ARTICLE BY GUY BLYTHMAN
WHY THATCHERISM HAS HAD ITS DAY

The purpose of this article is to argue that Thatcherite monetarism, in 2010 still basically the socio-economic system under which people in Britain and many other places live, has become a liability and ceased to benefit society as a whole. In many respects it has turned into as much a monster as the stifling state socialism it was intended to replace and needs to be changed, by more determined and co-ordinated popular action if possible.

(1) History of Thatcherite Monetarism
Right-wing free-marketism is nothing new. One historic proponent of it was Adam Smith, author of The Wealth of Nations, in the eighteenth century. His face appears on the current £20 note (an indication of the homage the contemporary commercial establishment feels it ought to pay to him?). In the 1970s and 80s monetarism gained new ground as a reaction to the Keynesian and corporatist policies which constituted the prevailing orthodoxy and which were increasingly felt to have failed, producing stagnation, industrial unrest and a restrictive authoritarianism characterised by excessive bureaucracy which stifled initiative. This was especially so in Great Britain which was plagued by strikes and inflation for much of the late 1960s and the 1970s, culminating in the “Winter of Discontent”. A further moral and spiritual boost may have been given it by the desire of right-wingers like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher to make a stand against the perceived threat to Western liberties posed by the Communist Bloc, whose policies of state control with all their apparatus of totalitarianism was seen as the antithesis of all that was (a) libertarian and (b) financially wise. The intellectual ground was prepared by such figures as Hayek and Milton Friedman. In Britain, Margaret Thatcher provided the political will to implement the monetarist philosophy in practice. Her intellectual contribution was limited (she had no intellect), but she created the political circumstances in which monetarism could flourish. The support she gained among her own party had its roots in an almost pathological fear of the kind of situation which characterized Britain in the 1970s – inflation, economic decline, strikes – and which, because this was an era when the public sector was dominant, led to the latter becoming identified with such things. The events of that period, which they had no wish to see repeated, left a scar on the minds of patriotic right-wingers who felt the country’s standing had been brought low and its self-respect dented.
Thatcher resigned as Prime Minister in 1990, but the kind of society she created survived her fall - which was due largely to personal failings that appeared in the eyes of a significant section of the Conservative Party to jeapordise its chances of re-election – and is still with us today. As has often been commented, we are all Thatcher’s children now, though that is only true in the sense that we are forced to live in the kind of society which bears her unmistakeable imprint; we do not necessarily like doing so.
For a while it was not clear which direction John Major, who succeeded Thatcher, would take the Tory Party in, but from about 1993 there was a shift to the right. It was about this time that casualisation, the tendency for firms to take on employees on a purely temporary basis and often not convert it into a permanent one, began to bite. (Initially casualisation was encountered mainly in the civil service, but this makes little difference to many of the points I make in this article since the aim during the last twenty years has been for the public sector to imitate the private as much as possible).
The Thatcherisation of society was endorsed and even taken further by Tony Blair’s New Labour after it won the General Election of 1997. The trouble was that Labour, realising that Thatcherism was the order of the day, decided it was unlikely ever to regain power unless it embraced it, and adopted a philosophy of “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” In the process it lost its soul. It became in the end more Thatcherite than Thatcher, even extending the doctrine into new areas, to the extent where it was farcical to describe the party as being in any way “Socialist”. In this context the term “Labour” was increasingly inappropriate and anachronistic yet had to be retained, adding to the element of farce, in order not to further alienate the party’s remaining left-wingers.
There was no serious attempt to change any of this under Blair’s successor Gordon Brown. It is not yet clear what will happen, in the long run, under the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition which replaced Brown in May 2010, except in so far as there is no suggestion that Cameron intends to depart from the prevailing (since Thatcher) Tory orthodoxy that the private sector should be uppermost in everything. If anything he seems to take the view that to work through it is the key to ending the recession, even though its behaviour was responsible for causing the problem in the first place. The upshot of it all is that even though memories of the “Winter of Discontent” are ceasing to be of psychological importance as it recedes further back in time – after all, an increasing number of British people were born after it occurred, indeed after Thatcher had been and gone as Prime Minister – we have become more and more wedded to what is effectively still Thatcherism (could one call it neo-Thatcherism?), in that it generally dislikes regulating the private sector; partly out of greed and partly because we now cannot imagine anything else and so don’t want to experiment with alternatives to which we aren’t accustomed and which we are afraid might not work out.

