predictably gleeful piece in which some creative type said how thrilled he and his similarly cultured friends were, dropping in mention of a theatre director he knew who had rang him to say he broken out a bottle of wine etc, etc. And a day or so after that the Guardian (to its credit) published a splendid rant excoriating them all as subsidy-sucking luvvies. It was the first piece I had read that crystallised that strain of resentment. Can anyone else remember this article and provide the name of the author? I would like to read it again and quote from it.

  • I do fear that, but a tempering memory, again from my Treasury days in the early nineties, is of seeing earnest policy papers written by Conservative MPs who worried that in order to preserve democracy it might be needful for the Conservative party to split into two, because it was obvious that Labour was never getting back in.

    And I recall various people (including one of the contributors to this blog) about a decade ago telling me that a realignment was necessary on the Conservative side of politics because it was obvious that the Tories would never get in again. After that, at least one person rather earnestly told me (when Gordon Brown was PM) that Labour were going to lose the next election so thoroughly that they would be completely destroyed and would never be trusted with government by the voters again. (Of course, they haven’t yet, but I doubt anyone would make that claim right now).

    Probably the one redeeming feature of democracy is that it allows you to throw the bastards out when they have become too entitled and corrupt, and replace them with some other bastards, who will hopefully be less entitled and corrupt, at least for a time. What is not always fully understood is that when this happens, it isn’t generally ideologies or parties that are thrown out but individual people – Prime Ministers and senior members of the government who the electorate have become too disgusted with. When it is time for this, alternative people will be voted in to replace the people being voted out, and it often isn’t the political label of these alternative people that matters so much.

    (In my native Australia, when a politician has been voted out, he will normally retire to a career as a lobbyist of some kind for some private organisation, or will simply retire to his home and occasionally write letters to the newspaper. In Britain and the rest of Europe, far too many of them just continue in government, be it through being appointed to the Lord’s, or (much worse) being appointed to cosy jobs in Brussels where they are still paid of the public purse, still have significant power, and just generally don’t go away).

  • Probably the one redeeming feature of democracy is that it allows you to throw the bastards out

    Quite. IIRC, Popper thought the key benefit of democracy was precisely this.

    I must say, Mr Kevin Rudd is not obeying the stereotype of Australian politicians who are content to fade away! Though at least he is not waging his war against Julia Gillard on public money.

    I do agree that the

    cosy jobs in Brussels

    are an outrage. Yet another Treasury reminiscence is of seeing some directive from on high from a Tory grandee saying that Neil Kinnock was to be looked after in a manner befitting his rank after he lost in 1992.

    (Lest I give a false impression with my memories of reading all these policy papers of the mighty, I should say that my own post was that of a mere minion. But I did get to read interesting stuff.)

  • Tedd

    Ever the optimist, I point to Canada where, a decade ago, the Liberals enjoyed a solid majority and forty years of nearly uninterrupted rule, but are now not even the official opposition. The Liberal party couldn’t survive its own success, and we now have a Conservative majority. Things change.

  • 'Nuke' Gray

    A point about the US elections- my paper says they both got 49% of the popular vote, but those damned college kids gave the Big O something like 60% of the vote! I’m surprised they ever adopted it.
    Maybe someone could do a skit on Electoral college, a school that really runs the US, like Hogwarts, but real!

  • Steven

    Probably the one redeeming feature of democracy is that it allows you to throw the bastards out when they have become too entitled and corrupt, and replace them with some other bastards, who will hopefully be less entitled and corrupt, at least for a time.

    That sounds great in theory, but the reality is voters don’t care how entitled or corrupt their member of Congress or Parliament are so long as the pork flows home and the government tit is there. How do you get people to stop voting for a free ride?

  • I must say, Mr Kevin Rudd is not obeying the stereotype of Australian politicians who are content to fade away! Though at least he is not waging his war against Julia Gillard on public money.

    Well, he is a member of parliament (and was Foreign Minister until fairly recently), and he collects a salary and no doubt will collect a pension because of that. What he doesn’t have is any power. The issue with Rudd I think may precisely be that he was *not* thrown out by the voters, but was thrown out in a party coup. He believed (and I suspect still does) that he would have been comfortably re-elected at the subsequent election that Julia Gillard failed to win outright. So I suspect his continued agitation comes from his belief that he has a right to face the voters who elected him in the first place and were not the people who threw him out.

