Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

Fifty-three years on, Martin Thomas (Baron Thomas of Gresford) has been reminded of his first parliamentary campaign. What struck me about the newspaper report included in the Liberal Voice piece (apart from the fact that his lordship was even more handsome then than in later life), was how little had changed politically.

We need Lords reform as much as ever. The hereditary element may only be a faint echo of its former domination, but the upper House is now swamped with political appointees as a result of successive prime ministers seeking to redress the political imbalance left by the previous incumbent. It is a matter of shame that Conservative and Labour front benches conspired against the will of the people in 2010 by preventing the Liberal Democrat-inspired Lords Reform Bill from proceeding.

The rating system was very unfair. Fifteen years later, Margaret Thatcher was to replace it with something even more regressive, the community charge. Now we are back to "rating plus" in the form of council tax, which is only marginally fairer than rating. We still need a progressive system, like local income tax, or the site-value rating proposed by the Liberal party in 1964, or a combination of the two.

The politics of fear is still with us. The Conservatives continue to have nothing to offer but the assertion that they are more stable and sound than the main opposition, which admittedly is in an even worse state than it was in 1964. George Brown may have been over-susceptible to alcohol, but at least he did want Labour to take the country forward* rather than back to a discredited state socialism espoused by Corbyn and McDonnell.

Substitute "Premier League footballer" for "the Beatles" and multiply the weekly take-home figure by six or more, and the statement about pay disparity holds. The Conservatives may claim that the gap between the highest- and lowest-paid has narrowed, but only by comparison with the Blair-Brown years when it reached historic proportions.

We still lack a fair voting system. Worker participation in commercial and industrial enterprises has barely progressed. We have yet to see a British post-world-war government with a truly international outlook - post-Thatcher, we have become even more insular.

The one very clear change is one for the worse. Lord Thomas reminds my generation:

When I harangued the voters in Rhuddlan, lengthy speeches were acceptable. Every sentence had a real live verb in it, and, more significantly, the press reported every word. 

But he concludes his piece on an optimistic note:

But remember how Vince and Nick and Ed, Jo and Lynne and Jenny, and others of our Party fought within the coalition for the values and aims which had inspired us on the long march. Of course there were mistakes, but whatever the backlash, let us be proud of what we achieved and proud that the vision has remained intact.
What strikes me when I re-read this speech, is the consistency with which we have maintained our goals and the continuing relevance of our policies in a much changed world.

* Brown might have succeeded in those hopeful days of the late 1960s if prime minister Wilson had not trimmed under pressure from trade union barons and the Treasury.

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