Thursday, March 19, 2009

Social democracy

Tony Benn is fond of claiming that it was the Labour Party that saved Britain in WWII, because they voted against Chamberlain in the Norway debate.  Well, it’s a point of view I suppose, though it ignores the fact that Chamberlain won the debate, and that it was the opposition of Conservative MPs that forced his resignation.  Now Vernon Bogdanor has a similar sort of crack in an article in the New Statesman (it’s obviously the season for this).

The article itself is about how and whether ‘social democracy’ can survive and thrive in a post-recession political sphere, but the bit that caught my eye was this:

In Britain, the divisions on the left have helped encourage Conservative hegemony. From 1914 to 1964, there was just one government of the left with a comfortable overall majority, and this even though there probably was a progressive majority in Britain for much of that period, a majority that would have adopted more imaginative policies to deal with unemployment and the threat from dictators.

Well, there were really two dictatorships during this period, Hitlerite Germany and the Soviet Union.  Given the relatively benign position on Stalin and the Soviet Union taken by much of the Labour Party, at least until 1956 though it continued beyond that, you’d think that Bogdanor must be focusing on the mid-thirties and the age of appeasement.  But that surely can’t be the case – look at what Labour leader George Lansbury was saying Britain should do to react to the Nazi threat:

I would close every recruiting station, disband the Army and disarm the Air Force. I would abolish the whole dreadful equipment of war and say to the world "do your worst".

I’m not sure that’s better than a policy of appeasement coupled with intense re-armament.

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