(2) In order to examine whether the dominance of monetarism in modern Western society is truly beneficial, we need to examine the claims made by its defenders to see if they are valid.

(1) A society where the free market rules is a free society.
It is a mistake to confuse liberty for the private company with liberty for the individual. It may simply mean that the ordinary citizen is forced to pay the high prices which the company charges for its product, and in some cases is denied by it the chance of a steady job and thus, through the income one would generate, a high standard of living and of self-respect. In any case, judging by the increasing number of complaints about the “nanny state” interfering in the lives of ordinary citizens through excessive bureaucracy (seen in restrictive health and safety regulations, for example), the free market has completely failed to bring about the freedom its defenders claim it does; the experience of the last few years shows that where society as a whole is concerned, what is wanted is not the lifting of restrictions on private businesses - which can produce exactly the opposite result – but a more sensible approach by government to the framing of general policy.
As an example of how the free market actually works against the aspirations of the individual, I (and a great many others) have had enormous problems over the last twenty years achieving success as writers, our strenuous efforts being rewarded with a constant stream of rejections. One might say that it was always thus with publishing, but the situation has become worse because of certain factors which were not operating in previous eras. I had one rejection where the publisher’s reader said that she liked my writing style but that my proposal “did not fit in with their current schedule.” Disturbingly, this shows that the actual literary quality of the book has become something different from “marketing”, from the consideration of whether or not it ought to be published. It works against individual self-expression (for the individual expresses themselves among other things by their writing, art or other contribution to culture). I suspect that the publishers are concerned only with what will please the majority (and thus net the publishing company the biggest possible profit in the shortest possible time). The majority is of course entitled to its pleasure but other things need to be allowed a look-in as well.

(2) Freedom of enterprise in the economic sphere, by virtue of the culture of self-reliance it gives rise to, is essential for building the moral fibre of society.
This sees life purely in terms of economics; not only is this somehow disturbing, it is also impossible to extrapolate from one particular walk of life, however important, to the human world at large.
There will be plenty of opportunities in a person’s personal and professional life for their worth to be tested; important matters where a decision must be made. How we handle people who are causing us problems, where we stand on important issues of the day, how we treat people of different race, sex, religion, political affiliation to ourselves. Whether we have a privatised or a nationalised economy doesn’t make any difference to that. Human affairs are a matter of politics, at school, in the workplace (whether we are in the public or the private sector), in sex, in cultural activities, in personal and family relationships, and what counts is how those matters are managed. It could be argued that the moral decline evident in the West is due not to the dominance of Keynesian economics and the welfare state – something which has now ceased to be the case - but the decline in traditional centres of authority and belief such as religion (with whose values monetarism potentially conflicts as it emphasises individual initiative and profit over common obligations to Mankind as a whole). The decline in social morality and cohesion has if anything worsened strikingly since monetarism became the dominant socio-economic philosophy in the West. It could be argued that free-marketism actually damages the moral fibre of society by putting the profit motive, rather than the altruistic desire to benefit others, first.
