Wednesday, October 01, 2008

"Events, dear boy, events"

Thus, apocryphally, Harold MacMillan, when asked what could blow a government off course.

But they can have the opposite effect. I'm remembering another Prime Minister suffering economic difficulties, with high unemployment, high inflation, and record low poll ratings. Mrs Thatcher (for it is she) looked doomed against her smooth young public-school opponent, Michael Foot ;-)

Don't mock. By 1982 Mrs T was so far behind in the polls that even Footy only had to avoid clangers to stay well ahead. The next election was his to lose, not Thatcher's to win.

Then General Galtieri invaded the Falklands. The fact that the trigger for the invasion was a penny-pinching act of her own government (the announcement by Defence Secretary John Nott of the proposed withdrawal of the only British naval vessel in the South Atlantic, HMS Endurance) was forgotten. Her response to the invasion, and the success of the task force, sent her popularity soaring.

Three weeks ago Gordon Brown was the most despised man in Britain. The Right hated him for his gargantuan waste, the abolition of the 10p tax band, his destruction of private pensions, his utter uselessness. The Left hated him for PFI (as did some of the Right), ID cards, the abolition of the 10p tax band, bankrolling Iraq and Afghanistan (although not with a big enough wad to give our soldiers decent kit), his utter uselessness. Everyone else hated him for his utter uselessness. Everything he touched turned to dross.

Then the Great Economic Disaster of 2008 struck as a whole cloud of securitised-debt chickens came fluttering home to roost. But it's done Gordy a lot of favours - despite the fact that GB, as Chancellor for ten years, is implicated up to his neck in whatever dodgy debt fantasies the City's accountants dreamed up to keep the bottom line looking good. Who was in charge of regulation ? Who prided himself on the 'light touch' of the FSA ? Who was the guy who knew it all ?

Nonetheless :

a) a lot of the lefties have stopped lambasting him to focus attention on their old enemies, the bloated plutocrats. This may not last.

b) said lefties are suddenly chipper at the sight of Big Capital calling for state intervention and the perceived collapse of capitalism. Just when they'd pretty much given up on any such thing happening.

c) conversely, the free-marketers are depressed to a greater or lesser extent. The American disaster has dampened their ardour. To be fair, this has been a Big Week. Tectonic plates have shifted, and the deregulated - or specifically, credit deregulated model of capitalism looks fatally compromised. Good. Doesn't of course, do anything about the long-term, structural disasters - education, demography, welfare dependency - which, more than any amount of creative asset pricing, spells our decline.

d) being 'the man in charge' at a time of crisis will always mean that people tend to rally round you. Bush may need (a Democratic) Congress - Brown has still a tame PLP, with a hefty majority, to do his bidding.

e) the Tory Conference has been overwhelmed in the news by the financial hurricane. In vain Mr Cameron offers to help the Government. As seen above, Gordon don't need Dave's help. The expected 'conference bounce', when the Leader is all over the news bulletins for a week, may not materialise.

f) having something to worry about other than what two public-school bullies (I'm trying to put myself in his Oxfords) will be throwing at him each Wednesday can't but do him some good.

Of course, I still want him out asap. But what will the man being beaten up by Somali youths on the top floor of the Clapham omnibus think ?


Anonymous said...

Was HMS Endurance a ship of only 3,600 with little weaponry really going to stop the Argentines on its own?
Either in spirit or in an actual firefight?

Anonymous said...

It represented a commitment to the islands. It was never a credible military unit in its own right.

True Thatch's govt was to blame for the whole thing because of their cuts.

It was also instructive at the time to see how many on the British left suddenly found themselves standing shoulder to shoulder with a South American military junta. A regime that they would have decried only days or hours before the invasion. Although I entered a left/liberal phase not long after 1982 (it only wore off really on 9/11 when my critical faculties began to work again) the blatant hypocrisy was always to leave a nasty after taste.

Anonymous said...

So you were left liberal for 19 years before you had an epiphany?
must be hard to change your mind after such a long time.

Ron Paul on the bailout and finance
Its not great quality but worth a look, I think he is right about inflation=tax.
Yeah maybe I am dumb, but I had not thought about it much before, the government tries to make out that its rising prices that causes inflation but ofcourse actually its the government inflating the money supply (devaluing) that causes rising prices!

Anonymous said...

"True Thatch's govt was to blame for the whole thing because of their cuts."

The Argentinian government invaded the Falklands because they wanted to invade it for political reasons; if they'd had any sense and were actually motivated by the cuts, they'd have waited another six months or a year until _AFTER_ the planned cuts had actually been made and Britain no longer had the capability to take the islands back.

