New Labour has combined growth with social protection. It's a lot better than the 1960sby Julian Le Grand / July 28, 2007 / Leave a comment
I was walking with my 23-year-old daughter on London’s South Bank the other day when she asked me whether I had ever lived in a “golden age.” I immediately recalled the 1960s, when all the world (and I) was young and full of vivid colours and beautiful people.
But then I remembered my studies as an economics undergraduate in the 1960s. These were dominated by the travails of the British economy: big balance of payments deficits, sterling crises, GDP per head below that of most countries in western Europe and falling back on most social indicators too. A little later, when I’d completed my studies and was attending conferences abroad as a jobbing economist, I always found myself apologising for Britain, and trying to explain what had gone wrong.
My daughter was waiting for an answer. I looked around. We were standing by the Globe, near Tate Modern, looking over the river at St Paul’s and the gherkin. London was alive with colour; the embankment was full of men, women and children of every race, lively, happy and apparently prosperous. I thought of the international conferences I now attend, where people ask me how Britain has done it; why it is no longer “the sick man of Europe,” why it is Italy or France that now have that dubious honour. So I said: well, perhaps the golden age is now.
Those critical of the Blair/Brown government, and of the Thatcher/Major governments before them, will find this both baffling and complacent. They will point to the big rise in inequality since the 1960s. They will draw attention to the recent Unicef report showing that British children are still at or near the bottom of various social league tables. They will note that Britain still has a big balance of payments deficit. And they will point to the horrors and blunders of Iraq.
All this is true. Iraq is ghastly. Inequality has indeed risen sharply since 1979—although most of the increase occurred before 1989. The Unicef report was shocking. The balance of payments is still bad—and we are selling off our assets to finance it. (Few realise that the reason so many British corporations—and football clubs—are now in the hands of foreigners is our failure to sell them enough of our ordinary goods and services.)
And yet and yet. It is…