Labour says it can combine social cohesion with economic efficiency but so far it is just being bossy. Tories understand real institutions, not abstract communitiesby David Willetts / October 20, 1997 / Leave a comment
Emperor hirohito told the Japanese people in July 1945 that “developments have not entirely proceeded as planned.” That is rather how I feel about recent political events. One of the reasons why the Conservative party lost the election is that many voters took the Conservative belief in the free market to mean that they were willing to destroy institutions and traditions which the electorate hold dear. This is an absurd position for the Conservative party to be in.
Labour’s first charge was that free market ideology was destroying “one nation.” Their second was that it was not even economically efficient. Tony Blair claims that it is Labour which can combine social cohesion and economic efficiency. This is the political battleground which Labour has seized and which the Conservatives must regain.
Beneath the shifting debates on particular issues, one can identify two central aspirations of the modern British citizen. First, we want freedom and opportunity-to feel that we can make life better for ourselves and our families. We hope to enjoy a rising standard of living. We want to feel that as consumers we are sovereign and that if the goods we buy are shoddy we can take our custom elsewhere. This is the power of the consumer in a modern free market economy: mobile, free, individualistic. Such a society is based on contract not status. It is strenuous, striving and enterprising.
We want something else too-to know that we have roots and are not just leading a life which is a series of meaningless acts of consumption strung together. We want to be linked to the past through institutions that are bigger than any individual. We want to live in a society where people matter to each other, because experiences which are shared are often more satisfying. We want a society with thick social ties, not one which has been finely graded into individual grains moving frictionlessly past each other. We want a society of history and traditions, cohesiveness and community.
Each one of us is trying to balance these two conflicting pressures. Do you move house to get a better job if it means leaving your friends and disrupting your child’s education? Do you shop at the out-of-town superstore or pay a bit more at the local shop? Do you split up from your partner when you are having a bad time or do you think it is…