Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Commanding Heights Of The British Economy

In an article in the Daily Telegraph a couple of years ago, Boris Johnson looked back at the sixties and seventies, "when the landscape was heavy with Lefties and .... every member of the Labour Party carried a personal commitment in his or her wallet to the nationalisation of the commanding heights of the British economy". Barmy Boris went on to say that those days were long-gone and the Right had won the battle but warned that Lefties were not dead, just lying dormant. If only I could share Boris' optimistic outlook, but I fear they may be long dead.

I suppose I am what Boris would call a Lefty and back in the sixties and seventies I carried a copy of Clause 4 of the Labour Party around with me (this isn't a descent into iconography, it was printed on the back of your membership card, so if you carried the card you carried the clause). I remember drafting leaflets calling for the nationalisation of "the commanding heights of the British economy". Back when such ideas were popular, the commanding heights were things like the coal mines, the railways and the steel industry. By the sixties many a young Lefty like me was dreaming of the nationalisation of the real commanding heights - the financial institutions. The dreams never came true and we lived to see an era of de-nationalisation come into being. The basic law of Thatcherism was that if it couldn't be privately owned it should not exist.

And now here we are, fifty years later, nationalising the banks and financial institutions with the enthusiasm of an Atlee or a Cripps. Most of the big banks are now in public ownership because the Government has put up the majority of the core funding which is keeping them running. But still idiots of all parties appear on the television saying that we must, under all circumstances, avoid nationalising the banks. Bail them out, by all means, but don't control them. And where are the dormant Lefties rejoicing at the coming into being of their old dream? Where are the signposts rapidly erected by bank workers proclaiming that "This Bank is now owned by the People"? Sadly, they are dead, Boris, long dead.

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