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That last patch of scorched earth

Those of us who lived through the previous end of Labour rule, in 1979, recall how that moment was remembered as the time when rubbish was lying in the road uncollected, thanks to strikes by the bin men. That little story summed it all up, and ushered in an age of union bashing. And Labour Party bashing, for several general elections.

Will this story be the abiding memory of the end of Labour rule now?

Civil servants came under increasing pressure from ministers in the dying months of the Labour government to carry out expensive orders that they disagreed with and responded by submitting an unprecedented number of formal protests in the run-up to the general election.

The five separate protests came in the form of written ministerial directions – requested by the most senior civil servant in a department when they disagree with a minister’s decision so strongly that they refuse to be accountable for it.

For me that perfectly captures the public squalour that is always unleashed by dead-on-their-feet Labour governments, as they madly pursued that last ounce of private affluence for their various client groups, and damn the consequences for the country.

Labourites are now pinning their hopes for an early return to office on the notion that the government that now has to clean up their mess will get most of the blame for that mess.

This is partly why Labour sorched all that earth. It wasn’t only tribal greed. It was deliberate political calculation. But if it becomes firmly established that the current mess is indeed a Labour mess, and that all the grief that followed immediately after their time in government was Labour grief, then Labour could be out of business for far longer than they now calculate.

Personally, I hope Labour are out of business for ever. And see also this posting I did for here a couple of years ago, which also had “scorched earth” in its title. This holds up quite well now, I think, especially the final sentence, as do many of the comments.

Michael Jennings then argued, from the behaviour of idiot Australian voters in similar circumstances, that as soon as the mess is cleared up, Labour spendthrifts will be back to create more mess, to scorch more earth. I really hope he’s wrong. But then, two years ago, I also hoped that the above kind of behaviour would itself cause a Labour electoral wipe-out, and that didn’t really happen, did it?

Maybe the Conservatives will now decide that the mess must never be cleared up, that the earth must remain permanently scorched, so that the country never feels able to afford a Labour government ever again. This certainly seems to be their current policy. Which might be great for the Conservatives. Shame about the country.

23 comments to That last patch of scorched earth

  • I think they’ve already got their comeback plan laid out.


  • Nuke Minarcapo Gray

    Is it also true that ID cards are on the way out? Or have they just been put to one side?

  • Alasdair

    My memory from 1979 was that that was the election where, prior to the election, the Labour folk told the unions that they coudl break laws with impunity because, once Labour was back in Government, Labour would not prosecute … I do not remember which Labour Minister said it, but I do remember just how horrendous an idea it was … (and I remember it as 1979, not 1974, though I could be mistaken) …

    What followed wasn’t union-bacshing, it was a royally-pissed-off electorate saying “Enough is enough!” …

  • I think Labour relying on the public to blame somebody else other than Brown for the state of the nation’s finances is wishful thinking. The die-hard Labourites will always believe it was somebody else’s fault, but the rest of us? Nah. They know where the blame lies.

  • Well, my own perceptions (bear in mind I was 13 when Thatch came to power) is that the 70s Labour government was nowhere near as malign as NuLab. That is, Callaghan was a naive incompetent who was genuinely taken aback at the behaviour of the unions, since he had this perception of the working man, and thus working mens’ organisations, as salt of the Earth who would do their bit for the country, e.g. accept an incomes policy for the common good, kind of thing. I think this government was more deliberately vile.

    Mind you, come to think of it, Denis Healey was an evil, evil old bastard. So yeah, same again really.

  • I also have this slight, naive, fluffy post-coital optimism (which is sure to be wrong in the fullness of time) that the Coalition are going to try and ease the pain of the financial hardship by handing us back some liberties. That is, they may be sensible enough to realise that if they can’t buy votes with money, they might be able to buy votes with freedoms instead. Hence the Great Repeal Bill etc.

    But it’s probably going to end up as the Slight Repeal Bill, and I’m just wishfully thinking because it’s what I’d do if I were in their shoes.

  • Nick Timms

    The 1979 election was the first one I voted in and I remember the disaster the Labour government of the second half of the decade.

    The country was a mess. We were an international joke with no influence anywhere. There were strikes off and on for years. Sometimes no bread, then no electricity, then no burials, then no rubbish collection.

    Union closed shops, secondary picketing, overmanning on all unionised jobs and all being subsidised by the middle classes.

    This was followed by the Maggie years where there was good and bad. the unions were crushed – good, civil liberties were attacked – bad. The economy got better, people were all better off – great.

    But I am still thunderstruck that Labour got back in with Blair. Perhaps one can forgive younger voters who did not live through the late 70’s nightmare, but why would anyone else have voted for Labour? Have they no memories? Are they unable to understand basic economics?

    Unfortunately I have come to the conclusion that most of the electorate are poorly educated, lazy, selfish and unable to imagine planning and working for their rewards. They want instant gratification now and most modern politicians, despise them though I do, know this, and they know that to get power you always promise jam today. Rational people, who know this is an impossibility, represent a small part of the electorate and are politically irrelevant.

