Friday, 27 July 1990


Paul Anderson, review of A New Economic Policy for Britain by Keith Cowling and Roger Sugden (eds) (Manchester £9.95), Tribune, 27 July 1990

Labour Party front-benchers with Treasury or industry briefs seem to spend most of their time these days assuring us that, under a Labour government, there would be no massive increase in public owner­ship, no explosion in public expenditure, no return to corporatist prices and incomes policy, no large increases in taxation and no dramatic devaluation of the currency.

The implication is that, although Labour might adopt slightly different economic tactics from those of the Tories (allowing sterling to enter the exchange rate mechanism of the European Monetary System at a marginally lower level and easing interest rates less slowly, for example), the short-term priorities of a Labour government would be pretty much unchanged from those of the current government. Keeping infla­tion down would remain top of the agenda, and the main means of keeping it down – interest rates and control of public expenditure – would stay the same, even if they were less savagely applied and were augmented1 by credit.controls.

This is hardly such stuff as socialist dreams are made on, but it is difficult to envisage any alternative that would not frighten away capital from Britain. Increases in pay and public expenditure must be paid for by leaps in productivity or investors will simply go elsewhere. At least in the short term, there seems to be no feasible and desirable alternative to tight monetary and fiscal policy (perhaps with mini-booms as an occasional pleasant surprise, particularly before elections).

So is there nothing to choose between Labour and the Tories on economic policy? Not quite, Even if nationalisation and boosting public spending are no longer Labour policy, Labour still thinks that the state should have a rather more active economic role than most Tories want. Labour would regulate where the Tories would not (on health and safety, consumer rights and the environment, for example) and it would intervene to secure the long-term performance of the economy, both by improving education and health provision and by more direct economic measures.

How far it should or could intervene directly is still a matter for debate, however. A New Economic Policy for Britain, a collection of essays by economists close to Bryan Gould (who contributes an introduction), presents the case for what might be described as the most interventionist programme that Labour could conceivably adopt.

Essentially a deepening of proposals in Labour's policy review, its core argument is that Britain needs a wide-ranging industrial strategy, based on some­thing like the Japanese Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI), to counter the "short-termism" of the City, the increasing economic domi­nance of transnational corporations, and the economic decline of "peripheral" regions.

A reformed Department of Trade and Industry would be given massively increased powers. But its planning would be neither comprehensive nor central­ised; rather, it would be "polycentric" and carefully targeted on key industries (particularly communications) and regions. "We will need to identify strategic industries which require nurturing in order to create a more dynamic industrial economy," writes Keith Cowling in his overview essay. "This is essentially a matter of creating winners, rather than picking them. There will be no vast bureaucratic machinery; the approach will be entrepreneurial." Mergers would be stringently controlled, measures introduced to encourage pension fund investment in British indus­try, a new Company Act passed which used worker-participation to encourage companies to think long-term.

The traditional pro-nationalisation left will doubt­less denounce this package as insufficiently interven­tionist (pointing, quite correctly, to the absence of any credible means of controlling transnational capital). But the decisive opposition in terms of realpolitik will come from those for whom it is still too intervention­ist, despite its jettisoning of public ownership and high public expenditure. Such critics, increasingly the dominant force in the Labour leadership, will point to the reduction of MITI's role in Japan and the failures of the French planning system, and they will make much of the disastrous British experience of politi­cians and civil servants making detailed economic decision in the sixties and seventies. Unless the advocates of interventionist industrial strategy can provide convincing reasons for believing that it will all be different this time, I have a feeling that much of the work that has gone into this volume will be in vain.

Friday, 6 July 1990


Paul Anderson, review of Blood, Class and Nostalgia by Christopher Hitchens (Chatto, £18), Tribune, 6 July 1990

"Even if you steer clear of Piccadilly with its seething swarms of drunks and whores, it is difficult to go anywhere in London without having the feeling that Britain is now Occupied Territory . . . Before the war there was no popular anti-American feeling in this country, It all dates from the arrival of American troops, and it is made vastly worse by the tacit agreement never to discuss it in print."

Thus wrote George Orwell in Tribune in 1943, and it rings almost as true today as it did then. Despite the insatiable British appetite for the products of the American entertainment industry, there is a widespread yet unremarked anti-Americanism among the Brits. America means corruption, street crime, cue-card presidents, napalm, nuclear war. Yankee airmen are drug-crazed woman-beating syphilitics; Yankee tourists are cretins in loud shirts just begging to be fleeced.

Ask anyone – or rather, ask almost anyone on the Clapham omnibus. In Whitehall, the City and Oxbridge senior common rooms, anti-Americanism is anathema: the British elite prefers to talk of the "special relationship" between the British and the Americans, the time-honoured bonds of shared language, culture and strategic interests.

As Christopher Hitchen's new book shows, variations on this theme have been a favourite of the British ruling class for most of the century. Initially, a rhetoric of shared imperial mission and class and racial solidarity was a potent means of wooing the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant East Coast American establishment as an ally in preserving the British empire and fending off the brutish Hun — but only until the British embroiled the Americans in a futile war of intervention against the nascent Soviet Union.

By the fifties, alter another German war had witnessed the resurgence and finest hour of Anglo-Americanism, the Americans had replaced Britain as the world's dominant imperial power. The British establishment appealed desperately to ties of blood and common history as it tried to insinuate itself back into a position of influence in the world.

Of course, the servility was done with some style. "We are the Greeks of the Hellenistic age," said Harold Macmillan in 1957. "The power has passed from us to Rome's equivalent, the United States of America, and we can at most aspire to civilise and occasionally to influence them." Hypocritical cant, of course, but not, as Hitchens remarks, without its "metaphorical truth".

Blood, Class and Nostalgia consists of 13 chapters; each one an essay on some aspect of the relationship between Britain and America. Hitchens's intellectual range is extraordinary: he is equally at ease discussing Rudyard Kipling's "The White Man's Burden" (a plea for America to intervene in the Phillipines), detailing American neo-conservative responses to the television adaptation of Brideshead Revisited, or going over British nuclear weapons policy since the war.

A lesser writer would find it impossible to sustain clarity of argument through such diverse material, but Hitchens negotiates his course with customary verve. There are particularly good chapters on Winston Churchill's intellectual debt to James Burnham, the now almost-forgotten ideologue of the cold war, and on the Anglo-American intelligence nexus.

Hitchens concludes by stressing that the "special relationship", if not over, has lost its relevance. "For the United States, the appropriation of Englishness has become principally a matter of style and taste, of the sort that could be easily superseded in a generation. For the United Kingdom, or the English, the claim to a 'special relationship' with a transatlantic super-power has lost much of its force and savour as the axis of the old Atlantic Charter has rusted on the hinge. The world of Churchill and Roosevelt . . . has become a historical curio." Gerald Kaufman, please note.