The creation of a privatised economy has not in fact made a lot of difference to the building of a culture of self-reliance according to the monetarist/libertarian philosophy. The area in which it would most likely be implemented with respect to the general public is that of the welfare state and yet here it has manifestly failed – over thirty years since Margaret Thatcher came to power in Britain, complaints (often justified) that the welfare state is overgrown and there are too many benefit scroungers are as widespread as ever. This also raises the question of whether monetarism really has created a climate in which self-reliance produces rewards; some of those “scroungers” are in fact people who did get on their bikes and look for work, in accordance with the Thatcherite philosophy on such matters, but never found it because they had already been out of work for too long or employers discriminated against them in some way. People have been given freedom but not the tools to do anything with it, the long-term unemployed being one very good example.
Human nature is unfortunately flawed. Giving the private employer free rein may simply mean that (s)he has unrestricted opportunity to put their personal prejudices and peccadilloes into practice, among other things sacking people just because they don’t like their face (though of course they wouldn’t say that this was the reason).
Spiritually the damage is just as serious. We have, generally, become more selfish, ruthless and single-minded in getting what we want in all walks of life, in achieving wealth, status and a certain image, whether through aggression, manipulation or slick posturing (all tactics which businesses use at some time or other), and less deterred by the possible effects on others. Since image is a crucial way of selling ourselves, financially or metaphorically, we are often more concerned with the image of a person (ourselves or another) than with whether or not they can do a job properly. This leads to inefficiency and paralysis. The preoccupation with image also furthers the celebrity culture which makes it more difficult for ordinary people to get by and also combines disastrously with the general moral decline evident in society. If someone sells, by attracting high viewing figures or by association with one’s cause or product, then they will be promoted and given a high profile even if, as with Mr Russell Brand, their behaviour is offensive and morally corrupting. Because sections of society have become debased enough (partly due to the dilemma of post-modernism) to like them despite or perhaps because of their behaviour, television executives etc. are reluctant to sack them, as opposed to suspend them for a short period. This contributes further to setting a bad moral example. The elitism of rich over poor has spread to other areas of society, everything being interconnected. Money promotes the cult of celebrity because celebrities sell, their glamorous image boosting the ratings. This promotes the cult of celebrity is another great evil of our time. It is another thing which makes it harder for the talents of ordinary people who do not have an established track record of fame and success to be recognized. They may be more deserving of fame and success than those who get it, but are not considered quite so marketable. An equally serious matter is that the need for money and thus glamour, sensation even, leads to celebrities to be promoted even when their dissolute lifestyle, foul language, irresponsible behaviour and multiple marriages set a bad example to the rest of society and particularly to the young. It is another bad habit which those at the top, in this case the heads of the TV companies, dare not discard because they fear they may lose out to their rivals in the ratings war. It adds to the alienation of ordinary people and the crushing of their ambitions.
Another social consequence of Thatcherism and its effect on one’s purse is that as prices go up charities are forced to be more and more persistent, even aggressive, in their campaigning; apart from the fact that this alienates people and makes them less inclined to give, the charities are angling for money which often isn’t there, because the public are having so much trouble trying to make ends meet that they can’t afford to be generous. The causes the charities are making money for suffer with or without a recession to worsen the situation.