    We do not live in democracy we live in a reality tv game show.

  • SBM

    As a dog returns to its vomit, a democracy tends ever leftwards. What do you expect when people are mostly educated by the state?

  • ian

    Well, under the Blessed Margaret in 1980, the government spent more than two-fifths of GDP (44.54%) – more than the 1964-70 Labour Government and the top rate of income tax was 60%. In 2009 the figure was 45.22%.

    Source Chris Dillow and this table:-


  • No no, you’re not allowed to criticise Margaret. She abolished exchange controls, you know.

  • hovis

    @ian: Those figures are true but cherry pick and skew the real picture. To get the real picture (from your own figures) the Tory govt of the 1980 reduced the % spend – growing the economy (yay!) though it was unable/unwilling to shrink the state (boo hoo!)

    There were many things that Thatcher got wrong, but se was on balance more right than most of those before or after her.

  • R Grey

    I don’t think we will see the back of labour for at least another 15-30 years or more.

    There is still a generation of people that “vote labour” because their dad did/they always have/they are my football opps sorry political team/insert as necessary. I can only guess, but I would think that these people represent 15% of the vote. The only way these people will stop voting labour, is when they die.

    The other 15% that has voted for them are the political ignorant. I wouldn’t call them stupid, but certainly lazy and ignorant of the facts. I’ve spoken to people who fit into this camp, they are the type who’s political insight is the TV debates, and a few bits of conversation here and there, the type that are easily convinced by browns “I am the only one with the experience to steer us through” bollox.

    These are the people that won’t care about the details until anything goes wrong, and when it does go wrong they will only blame the administration currently in charge.

    fixing this is just a case of not handing out the right to vote, but instead making people qualify, but of course that is itself just so open to abuse and corruption that it can never happen.

    Democracy, the least bad system indeed.

  • Jim

    Sadly the Left will always be with us, because human nature is selfish. If the Right spends a decade sorting the mess of the last Socialist govt, and reforming the economy so it can grow again, and generate tax revenue, there will always be some Lefty tosser demanding that the extra tax revenue be spent, not returned to the taxpayers in tax reductions. And by concentrating the extra revenue (which may only be in the tens or low hundreds per taxpayer) on its client State, the beneficiaries get thousands. And so vote in the Left again.

  • Nick Timms – It isn’t only people who lack the aptitude for deferred gratification, who have some reason to vote for jam today.

    It is also people who, from an analysis much like yours, conclude that deferring their gratification only increases the likelihood that some empowered bastard will steal it altogether, whilst leaving the ‘prudent’ sucker with the tab. You don’t just have to trust the people you’re voting for not to do that for the pretended greater good – you have to trust that the next election, at least, will yield equally sane results.

    Once confidence starts swirling down that particular plughole, it needs more than common rational self-discipline to stop it.

  • R Grey

    “Sadly the Left will always be with us, because human nature is selfish.”

    I think that’s unfair. Whilst their are some voters out there who really only care about which party will provide them with their free money, there are alot of people on the left who really believe in the cause. but like the people who give constant aid to africa, they just don’t seem to understand that sometimes helping people (aka throwing them money) is not the best course of action, nor sustainable.

  • Sadly the Left will always be with us, because human nature is selfish.

    Selfishness has nothing to do with it. The Invisible Hand knows nothing of altruism.

    The term you are looking for is not ‘selfish’ (which is often a good thing), it is ‘predatory’.

  • MarkE

    In the run up to the (non)election we saw some of the tactics Labour will be using throughout this parliament; constant reminders of the highest level reached by interest rates under Thatcher, ignoring the fact they were necessary to stop the inflation caused by Labour maladministration; comments about high unemployment (ditto, and we need to see unemployment rise by at least two million over the next couple of weeks as the holders of Labour’s sinecures are wrenched from the tax teat, but that won’t be happening, tragically); blaming Thatcher for the suicide of those businesses that wouldn’t sell what their customers wanted, preferring to rely on state subsidy (will we see Camleg blamed for killing civil “service” communities the way Thatcher is supposed to have killed the mining communities?); and, of course, the selective editing of “no such thing as society” (always and inevitably by people who have never contributed anything to their community unless they were paid to do so, usually by the taxpayer).

  • Jim

    @Perry de Havilland: I stand corrected. I should have remembered my Ayn Rand.

    But my point stands – there will always be people prepared to offer free stuff to a limited number of people, at the expense of the majority. And those being offered the bribes will vote in favour of it, selfishly, yes, but understandably.

    And the majority, because they are (initially anyway) only losing only a little, and usually because it is painted up in some language of it being for ‘the poor’, or the ‘needy’ will acquiesce, so as they can look altruistic.

    Thus we get the Beveridge Report (very worthy and understandable) which becomes todays free money and housing for every scumbag tosser in the land (and plenty from abroad too).

    I cannot see a solution. The system only ends when it collapses under the weight of its own internal contradictions, and then everyone suffers, including the deserving ones who the system set out to help in the first place.