Blaming Thatcher for Argentina invading the Falklands is silly; the historical background of the invasion is well documented, and the Argentinians utterly stuffed it up for their own political reasons. If they'd been at all competent they'd still have the islands today.

That's not to say that Thatcher's cuts weren't a bad idea -- I don't really have any opinion on that myself so I can't say -- but they certainly didn't _cause_ the Argentinian invasion.

As for Brown, I tend to agree that he could gain some popularity if the UK economy doesn't go right down the toilet; largely because the Tories haven't spent the last decade pointing out what a mess he was making, as they should have been.

TDK said...

The idea as I understand it is that Britain's reduction in defence spending gave a signal to Galtieri that we were not interested in the Falklands anymore and that he could then take them over.

This was one of those arguments that strained my own left wing ideology at the time. I look back now and see it of a piece with other "we are all guilty" themes.

It is a standard leftist discourse that when we "do it", we are venal or wicked, but when they "do it", they do it because we did something to make them do it, whatever the "it" is. This is a kind of soft racism, where no foreigner or immigrant can ever be the agent of their own destiny, they merely react to events as directed by the westerner.

Of course Galtieri had a choice, as every Muslim extremist has a choice, as black mugger has a choice.

That's not to say that withdrawing the ship wasn't significant. In the chain of events leading up to the war, its retention might have stopped the invasion but it's definitely a might.

Anonymous said...

So you were left liberal for 19 years before you had an epiphany?
must be hard to change your mind after such a long time.

Oh I dont know, it didnt take long for my whole world view to crumble!

I was never a hard leftie though, never joined any groups/parties. Just the general wooly liberal/leftism espoused by many, supporting policies and ideas, support which is a mile wide & an inch deep, as I saw someone say the other day.

I've always taken an interest in politics but I see now my liberal/leftism was largely an emotional attachment to a somewhat ill thought out set of beliefs, it was inconsistent, illogical. Its like I never understood anything at all, its like waking up after a coma.

northnorthwester said...

Laban, I think you have your political facts wrong on this one.
I was at university 1979 to 1982, and I remember, clearly, the Conservatives being ahead in the main polls for a good six months before the Argentinian invasion. I followed the political news daily and fervently back then. Harris, MORI, and the third nationwide one [whose name I forget now, alas! Guardian? Telegraph?] - all had the Tories ten or twelve points ahead in voting intention throughout early 1982.
The public LIKED privatisation; nice to get some cheap shares. they remembered the Winter of Discontent and hated Labour.
They feared the Soviet Empire.
In those days, Conservative politicians were still allowed to put their point of view on the BBC - and were against usually put up against only two or three other parties' spokesmen.

Mrs Thatcher risked throwing that consistent lead away when she decided to send the fleet.
She sent the troops anyway, and for the first time since Vietnam, a democratic government used its armed forces in large-scale combat against an aggressor despite the Soviet, Labour, Communist and wet Tory opposition and the Peace Movement propaganda campaign.

It is a left-wing myth that the Falklands war saved Mrs Thatcher; invented at the time by the unions, pro-Soviet Peace Movement and all who wished this country harm.

Please do not repeat it as gospel truth, Laban.

Your larger point about "events" is true enough, but this left-wing myth has to be stamped on every chance when it is repeated. It has to be done, if only as practise as the Left-wing myth machine now blames 'deregulation' and 'the market' for the failures of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Northern Rock. Corporatist lefty politicians and 'businessmen' all together fleeced their customers, overspend their budgets, and all this all amidst the usual purple haze of 'caring' and 'community involvement' typify their behaviour.


The Falklands war was fought, on our side, by volunteer forces protecting free people against an aggressor junta that was in fact the party using war to bolster its political power. Mrs Thatcher's decision was politically courageous and electorally a gamble - from a position of strength.

Rant over.

Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

The British left were scurrilous over the Falklands, siding against their own country. The biggest traitor was, as always, Tony Benn - a man whom people imagined in 1981 was going to be the next PM.
The scumbag continues to be on BBC Radio Bore.

moriarty said...

The British left were scurrilous over the Falklands,..

God yes, I still remember the crap that was flying about at the time. One particular theory was that Thatcher was prepared to use The Bomb. Plus all the nonsense about the Belgrano and 'rules of engagement'.

Laban said...

Be fair. Good old Footy stood four-square behind the task force - and much good it did him. He was right of course - the Galtieri regime actually WERE fascists.

But the Republicans in Ulster, and the Guardianistas on this side of the water, were happy to support 'anticolonialists' who at the time were torturing trades unionists before chucking them out of helicopters over the Atlantic.

Makes me wonder why I was so surprised when they were on the wrong side over 9/11.