    (Defeated party leaders in Australia are sometimes given cushy ambassadorships abroad or even made Governor-General, but only ever when the same party is in power, and once again we are talking positions without actual power).

  • William H Stoddard

    Thank you for your offer of consolation. Carol and I are both finding ourself in a state I can only call grief—not for Romney, who was only by the barest margin less ghastly than Obama, if even that, but for Obama’s continued presence. It’s strange, because I hadn’t thought I loved my country. But I don’t like seeing what’s happening to it.

  • veryretired

    “Let all the poison in the mud hatch out.”

  • “… but they have to have the whole terrible truth about just how bad it can be before they come to their senses.”

  • Stephen Willmer

    I’m relieved Obama won, for the inverse (or obverse, I’m never sure which) reason I was dismayed the Tories sort of won here in 2010: it’ll make the US’ financial meltdown that much more difficult to pin on libertarianism and free market capitalism.

  • Bruce

    the Guardian (to its credit) published a splendid rant excoriating them all as subsidy-sucking luvvies… Can anyone else remember this article and provide the name of the author? I would like to read it again and quote from it.

    Sounds like a great piece. If you find a link please share it. Thanks.

  • Sam Duncan

    I can’t help thinking that Republicans, and the American “Right” generally, probably felt much the same as it does today throughout most of the 1930s. And the ’40s, although there were other, rather more pressing, distractions then.

    The election of Clinton as President was confidently held by self-hating Brits to mean the end of the so-called special relationship (as was Obama’s). But it didn’t – couldn’t – end, because we do have a special relationship; our shared history and language can’t be erased by some – to quote Robin Day – here-today-gone-tomorrow politician. And this is not the end of American exceptionalism, because America is exceptional. It may be diminished – there’s no doubt that in post-New-Deal America, Leviathan is bigger and stronger than the Founding Fathers could ever have imagined in their wildest nightmares, but it won’t be erased. The fact that Americans are so much more successful in fending centralism, statism, and welfarism off than anyone else, despite this setback, is testament to that. Look at some of those polls from around the world that we saw a few days ago: Romney/Ryan wouldn’t have been given the time of day in most countries, let alone just a whisker shy of half the votes.

    And there’s the rub: Obama won by a few million votes, if that, in an electorate of 120 million. His constituency has been conclusively shown not to be “the 99 percent”, but the 49-point-something percent, same as you. Yes, the trouble with “democracy”, the reason the word as it’s used today deserves to be placed in quotes, is that it’s winner-takes-all. So the moochers and looters won, and run free for another four years. Sure, they can do a lot of damage in that time, and will. But get a grip of yourself, conservative/libertarian/call-it-what-you-will America: it’s not over.

    Britain, I’m not so sure.

  • RAB

    It’s not over here in Britain either Sam, but but bloody well said!

  • Julie near Chicago

    Sam,

    Your wife/dog/other Significant-Other won’t mind if I bring you home for a few days…just so I can bask in the warm glow of Sweet Reason, and peel you the odd grape? …Thank you. :>)

    The “Special Relationship.” Has anybody seen Doctor Gabb’s latest addition to the 21st Century’s belles lettres? One of the most disgusting pieces of bilge I’ve ever had to Clorox my Mac and my eyeballs after viewing. I won’t go into it, my doctor says it’s important to keep my BP down under 400/300.

    But as it happens, even the Sith once implied something perfectly true, which is that there IS such a thing as “British Exceptionalism.” I am very proud to trace my political lineage back to England and the British Isles. GRRRR!!!

    (Posted as “Vive Obama!”–which already tells you all you need to know!–at

    https://libertarianalliance.wordpress.com/2012/11/07/viva-obama/ (Link) )

    –I will note that in my delicate condition (post-yesterday) my nerves may be a little on the raw side. There is some discussion amongst the commenters at the L.A. as to whether S.G. was having us on…at least to some extent.

