Saturday, May 13, 2006

The inevitability of gradualness......

...... is a phrase made famous by Sidney Webb who said it in an address to the Labour Party Conference in 1923. I was reminded of it when reading an article about inequality in the Business Section of today’s Guardian. Skipper has also spotted it and comments that “it really annoys [him] when critics of Labour claim inequality is greater currently under Blair, than at any other time”. In fact, since Labour moved on from the Major Government’s tax and spending plans, the pendulum has started to swing back.

The Guardian notes that “tax and benefit changes in the past few years have reduced income inequality between the richest and poorest people in Britain .... the Office for National Statistics said inequality had narrowed since 2001/02, reversing the rises of the late 1990s”. Unhappily “inequality remains high by historical standards” but the UK is now moving in the correct direction.

I’m sure that many people hoped that Labour would have instantly reversed all the damage which eighteen years of uninhibited radical-Tory government had done to the fabric of society. But there was no revolution in 1997 for which we should all be grateful. Instead we have a government that is acutely aware of the limitations of its powers as it steers a careful course between the many powerful forces which have influence over life in Britain.

It’s slow and, sometimes, painful progress but much to be preferred to the only real alternatives viz a return to a Tory government or a hung parliament that would probably further slow progress.

9 Comments:

At 21:38, Blogger skipper said...

Glad to see you agree with me on this one Hughesey. Seems a small comfort, in times like these, but Blair's government has contributed quite a lot to the advance of social democracy. Though I fear full obituaries, rather than anticipations like this, are not far off.

 
At 09:20, Blogger Hughes Views said...

The 'well at least it's better than a Tory government' line may not suit the purists or perfectionists but it seemed quite effective on the doorsteps I visited for the 2005 campaign......

 
At 17:21, Blogger politaholic said...

The trouble with the "inevitability of gradualness" is that there is bugger all "inevitable" about it. Webb's theory, as I understand it, is that there is a kind of "ratchet effect" vis-a-vis progressive reform, and that one small reform added to another, and then another, and so on, will, over a long enough period of time, produce a major beneficial social change. But, firstly, a ratchet can be unsprung (I suppose one could call that "the Thacher effect"). And, secondly, a "ratchet effect" can work the other way also. After all, isn't that what you chaps are arguing, that electoral constraints make it impossible to reverse the Thatcher legacy? I agree with you that "at least it's better than a Tory Government", but that's not setting the bar very high is it?

 
At 21:53, Blogger Hughes Views said...

Politaholic - I think what Webb was getting at is the difficulty of change and therefore its slowness. What is 'inevitable' is that, short of traumatic revolution, change has to be done gradually. Evolutionary change takes a long time but is still usually preferable to revolution. When I was in my mid twenties and getting increasingly frustrated at work about the difficulties of getting my projects completed, a sympathetic 'old man' in the same department (probably about the age I am now) told me that he reckoned that for every one person trying to introduce change into the organisation there were seven who saw it as their duty to stop him!

The point is that people and institutions are resistant to change; people get comfortable with the status quo and many have genuine fears about the impact change might have on their lives. So, for example, some consultants in the NHS will resist the closure of their small hospitals, because they have relatively easy lives working in them, even though deep down they probably realise that it makes sense for doctors to pool their resources together in larger hospitals. There are millions of similar examples and this is one of the many things that makes life so difficult for radical governments - one of the many forces of conservatism (with a small c) in the country.

I do sympathise with your view that saying "at least it's better than a Tory Government" doesn't sound all that wonderful but to me it sounds pretty good, especially as the present one is a lot better than most of the governments we've had in my lifetime......

 
At 09:41, Blogger politaholic said...

Three quick points:
1: I’m with you on the difficulty of change. Anyone who has worked in a large organisation knows how resistant to change they are and how the incompetent inevitably rise to the top. But aren’t your alternatives of gradual/evolutionary change versus revolutionary change a little too polarised? (Thatcher was able to set quite a rapid pace of change).
2: The record of this government is mixed: it broadly accepts the Thatcherite consensus and has pressed on with further privatisations and PFI (and much of the money poured into the public sector is carried off in wheelbarrows by PFI profiteers), but it has also introduced important constitutional changes such as devolution (although this is an “Old Labour” legacy), and some more “Labourite” or if you like “social-democratic” measures (such as tax-credits for low income families with children). Overall, however, I do not see it as a tremendously impressive record. Broadly speaking, New Labour so far has been a government of Thatcherite “consolidation”.
3. And then there’s Iraq.

 
At 11:43, Blogger Hughes Views said...

Politaholic – thanks for your response. Thatcher went for revolutionary-like change with pretty dire consequences for millions of people. Btw, I’m not against quite a lot of what her government did but I have real problems with the way it was done.

I don’t agree with you about this government’s record. It has made minor but significant improvements to millions of people’s lives eg £40+ a week more for 2m pensioners, new buildings, books and computers for 10m school pupils, SureStart centres for families with young children, vastly improved NHS treatment for millions of patients etc. Trouble is lots of small improvements don’t add up to many headlines, unlike devolution, removal of hereditary peers etc, but that doesn’t mean that the sum of human happiness hasn’t been increased. Most of it would never have happened under a Tory government or a hung parliament. Even if it had got itself elected, I doubt if an ‘old-Labour’ administration would have lasted long enough to do as much for as many.(See today’s post for a brief flavour of my views on PFI – a necessary evil).

The Iraq war would still have happened whatever we’d done. The US was totally committed to the war and nothing Britain or any other country could have done would have stopped it. I’m still not sure whether we should have joined the coalition; there are convincing arguments on both sides. And we’ll never know what would have happened had we not joined.....

 
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At 14:22, Blogger Ladyhihi said...

Politaholic – thanks for your response. Thatcher went for revolutionary-like change with pretty dire consequences for millions of people. Btw, I’m not against quite a lot of what her government did but I have real problems with the way it was done.



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At 09:54, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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