    The Left cannot see that the system cannot expand indefinitely, and in order to help those they say they wish to help, there must be a cut-off point somewhere. A line in the sand that says ‘This far and no further. Cross this standard of behaviour and you are outside the system’.

  • Sam Duncan

    Whilst their are some voters out there who really only care about which party will provide them with their free money, there are alot of people on the left who really believe in the cause.

    But not enough to give them power. The true believers are the activists; the greedy are their voters.

    We’re way ahead of the game up here in Scotland. Labour’s vote went up after a totally negative, scaremongering campaign (ministers posing at the old Ravenscraig site, etc.) stoking up fears of “Tory cuts”. Effectively the theme of the campaign was, almost explicitly, “We know we’ve lost England; vote Labour to keep the Tories out and save your entitlements”. Labour knows as well as anyone else that it’s legalised theft that gets them power.

    …in order to help those they say they wish to help, there must be a cut-off point somewhere. A line in the sand that says ‘This far and no further. Cross this standard of behaviour and you are outside the system’.

    A very good way of putting it, Jim. The Left also can’t see that “the Right” (in all its multifarious, contradictory, forms; but as a term for opponents of Labour, it’ll serve) also wants to help the poor – hell, I’m poor myself – we simply disagree on how it can best be achieved.

  • Jamess

    The conservatives need to have the foresight that they will eventually loose power, Labour (most probably) will get in, spend itself to oblivion, and then the Conservatives will be back in to pick up the pieces.

    If the conservatives were to break the government monopoly over money (allow foreign currencies, gold, privately backed currencies etc to be used in transactions and, in some cases, in paying taxes) a future government would find it very difficult to print money as a economic solution.

    Then in opposition, the Conservatives should announce they will default on any loans given to the government when they came into power (whilst of course insuring that loans given to private businesses would still be forced to pay back).

    Between the two Labour would be unable to bribe the voters and their economic incompetence would be shown up in 13 months, not 13 years.

  • Paul Marks

    I agree with all that Brian Mickelthwait says about the wild spending and corrupt Labour government. And, yes, the last Labour covernment in 1979 left wild spending committments also (especially on government sector pay increases) that the incomming Conservative party government very foolishly went along with (it is often forgotten that there was a vast government spending INCREASE after 1979 and this helped make the recession of 1979-1982 much WORSE in Britain than in other nations, contrary to Keynesian doctrine).

    I also agree that the vast majority of British people understand the need for real cuts in government spending – even John Micklethwait (a distant kinsman of Brian Mickelthwait I believe – but, sadly, a man with neither Brian’s knowledge or good character) of the Economist magazine says he accepts the need for cuts in government spending – although I would not trust him as far as I could spit a tank (after all his Keynesian ideology teaches him that government spending is a good thing for an economy, it is a “stimulus” – remember the Economist even supported the 700 billion plus American stimulus Bill which was a mountain of corruption written by the Marxist dominated “Apollo Alliance”, an alliance of far left activists and corrupt subsidy seeking corporate interests).

    My fear is that the new Lib/Con government (a regime that the Economist and Financial Times people openly campaigned for during the election – we are now governed by what they wanted, please think about that) will not really reduce government spending at all.

    Already there are signs that they will increase taxes – and of the harmful effects those tax increases will cause.

    For example, I am just back from staying with friends – they fear they will not be able to sell their house (they have moved) as there is already a “chilling effect” from the threat to increase Capital Gains Tax on investment in houses (as well as the terrible effects imposing this on investing in shares will have) – as if people do not wish to buy houses for investment purposes this will have a “knock on” effect on the rest of the housing market.

    Also today I had lunch at a little cafe (not far from where I attended a police meeting). I asked the owner “how is business” and he had two complaints – local regulations (a Council problem – but sadly I can do nothing to help him) AND THE THREAT OF A VAT (sales tax) increase.

    Many retail outlets are on the edge – an increase in VAT would kill them (remember the increase in VAT from 8% to 15% in 1979, whatever B.S. reasons Chancellor Howe gave for his sales tax increase, his real reason was to bring Britain in line with the EEC [now EU] nations, and he did not care how many small business enterprises he had to destroy in order to achieve this task).

    Yet the present government may do exactly that – rather than really get to grips with government spending.

    If the Lib/Con government does decide to increase/extend Capital Gains Tax and VAT…… well in the words of Charlton Heston’s character at the end of the original “Planet of the Apes” film (when he sees the ruins of the Statue of Liberty).

    “Damn them, damn them to Hell”.

  • steveg

    People continually vote Labour because they believe the reds somehow care more for them and their offspring. Those who repeatedly try to elect socialists to power tend to forget a) what an unholy mess they make of everything; and b) their core philosophy is control and deny while pretending otherwise.

    A scorched earth policy is what they have admired so often in other countries, so why not here too?

    Anyway, all reds yearn for the chance to do socialism “properly” so every so often there is bound to be a revival of idiocy. ‘Tis the way of all humans.

  • Gareth

    Nothing will be fixed until the ‘mob rule’ nature of our politics and Government is broken.

    Why should weight of numbers confer authority over everyone else?

    The State was not put back in its box after WW2.