I write from England, where I just participated in a conference on “The Anglosphere and the Future of Liberty” (about which more in a future post). It’s been an intensely English few days: pubs, a trip to the Imperial War Museum with my 12-year-old son, and lunch at the Garrick Club ending with a delightful portion of sticky toffee pudding. But the recent election here of Ed Miliband as head of the Labour Party put me in mind of a very American poem, “The Road Not Taken,” by Robert Frost. A traveler stands at a fork in the road and ponders long and hard about which route to take. Finally he takes “the one less travelled by/And that has made all the difference.”
With the ascension of Ed Miliband, a Marxist who narrowly beat out his brother David for leadership of the party, the Labour Party has turned its back on the nannyish but pragmatic New Labour of Tony Blair and has taken a step back into the thuggish, anticapitalist militancy of the 1970s. Far from offering a “road not taken,” Ed Miliband — the son of one of the most poisonous far-left academics of the 1960s, Ralph Miliband — threatens to take his party, and with it part of the country, down that well-trod road to serfdom England managed largely to extricate itself from thanks to the reforms of Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s.
Reading Miliband’s platform, one has to give oneself a shake: is this newspaper really from September 2010 or has one somehow gotten hold of a paper from the 1960s or 1970s? Higher taxes “to reduce the deficit”; a cap on salaries :to narrow the gap between rich and poor”; the promise of “a living wage”; “a third to a half” of cabinet members to be women. It’s the same old sub-Marxist, redistributionist, politically correct playbook that extended England’s post-war poverty well into the 1970s and installed resentment at the center of social policy.
Back in the 1970s, England was a dysfunctional society, intimidated by imperious unions eager to barter the public weal for local advantage. Strikes were rampant, public services regularly disrupted, and economic growth a distant and unrealizable goal. Margaret Thatcher changed all that, but here we go again.
London’s prosperity is astonishing. But everywhere one turns plans are afoot to stymie it. Sitting in Kennedy airport last week waiting to board the plane to London, I read in the Telegraph about proposals of the Energy Secretary, Liberal Democrat Chris Huhne, to levy huge new “green” (air-sickness bag ready?) taxes on gasoline and airline tickets in order “to help low earners” and “free hundreds of thousands of people from income tax.” Is he insane? By taking those hundreds of thousands of people off the income tax rolls he transforms citizens into wards of the state who have no stake in responsible fiscal policy. Just a few days ago, Vince Cable, the anti-business Business Secretary — another Lib Dem member of David Cameron’s preposterous “coalition” — went on a rampage against bankers, greedy “capitalists,” etc.
The always percipient Janet Daley, writing in The Daily Telegraph noted that Tories were likely to rejoice in Ed Miliband’s ascension. So patently left-wing a leader would surely be easy to beat. No so fast, Ms. Daley cautioned. The anti-freedom sentiment that disgorged Miliband minor also coughed up Vince Cable, Chris Huhne, and the other ghoulish characters populating the Lib Dem side of David Cameron’s fragile government. Then, too, there is Mr. Cameron himself: a wet accommodationist who (as The Wall Street Journal pointed out last week) has quietly abandoned the Tory party’s principled stand against yet closer ties with that lumbering, sclerotic leviathan, the European Union. Underlying all this, Ms. Daley points out, is a smoldering suspicion of capitalism, which is also a rejection of capitalism’s chief prerequisite, freedom. This is something that the political elite seems to have great difficulty in getting its mind around: that capitalism is not a moral exercise, it is an engine for the production of wealth. “Although it ends in ‘ism’,” Ms. Daley observes, “capitalism is not a monolithic ideology but simply the human condition in economic form.”
That enabling truth is as promiscuously ignored in England as, alas, it is in the United States. The results are an extension everywhere of the stultifying dead hand of government intervention: more, and more onerous, rules and regulations, higher taxes, less personal freedom. We’ve been done this road before. Isn’t it time to side with Robert Frost and test the road not taken?