Paul Abbott is Chief Executive of Conservative Way Forward and an Associate Director at Portland Communications.
Socialist Cuba brought in food rationing in 1962. A hungry, starving public were told not to worry: it was just a short-term measure to cope with a crisis. “Don’t panic! There will be jam tomorrow!” And yet Cuba’s system of voucherised price control – emergency food rationing – still largely exists today. Families in Cuba have been trapped with it now for more than 50 years.
As I described on this site recently, Labour went into the General Election of 1950 with a bold pledge: to preserve war-time food rationing in Britain – and not just for a few years, but forever and ever!
This fact deserves a wider audience, given the extreme and leftist drift of Labour Party policy today. “Equality!” Labour MPs cried on the barricades in 1950, as they tramped the streets distributing leaflets about the merits of forcing every Tom, Dick, or Harry to eat exactly the same scram. Rationing had been an ugly hangover of the six-year struggle against Nazi Germany – during which Ministers were in control of how much bubble and squeak or bovril you were allowed to consume each day. It was a hated necessity of World War Two. So, why did the Labour Party want to impose it more permanently?
The answer, I am afraid, is that proper left-wing politics, wherever it has been meaningfully tried, has ended with the brutal rationing of basic goods: meat, milk, bread, sugar, toilet paper, electricity, gas… Rationing requires that everyone must have the same. Not just because of scarcer resources and lower production in a Socialist economy: but because the logic of equality demands it. This is a fact that the British people deserve to hear.
There are other more recent, and more chilling examples. Last year, Jeremy Corbyn’s apparent paradise of Venezuela forced its citizens to queue, to register for an electronic card that was allegedly “designed to end food shortages that have plagued the country”. That was the politbureau’s line.
But in fact the new ID card restricts Venezuelans to once-a-week shopping. By law, in Venezuela today, you may not purchase groceries or other basic goods more than once a week. More sinisterly, the snooping ID card sets off a loud alarm if any citizen tries to break the rules, and to buy food for their family beyond the permitted limits. It is all rather reminiscent of the old gallows humour from the Soviet Union, from the last century, where a Russian boy asks his mother plaintiffly, “Mama, where is papa?” She responds: “Papa is standing in the line to get coupons for the coupons.”
Socialism requires rationing, and that means poverty. This is the bald and tedious truth of it, which the Labour Party are in danger of forgetting today. The two ideas are ideologically indivisible. One cannot exist without the other. This is why Winston Churchill savaged Labour’s ideological impoverishment of Britain in the late 1940s as a “Queue-topia”.
We are all familiar with Churchill’s grand metaphor that conservatism is about giving people ladders of opportunity. But his colourful rejoinder is not always remembered. Namely: that Labour are the Party of the queue. Do you want to send your daughter to the best local school? Tough. You must wait in line, while the local authority decides if she is “in the catchment area”. Do you want a new home for your family? Tough. You must wait in line, while some bureaucrat judges who is the “most deserving” of a local council house. And so it continues. On and on. Everywhere the State grips something, there is the misery of queues and the poorer standards associated with rationing.
Consider, then, Sadiq Khan’s housing policy for London, as we look ahead to May 2016. The Tooting MP is arguing for – among other things – a massive expansion of State control over London housing, primarily in the form of what sounds like rent controls (although he uses different language).
This may sound superficially attractive, if you are struggling to pay the rent. But, in the long run it will just entrench London poverty, and it will mean longer queues. Khan’s policy is rationing by the back door. It is likely to result in lower investment in the private rented sector, and fewer new homes built. Millions of Londoners would pay the price, as more would be forced to wait in line for a roof over their heads, and the standard of private rented accommodation would fall.
If we want a better future for London, where we can turbo-charge brownfield development and get more investment into housebuilding, then we need to back Zac for 2016 and build up a campaign that can beat Labour on the ground. You can sign up here.