    I also want to note for the record that there’s a real question as to how much of the vote was fraudulent. Of course we expect a certain amount of “voting irregularities,” but the fact is that Kennedy only “won” the 1960 Presidential election because the Guess-What-City’s Machine got out the fraudulent vote…it’s practically a Democratic Party tradition by now. (Interestingly, Seymour Hersh is the one who made that allegation to Polite Society, in his book The Dark Side of Camelot. It almost makes me think the story’s false.)

    If anyone’s interested in this issue, see

    http://www.examiner.com/article/voter-fraud-cases-defy-democrats-claims-about-election-reform

    I don’t doubt for a second that Republicans do it too, here and there. But I honestly don’t think it’s set-piece of the national Republican modus operandi.

    So, that’s just something for everybody (including Y.T.) to keep in mind, when we excoriate the American Sheeple for re-non-electing What’s-Its-Face.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Smited! Oy, dem cats!

  • Andrew Duffin

    “Probably the one redeeming feature of democracy is that it allows you to throw the bastards out ”

    Great.

    So when (and how) do we throw out Barroso, Rompy-Pompy, Draghi, and all the other bastards who now hold the real power?

  • In Britain and the rest of Europe, far too many of them just continue in government, be it through being appointed to the Lord’s, or (much worse) being appointed to cosy jobs in Brussels where they are still paid of the public purse, still have significant power, and just generally don’t go away).

    It’s worse than that: some of these parasites were never *in* government in the first place, having been overwhelmingly rejected by the electorate. I’m looking at you, Kinnock!

  • Surellin

    Consolation. “There’s a great deal of ruin in a nation”, as Adam Smith said. And “What can’t continue won’t continue”, as Instapundit says.

  • Laird

    “Probably the one redeeming feature of democracy is that it allows you to throw the bastards out.”

    Although apparently we can’t. With congressional retention rates higher than in the old Soviet Politbureau does that line really mean anything anymore?

    I prefer Voltaire: “An ideal form of government is democracy tempered with assassination.” (Now I expect a visit from Homeland Security.)

  • Snorri Godhi

    “Probably the one redeeming feature of democracy is that it allows you to throw the bastards out.”

    As Natalie pointed out, that was one of Popper’s important insights, perhaps his most important original insight, in politics.
    I note that this allows us to rank so-called democracies: to the extent that there is a natural party of government, they are undemocratic.

    Moving on to a more concrete issue:
    Geoffrey Howe gave his speech about 1 week after I moved to England. It was quite an exciting time to be there, especially with the Gulf War and fall of the Soviet Union following in short order.
    However I do not feel that Howe was entirely wrong: compared to the manipulations of monetary policy for political advantage, which you Britons had to endure before 1997, the euro looks good even today. Whether it will look good next year, is a different question.

  • Paul Marks

    Paul sucks in his mighty belly and prepares to BOAST (he is male after all).

    I know that Howe was dodgy right from when he doubled VAT (sales tax) in 1979.

    But we should be cutting government spending (said I) – not cutting the increase, actually cutting government spending.

    But Howe (as Chancellor) just accepted all the government sector pay increases the outgoing Labour government had agreed to in the “Winter of Discontent”.

    And James Prior did not lift a finger to take away the government backed powers of the unions – even as unemployment doubled (whilst wages did not decline at all).

    Still who appointed all these terrible people – people who had NOT voted for her in the 1975 Conservative Party leadership elections.

    Mrs Thatcher herself.

    If you give power to your enemies – you should not be shocked when they use it against you.

    First to lie to you (for example over the Single European Act of 1986 – where people like Howe lied and lied and lied to Mrs Thatcher), then to strike down your real friends…..

    “Where were the Imperial Guard when the Czar was in peril?”

    The true Imperial Guard were dead – betrayed at the battle of K. (sent up a causeway with Germans on three sides).

    Were was FCS when Mrs Thatcher was in peril?

    Betrayed – we had been destroyed by the lies of the “Christian” Euro John S. Gummer.

    The Student Conservatives were no more – we could not come to the aid of Mrs T. when the lady was in peril.

    So evil won out – as it so often does.

    But reality (the universe) is objective – its laws (including the laws of economics) will strike down the utopias of the establishment elite.

    Including that piece of vomit known as the European Union.