(3) It assumes that healthy competition will be the norm and will benefit society as a whole. The idea is that it will result in greater efficiency and greater consumer choice as firms push for the highest quality product, which will prove more popular and thus net the company more profits than its rivals. Companies can still resort to sneaky techniques in order to increase their profits to the disadvantage of the consumer. I should like to demonstrate this by means of a case history.
I’m wondering if it’s just me, or whether other members have noticed what seems to be a worrying trend in the technology and marketing of photography. Having mastered the basics of good photography, once I realised that it depended on choosing a day when the right weather conditions prevailed and investing in a decent camera rather than the cheap rubbish so frequently on offer, I was taking photographs quite happily with my non-digital camera. The results were every bit as presentable, adequate for both aesthetic and instructive purposes, as images taken with a digital camera and partly generated on one’s computer.
Then suddenly I began to run into problems. Although when taking snaps I had gone to great pains to make sure the subject of the photograph was squarely within the viewfinder with not too much sky all around, it came out as smaller than it should have been, or had migrated to the bottom left-hand corner of the picture. Later, I found the shutter button wouldn’t work.
On a recent holiday I equipped myself both with my new, then untried digital camera and a non-digital model of my mother’s, in case either failed to deliver the goods. The shutter button on the non-digital became jammed after just a few shots. It cannot be a coincidence that two different non-digital cameras, bought by different people and of different makes, should both develop the same faults. What I suspect (the shop assistant at Jessops did not disagree with me) is that the firms were deliberately building defects into non-digital cameras so that customers would dispense with them and buy the more expensive digital models, which retailers preferred to work with anyway for other reasons such as image. Digital is preferred because it is newer, sexier, and the “in thing” nowadays. This has caused me quite a few problems.
In the earlier days of my acquaintance with digital cameras I ruined a few shots by not realising that the best results were to be obtained by looking through the screen at the back of the camera, not the viewfinder. Problems such as this were due essentially to my unfamiliarity with the technology; the fact is there is no need to go to all the bother of learning a whole new skill, with the risk of making a mistake at some point and ruining the results of a day’s work, if the existing technology is working alright (one should say, is allowed to). Yes, one gets the hand of it in the end, but only after a lot of hassle which can be damaging and is unnecessary.
If you were a reasonably skilled photographer you shouldn’t have had any problems with non-digital cameras. You simply pointed the camera in the right place, pressed the button, and got a perfect shot; there was no need, for example, to crop the image. With digital it is often said, “the beauty is that you can take multiple shots {which you can with non-digital} and if you don’t like this one, you can choose another.” But if the camera is working properly in the first place you shouldn’t need to make this selection from a list of options; there won’t be any bad shots in the first place. And what if none of them turn out right, as developed, because you want 6 X 4 prints but the machine insists on cropping them – a problem I shall go into in a moment.
If it is actually harder to produce a satisfactory result, then digital is hardly an improvement on what came before it! It is hard to see why a technology which is so much more complicated, with consequently a greater risk of things going wrong, should be considered an improvement. It all serves to emphasise what should be a cardinal principle but is too often ignored; if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
There is another aspect of the new way of developing photographs which rankles with me (and without which, admittedly, digital wouldn’t be so bad). For some reason, the machine at Jessops crops 6 X 4s so that bits of the subject are cut off. This did not seem to be a problem until recently.
Now when taking photographs of, say, traditional windmills I have to take multiple shots of each one (from different angles, since it’s boring to take just a plain rear or front view), and from different positions, leaving different amounts of sky in each, and then crop them to varying extents so that when they are developed there is a greater chance the machine will do it to the degree I want it to (though why should it crop it at all rather than just reflect what’s on the actual camera?); and then duplicate them on the computer, again with the aim of maximising the chances of at least one photo ending up the way I want it to. Making so many copies in this way adds to the expense of printing, which of course the companies aren’t complaining about since it means more money for them.
Since 6 X 4 is a convenient size (if I were to switch to 7 X 5, which is an unwieldy affair in any case, I would have to buy a new range of photo albums - at a cost - as the ones I have aren’t made for them), there is no reason why the current technology, if it is as good as it is cracked out to be, should not be producing them without hiccups. If the machine is rationally designed and functioning properly it should simply print what you tell it to without making alterations which you didn’t ask for and in which there is little point. What makes it worse is that sometimes the machine does this and sometimes it doesn’t, so you never know quite where you stand with it. One way around the problem, as more or less stated above, is to take the photo with a lot of sky around the building in the first place – then, when the machine crops the photo, it takes away what you don’t want and leaves what you do. However, if the machine does not crop it you will be left with too much sky! You did not get any of this hassle with the old film cameras because you purely and simply didn’t need to crop; if you were a reasonably competent photographer, you simply pointed the camera in the right place, making sure the object you wanted to photograph was squarely in the frame, and pressed the button. Admittedly with film prints from time to time failed to come out properly but this is also a problem with digital; I have a collection of photos taken with a digital camera in which one is unaccountably fuzzy and indistinct while all the rest are fine. Quirks are common to all technology, whatever its purpose, and have been since the first flint tools; they do not mean that digital is necessarily superior to film as a way of taking photographs.
