Having spent decades deriding the left’s impracticality, the right are now falling into the same trap as Britain prepares to leave the EUby Ido Vock / August 8, 2017 / Leave a comment
When the Channel Tunnel opened in 1994, Le Figaro’s splash lauded “the end of British insularity.” So much for that. In retrospect, the Queen’s speech for the occasion was a more accurate reading of the British national ethos, measuredly paying tribute to the project as a successful marriage between “French élan and British pragmatism.”
The British right is very good at appealing to the national perception of ourselves as a level-headed, practical people. Unlike the profligate continentals, they tell us, we are above letting ideological imperatives take precedence over economic realities.
On issue after issue where the left has the instinctive upper hand, and was winning the argument on the continent—wealth equality, say, or workers’ rights—the right batted away the solutions proposed by the left as dogmatic utopianism, leaving them nonstarters in Britain.
When, in the late sixties, Labour began floating the idea of a wealth tax to even out the distribution of accumulated capital, the monetarist economist Harry G. Johnson dismissed the proposal as “arbitrary, unfair, and counter-productive” on the basis that the tax would not only be impossible to accurately calculate, but would be easily evaded by the asset-rich. (A wealth tax made it into the February 1974 manifesto, but was never enacted during Labour’s term in office.)
Likewise, even the modest acquis of a minimum wage took until 1998 to come to the UK—far later than other western European countries. The Conservative opposition which helped delay its introduction was articulated by John Redwood during the de…