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Condemned to be liberal: why Britain can’t easily break with economic laissez-faire

Politicians are talking big about a new "hands on" economics. But centuries of "hands-off" history shape the mindset of them, British managers and even the British trade unions

By Duncan Weldon   July 2021

The British economic policy debate feels more open than it has for a generation. Leaving the European Union last year knocked away a stout pillar of the old model that framed the debate for virtually half a century. The recovery from the pandemic-related collapse in output has seen politicians of all parties promising to “build back better.” The economic shock delivered by the banking crisis in 2008 and the political shock of the Brexit referendum in 2016 have left thinkers looking for a new political economy.

On the right some seek to revive a Thatcherite—or even Gladstonian—spirit, with talk of a free-market, buccaneering, “Global Britain.” On the left, there is much excitement about the possibilities, precluded in the last generation, to roll forward the economic borders of the state. Boris Johnson’s government—its majority built on four dozen seats won from Labour across the English north and Midlands and…

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