Needless to say, mistakes are expensive to rectify since they involve returning to the subject to rephotograph it, at great expense which one can ill afford especially in time of recession, particularly galling if it is in Lincolnshire or Yorkshire and you live in Shepperton, Middlesex.
Another thing the developers seem to have a bias towards is glossy photos. Yet for a romantic old ruined mill or castle gloss is not really appropriate; the image you want to capture is of something impressively gaunt and stark, not bright and shiny. I don’t want gloss anyway, since it gives the photo an unreal quality which is only really suitable in showbiz and the glamour industry; it actually makes the image less clear and seems somehow unsuitable for the purposes of academic study. What I find ominous is that on the screen where you choose which finish you want, there are two options of which one is lustre (a misleading term which actually means matt), the other gloss, with an “X” beside the former. The presence of the X is alarming, suggesting that they wouldn’t normally expect someone to want matt and that indeed that it would be rather odd if you did. At the moment you can still have it, but how long will it be before you can’t? Inevitably you are led to the conclusion that they are planning to phase it out altogether.
One really doesn’t know what they will do next. Once again the companies are taking it upon themselves to decide what is good for us. Though not really for us; another Jessops shop assistant (I’m not saying which branch he works at as I don’t want to get him into trouble) has actually admitted to me that his employers are cropping 6 X 4s so that people will buy the (more expensive) larger size. They are dealing in glossy 7 X 5s because they want to; theoretically, according to the principles of the economic philosophy under which the whole “the free market is king” society was set up in the first place during the Thatcher years, private enterprise and the market should operate by giving the customer what they want, firms going to the wall if they don’t do that. Products should be tailored to meet the individual consumer’s requirements but instead something different seems to be happening. In practice the companies have so much freedom that they simply indulge their own wishes and whims at the expense of the consumer; indeed, they are motivated by considerations of image as much as profit. At best they are making an unwarranted assumption about what is good for people. And at worst, they are up to something even more disturbing, which certainly doesn’t have the public’s best interests at heart.
From a relatively simple process in which the photographer’s role was largely passive, photography has been altered to one where you have to be a (computer) file manager, and is thus vulnerable to the quirks and drawbacks of the more complex technology, such as sometimes not saving photos when they’re cropped or substituting the cropped version for the original – both of which I encountered during the course of one night, and either of which are unwelcome because you need both versions as a safety measure, not being sure how the final product will look once the developers have finished with it.
I can see a time when I will no longer be able to take certain photographs, or at least get them developed. They will end up existing only in electronic form (unlike in film, where you have negatives, there is with digital no secondary physical version of the photo which can replace the primary one if the latter is lost, not counting printing using non-photographic paper which doesn’t give the same degree of satisfaction). This is bad news since computers are vulnerable to viruses, power cuts etc., in a way the hard copy obviously isn’t.
It seems to be thought, mistakenly, that digital photography is regarded as so fantastic that everyone wants to use it. Not so. I am aware that many people still continue to use film. In extremis, there have been people who for a long time continued to extract mileage from their Ensign Selfix or even their Box Brownie after nearly everyone else had moved on to something more state-of-the-art. The point is that they were allowed to. There was not this insistence on pressurising the public into using technology simply because the companies selling it wanted them to do so, which is a different matter from an innovation which is taken up because that public wants it to be. The difficulty is that with the older and in some respect better ways of doing things being squeezed out, it will be harder and harder to find someone who still practices them; such people will either have stopped selling a product which is no longer economical, or have raised their prices prohibitively (creating for someone who needs to manage their budget with care exactly the same problem involved in buying a digital camera). Or the knowledge will have been lost altogether.
Basically what I am doing in this article is committing the unforgiveable heresy of suggesting that digital photography is not what it’s represented as (i.e.. more efficient than film) and may in fact be quite the opposite. In particular I resent being conned and manipulated, at the cost of the enjoyment one should be getting out of one’s hobby, purely for the sake of a company’s private gain. The principle of it is wrong, notwithstanding the practical aspects of the matter.
STOP PRESS I have to report one further development. Recently I had some prints developed at Jessops, which were done in gloss when I had asked for lustre. I asked for them to be done again, and they were, but with no appreciable difference from before. In explaining this, the shop assistant seemed to be saying that it depended on what kind of paper was held in stock by the shop at the time, irrespective of what had been requested. Again this was not something I had come across previously. It is also apparent from the grapevine that the same problems are being encountered with other developers.

