Peter Cuthbertson was the Conservative Candidate for Darlington in 2015 and for Darlington and Durham Police and Crime Commissioner in 2016.
“In 2015, Great Britain received another financial bailout from the European Union. As they came to Britain’s aid, other EU member states noted haughtily that this was the country’s fourth bailout since Britain first went to the International Monetary Fund in 1976. No one disputed that the British were visibly poorer than the German or Greek taxpayers who were footing the bill. But many asked why it was down to Britain’s European neighbours once again to bail out Britain’s coal mines and her notoriously useless nationalised telecommunications firm.
“These complaints did nothing to stop the billions of euros making their way into Britain. But they underlined the central fact of Britain’s history since 1945: other than by conquest, no other nation has ever fallen so far, so fast. Looking back, it all seems inevitable. Even the coldest historians must feel an element of pity for the British, living their lives in a country undergoing an irreversible decline. Much as my imagination sometimes runs wild, I do struggle to believe that the woman elected in 1979 could ever really have offered any hope of turning it all round.”
I ended my chapter in the new alternative history book Prime Minister Corbyn And Other Things That Never Happened with this gloomy description of what Britain would be like if Thatcherism had been stopped in its tracks – in this case because the Falklands War goes badly.
What follows is a decade in Downing Street for Roy Jenkins – and ultimately horrific crime rates, stagflation, mass poverty and all-powerful liberal judges preventing right of centre policies in the courts.
If this sounds unfair to the left, we only need to look at where Britain was heading by 1979. If we had continued on that course since the 1980s rather than reversed it, Britain now being poorer than Greece follows naturally.
In researching the chapter, what I found striking was how much even the moderate left wanted policies that would have secured that decline. If the 1983 Labour Manifesto was the “longest suicide note in history”, then the SDP-Liberal Alliance’s 1983 manifesto veered between palliative care and euthanasia.
Rather than privatise all those loss-making nationalised industries, Jenkins and Steel proposed that they be monitored by an “Efficiency Audit Commission to report regularly and publicly to a Select Committee of Parliament”.
Rather than use monetary policy to control inflation, they would once again try a prices and incomes policy, and “meet regularly with representatives of commerce and industry, trade unions and consumers” to agree pay deals.
Rather than continue Thatcher’s deficit reduction strategy, the Alliance wanted to increase borrowing significantly and go on a Keynesian spending spree, splurging on everything from housing renovation to energy conservation schemes to sewers. It’s unlikely Roy Jenkins’ and his civil servants would have picked winners correctly. It’s even less likely the wider economy would have reacted well.
Just about everything that worked for the British economy in the 1980s was derided at the time by SDP types as unhinged free market dogma, and consciously rejected in favour of the policies that had already failed time and again.
We have sadly had more than a flavour of the other policies the left pursues whenever the right is weak enough. Giving judges sweeping powers to decide controversial political issues – and voters no democratic recourse if they don’t like the outcome – is hardly the exclusive preserve of the Alliance Manifesto and alternative history books.
Even Thatcher herself oversaw feeble sentencing for criminals that was considerably to the left of the policies Tony Blair inherited and continued. But if people like Roy Jenkins and the 1983 SDP candidate Polly Toynbee had been empowered to pursue their unswerving faith in rehabilitation programmes and soft sentencing, Britain could easily have seen tens of thousands more serious, prolific criminals avoiding prison – and millions more decent people victims of crimes.
Nor was the British Prime Minister’s unique role in helping end the Cold War inevitable. It’s possible a Roy Jenkins type could have had as close a relationship with Gorbachev as Thatcher did. But they could not have come close to matching her relationship with Reagan as well.
It’s easy to deride the Bennite alternative to Thatcherism. But this is to miss the wider point. Britain is a great country now not merely because the country avoided the far left, but because Conservatives also fearlessly defied the moderate left and the establishment -and reaped the electoral rewards.
Thatcher argued that “There Is No Alternative” so often in the 1980s that she was nicknamed TINA. She was right.