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Airstrip One
by Emmanuel Goldstein

July 31, 2000

What Divides Us?
Are the left and right really that different?


I know that it will seem either ridiculous or obvious, but we are no longer in charge of our governments. I know we have a vote every four years or so, but this is making less and less difference. The fact is that the role of the permanent government – the bureaucrats, the media, the corporate lobbyists and elements of the national security apparatus – will always get their agenda in the end. Although it may not seem that way when the election is on, with the fights on abortion, health-care reform or free trade – few things change in the way that the electorate wants. This often means that things change, which is what the electorate does not want. Increasingly – and at a rate not seen since universal suffrage was introduced – the wishes of the electorate are fulfilled on the big issues only by coincidence.


Take the Trade Unions. Now I believe in the free market and the free movement of capital and am not in the least bit fazed by big companies, but I am getting very uneasy at the state of the British Trade Union movement. Now I am not just being cussed and nostalgic, the Trade Union movement went very wrong in the Post War years. It's role as a brake on progress and enemy of the small, non-industrial, and innovative areas of the economy did much damage in an era not short of damaging economic policies. However, with a few exceptions such as the Marxist Arthur Scargill, they did care about their members. Now the union leaders seem to be officials who started their working lives in the union headquarters, and seem to have been shuffling paper through their invisible rise "up the ranks" (sic). This has a massive impact on the way in which they represent their members – or don't.


This lack of concern for their paymasters, the ordinary members, shows itself in their attitude towards European Economic and Monetary Union. There are two main types of union members – white-collar public sector workers and blue-collar industrial workers – neither of whom will be helped by monetary union. The blue-collar workers in highly capitalised industries will either be decimated by the unrealistically high interest rates, or pummeled by uncontrollable inflation that frightens off long term investment. Government controlling the money supply is, arguably, bad enough, but trying to control it for five times as many people – it will kill off industrial Britain, forever. Government employees think that they will be better off as they look enviously at their continental neighbours. They will be sorely disappointed – as their leaders surely know. The fact is that it will help many government workers – the bureaucrats, but the so called front line workers will see the continental culture of centralisation come to an even greater extent than at present. While spending on health or education is now higher, more of it will stay with the bureaucrats that the European Union loves so much.


One would expect that a measure that so harmed the trade union members would meet with opposition from the trade unions to whom they pay their dues. Not so. The Trade Union leaders are, with a number of brave exceptions, staunchly in favour of EMU. In addition, this is because they no longer come from the membership that they supposedly represent. As I said before many leave university (which most of their members do not attend) and start as researchers and administrators, usually in the very unions that they end up leading. This means that their career progression is all, and career progression is not helped by upsetting governmental apple carts. Whereas even within living memory the majority of union leaders had done the jobs that their members were still doing – and some expected to return to that job – these leaders are rare. The exceptions in Britain tend to shock with their polite dissent, a teacher's union saying that the opposition is tougher on pupil discipline or a leader of London local government workers pointing out that EMU will ruin his members. They illustrate the rule that union leadership is now about managing their members' dissatisfaction rather than trying to address it.


Many readers may start saying what does this have to do with me. It is not about International affairs, I am not a member of a union, I am not British, I am not even particularly fond of them. However, the message is clear, the managers are winning. The very reason that the union leaders give for ignoring their member's interests, that the Euro will attract foreign investment, gives a taste of their managerial ambitions. The first thing to remember is that Britain doesn't just attract more investment than any other country in the European Union, as it has for years, but attracts more international investment than anywhere but the United States. Not bad for less than 1% of the world's population. If the Euro really were a killer issue, the investment would have dried up a couple of years ago; it did not so there is no real issue. But the whole point here is that they actually want economic policy not run for their members interests, or even for the economic health of the country, but because it will help the multinationals. Is that really why the unions were formed?


The managers have won. Middle managers in multinationals do roughly the same job as the trade union officials, and they are paid roughly the same wage, sorry salary. They also labour under the same conditions as senior civil servants, accountants in large practices, corporate lawyers and top level journalists. With a few exceptions, they create roughly the same amount of wealth, a figure close to zero. Moreover, they are the real beneficiaries of this move to coagulated governance. There is no conspiracy, just a clear but often unstated community of interest – and most of us are outside that community.


The representatives of the workers no longer represent the best interests of the workers and the representatives of businessmen (who in Britain are bizarrely management consultants) poorly represent business. With this sort of example is it any surprise that the representatives of the people are doing such a poor job? Looking at their records it is not hard to see why, the Prime Minister was a lawyer who made his living representing Trade Unions (or their leaderships – but at least he has a less corrupt background than his wife). The leader of the opposition was (and is) a highly intelligent man from a commercial background who threw away his talent to become a management consultant and then a Conservative MP, and he is one of the relatively good guys. The simple fact is that we are now managed rather than represented and we are addressed with gimmicks rather than improvements in our lives.


This situation can not last. This is not necessarily good news as the present corrupt prosperity is far preferable to the widespread unrest and even violence that could replace it. The real question is not should we replace the current order, but how we steer our political process back to sanity. And the key is the left. Yes, the left – those people I have spent almost my entire adult life railing about. I will apologise to the sizable minority of my readers who are already fully paid up members or sympathisers of the left as I switch into exclusively right wing mode.


In the last decade, we have seen the battles we have fought with the left being settled. On the economic issues we have largely won, the case against free markets per se is now viewed with kindly condescension as if the advocate had fallen into a deep sleep for fifteen years. On most of the social issues, we have lost, and with the exception of abortion, few of these issues are worth fighting on a political level. It really is best if we try to secede from the deadening culture that surrounds us. The real problem now is not the left – but the centre. The left talks about democracy – as do we. The left worries about internationalism – as do we. The left talks about tolerating different governments for different cultures – same here. The allies that we both shared in the middle are now gone. We have to look anew.


Every generation or so there comes a new realignment in our politics. This happened roughly fifty years ago when the Cold War threw out British imperialists and American isolationists from polite society and cast the Communists into outer darkness. Thirty years before a similar event happened in Britain as the Liberal Party withered and the Conservatives became the champions of the free market. Now it has come again, a time where the centre of gravity has not shifted as in the eighties, but where the points of reference are thrown completely awry. Politics is now a competition between those, left, right and centre, who actually believe in democracy, liberty and peace and those who think that they are merely high sounding phrases. Over the next few years there will be a fundamental realignment of politics, and we will all have to ask ourselves the hardest question, exactly whose side am I on?

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