Generally companies will simply increase their profits, knowing that government will not act to restrict them because of the current ideological climate, so why should they bother about making their products cheaper and therefore more attractive to the consumer? A recent national newspaper commented that so many Britons were emigrating to France and Spain because they wanted to escape a country where everything had a price tag on it.

(4) A private company will necessarily be run more efficiently than a public one, because entrepreneurs will naturally make the decisions that will result in a good quality product and therefore an advantage over one’s competitors. It is not actually the most able people who get to the top in most concerns (I have been told this on one “get you back to work” scheme). Then there is the problem, mentioned elsewhere, of poor education and training – a symptom of how successive governments have grievously failed the state school system – which negates any benefit that may be supposed to accrue to society by privatisation. If every company is suffering from poor workmanship, then none has any advantage to be lost in relation to another, nor will they appreciate what they should be trying to gain.
A further problem is caused by the tendency of companies to contract certain services out, or public bodies and trusts to apportion different services to different companies. This can be used by a company to make things easier for itself and to avoid responsibility when things go wrong. It leads to a confusing situation where accountability is difficult.

(5) It assumes that it has the support of all society’s members. It does not. Research by the government in the 1980s reported little interest among the vast majority of the public in initiatives such as the “Tell Sid” campaign to promote share ownership in newly privatised companies. What people are always most interested in is fair, sensible and competent government and not ideologies (for Thatcherism is clearly an ideology, a “narrative” if you like, in that it embodies a principle – in this case that the free market should be supreme – which it seeks to apply to the whole of society) which may not always be appropriate and can be disastrous when applied too rigidly. If you trouble to talk to them you will find most people nowadays are angry at the high prices they have to pay for commodities even in times of economic hardship and feel things have got completely out of control.

(6) It assumes that everyone can be a capitalist or be able to provide for themselves through their own thrift. But it will be difficult for them to do so if cost of living rises as it is doing at the moment. When people do not have enough money in their pockets they are not going to be able to buy the (possibly expensive) products private companies charge, so privatisation will not benefit the vast majority of the public.
Thatcher & Co hoped to make everyone into a capitalist, but failed to realise that in an imperfect world this was not possible. (A), because of the very fact that we are all different (Thatcher herself would have claimed that she was opposing rigid conformity and allowing each person to develop their original talents), meaning that not everyone has a business mentality and can therefore participate effectively in the kind of world she was trying to create. I have already mentioned the limits to public enthusiasm for the shareowning society. (B), in that imperfect, and increasingly complex, modern world it is not feasible for a individual person to provide for all their diverse needs by their own efforts; much of it will have to be supplied by government, and the relevant sectors must therefore be able to do their job properly, which requires investment. (C) If services are to be provided by private companies, who of course charge for their products, there will inevitably be a price tag on everything. This makes it harder for those not already very wealthy – again, we are not all born to be entrepreneurs – to cope, especially if they have families to support and/or are on benefit or low incomes, and in time of economic recession. Luxuries have to be cut back, which means that one is simply doing what is necessary to survive – buying the essentials – rather than achieving the prosperity and happiness which Thatcher promised to give us all and which are a mark of success, of realised ambition. And even then, it is often still difficult to manage. To become the wealthy success story Thatcher wanted us all to be requires a strong financial base to begin with, and that’s just what is being denied to millions of people, unless they have the kind of ruthless ambition that is (a) not common to most people and (b) must, because of the obstacles involved, often require harsh practices to succeed. Instead, many are caught in a poverty trap, for some a benefit trap, which one cannot escape from. (It may be noted that the very poor cannot save up for long periods for the sake of future prosperity without suffering extreme hardship, and so cannot meet the high standards of thrift and “good housekeeping” Thatcher so approved of). {I found that whenever I did get a job much of my salary went towards my rent, my Housing Benefit being cancelled because I was deemed no longer to need it; this was not a great incentive to find work}.

Disadvantages of the free market

(1) It furthers the atomisation of society by over-stressing individual freedom (and that only in the economic sphere and for the entrepreneur themselves), as against the socially cohesive role of institutions.

(2) It lowers the moral tone of society by stressing the profit motive to the detriment of altrusism towards one’s fellow beings. In the first instance this may not have been intentional, but the obsession with free enterprise has nevertheless been such as to bring it about.

(3) It assumes that human nature will not be corrupted by the opportunity to make money quickly and on a large scale, that bosses will not abuse their power. In fact companies put a quick profit before efficiency and accountability, are ruthless in making people redundant, and resort to “hire ‘em and fire ‘em” policies which do not benefit the jobseeker. Thatcherism takes little account of the flaws in human nature.

(4) Commercialisation extends into areas where it is inappropriate, even ludicrous. English Heritage now have a “Customer Services Department” not for those wishing to buy products from its bookshops/souvenir shops, which is what one would expect it to be for, but for people contacting them to call for a particular historic building to be preserved in its traditional form, for example. I recently wrote to them protesting about the allowing by the local authority an application to convert a particular building to residential accommodation, and asking if they could help in opposing it, but they wrote back saying they could do nothing and that they thought the council had made the right decision. Do I get compensation? The preservation of historic buildings is a cultural matter for the benefit of society as a whole, not a financial transaction whose consequences apply only to individuals.

