Wed, Jan 30, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Conservatives are focusing on capitalism’s flaws

When even some Tories — and not only leftists — are starting to accept that the free-market model does not work, it could be a sign that the old order is passing

By Nick Cohen  /  The Observer

Her audience merited a close examination, too. It was not made up of leftists. Jesse Norman, an independent and thoughtful Conservative MP, chaired the debate. The Henry Jackson Society, a neo-conservative think tank, organized the meeting. If anything, they were more worried than Freeland. Norman had already written well about how capitalism must reward hard work and thrift if it is to prosper, and looked with anger on the taxpayer bailout of the bank’s crony capitalists.

People should take notice and not only because it is always worth keeping an eye out for splits in the ruling class. A country does not always change when a government that calls itself “right wing” is replaced by a government that calls itself “left wing.” Changes in the spirit of the age matter more than changes in personnel.

Despite its many achievements, I cannot see historians treating the last UK Labour government with anything other than despair. Labour could not see a capitalist crisis when it was staring it in the face. Former British prime minister Tony Blair knighted just about every megalomaniacal scoundrel in the financial sector.

Brown gushed to the bankers: “What you have achieved for the financial services sector, we, as a country, now aspire to achieve for the whole British economy,” a few years before financial services brought down the British economy.

I know for a fact that after I wrote about the disgrace of a Labour government honoring the tax-avoiding retailer Philip Green, Blair told friendly journalists that all tycoons behaved like Green and there was nothing he could do about it.

Although you can find cases of individual Labour politicians leaving office for well-rewarded jobs, high finance did not corrupt the party with money bribes. It did not need to. The spirit of the age had already captured Labour politicians. Even though that age is as dead as any corpse in the graveyard, its ideas continue to animate many on the British right.

British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne wasted his political capital to cut the top rate of income tax and block British Business Minister Vince Cable’s plans to tax the super-rich’s mansions. The financial sector or a confederacy of Russian oligarchs did not slip money into a private bank account. The unbribed Osborne believed that he could revive the economy by lifting the burden on wealth-creators.

The failure of his policy, along with an authentically conservative disgust at the sight of the taxpayer propping up the lame ducks of the financial sector, is leading Norman and others to think radically.

I am not asking you to expect too much from a party that puts the interest of keeping Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich’s council-tax payments low, before the interests of the mass of working and middle-class people, just saying watch for signs that the old order is passing and to do what you can to push it on its way.

Whenever you listen to British Prime Minister David Cameron you should remember that he was once a public relations man. Nevertheless, when he said last week that he wanted to stop conglomerates avoiding the taxes the little people must pay, I sat up.

It says much about the scandalous age we have lived through that I could not imagine any modern prime minister speaking so clearly, I thought to myself. Maybe, after all these years, British society is on the move.

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