(5) The money-making/managerial aspect becomes more important than doing the job properly. There are engineering firms which have fewer accountants than they have engineers, or none at all, on their Board of Management. Some charged with the running of heritage projects such as industrial museums, working mills etc have little specialist understanding of the museum’s brief and are simply doing their job because it is a career, or for economic gain. This means that culture may suffer and the vital role of the organisation as preserver of the traditions, and thus the collective self-consciousness, of society be lost.

(6) Monetarism failed to prevent, even caused, the current economic recession which began in 2007 and has proved to be the worst since the Second World War. So the claim that it is a more efficient way of managing things and necessarily makes for a healthier economy has been proved to be false.

Thatcherism has had its day; it has outlived its usefulness and become a liability. Unfortunately, both politicians and businesspeople are still too wedded to it and reluctant to even consider the possibility of change. With the “credit crunch” and the resulting recession there has been some degree of nationalisation, a rolling back to some extent of the frontiers of the market, but there is no sign at present of a fundamental change across the whole of society, the discarding of one formula for living in favour of another. A return to normalcy will no doubt mean a return to fully-fledged monetarism. Unless maybe you are a bank, the general trend over the past twenty years has been to transfer more and more vital functions to private organisations, not less. The recession has made very little difference to that; such is the greed of the big companies that they stick their heads in the sand and refuse to acknowledge anything which shows that a policy of unrestrained capitalism is damaging and harmful to the interests of ordinary people.
The aim should not be to get rid of capitalism altogether but rather to reform the way it is practised. It is not desirable that companies should have to rely on costly government subsidies rather than stand on their own feet. What is desirable is for them to operate under greater restrictions and for some of the enormous wealth they have been permitted to amass in recent years be used by the government to help it meet the budget deficit rather than put increasing pressure on the public sector and the ordinary citizen. Such taxation need not be a permanent institution but it is essential until such time as we have managed to build a fairer society - something like the mixed economy which operated in this country before Thatcher – where society and the free market stand in the correct relationship to each other.

What needs to be done

(1) There should be a closer investigation into sharp practices by companies in the way they market their products and with regard to the range of them that is made available.
(2) There should be better education and training.
(3) Inexperienced and incompetent young staff to be replaced by older, more capable and experienced staff. Increasing the working age to 70, something which a growing number of people believe ought to be done anyway because of changes in society, will help towards this end by evening things out.
(4) There should be financial incentives to private companies to take on more of the long-term unemnployed. If this fails the government should take them on NOT private companies.
(5) There should be full legal protection for all employees including those in their first year of work.
(6) There should be an end to casualisation and Fixed Term Contracts. (The latter is simply casualisation under another name, a somewhat transparent attempt at sanitisation designed to appease those who object to the practice).
(7) There should be a statutory limit on how much a company can charge for its profits and how much it can pay serving/retiring staff in way of bonuses/golden handshakes.
(8) All firms to join the local Chamber of Commerce so their activities can be more sensibly regulated.
(9) Two weeks should be allowed for opponents of a planning application
to register objections and prepare their case for when the application is heard by the local authority (the hearing should not be in the holiday season when many people will be away. The public should be free to criticise the company which has submitted the application and also the local authority if, say, the property is a Listed Building which has been allowed to fall into disrepair. The aim of these measures would be to combat the tendency of local and national authorities to make things easier for private companies in these matters at the expense of our heritage or the public interest in general. Too many applications are only heard after one week (it used to be two – what’s gone wrong?) and in August, a time when many of those who would wish to register their opinions will be on holiday.

If all these rules are applied to all companies equally then competition will not be affected.

Generally speaking, bearing in mind the obvious reluctance of governments to confront the issue, the public needs to become more militant in opposing the unhealthy and excessive influence of private companies upon our national life. One feels we live in a plutocracy where, as well as laws which protect the government against the people (as in the old East Germany), we also have laws which protect the company against the consumer.


GUY BLYTHMAN
23rd July 2010