The Great Ignored? That’ll be The Big Deficit and The Big Market then.


The launch of the General Election campaign yesterday was most notable for what was not said, rather than what was.

But first, I was struck by the fact that David Cameron’s speech writers obviously did American studies – so we’ve had: the Great Ignored (aka The Silent Majority – Richard M. Nixon); the Big Society (aka The Great Society – Lyndon B. Johnson );  and “ask not what your government can do for you but what you can do for society” (paraphrased from JFK). Dave’s obviously going for the Americana vote.

But let’s concentrate on The Big Society – a topic Cameron has been banging on about for some time. I’ll leave aside the clearly delusional idea that the social problems of a modern society can be fixed by a few charity workers and a ;bring-and-buy’ sale alone – we need more social action, yes, but is it a substitute for social action organised via the state – no. But that is Cameron’s pitch – the Big Society versus the Big State. And he tries to make out that the latter is responsible for all the ills of society.

The truth is of course it wasn’t the Big State that got us into the current mess – it was the Big Market – the ideology that dominated the West generally, and British politics in particular, since the mid-70s. The idea that left to its own devices the Big Market would create untold wealth and solve all problems was not just delusional, it led to the biggest crisis in capitalism since the 1930s.

So why did hardly any of our politicians not mention the Big Market yesterday – have we all forgotten that we came within a hairsbreadth of not being able to get any cash or use our credit cards in October 2008? We almost, almost tipped into another Great Depression. And this was the result of over-reliance on the Big Market. But what did we get from our leaders – silence. Why? Because they were nearly all to some degree implicated in the ideas, policies and neglect that allowed the Great Bubble to form. Brown and Cameron were both cheerleaders for the Big Market and neither has much idea about what they might do to stop it happening again. So discretionary silence is the best thing.

The other curious silence was about the Great Deficit-Debt. None of them wanted to spell out just how bad the Deficit-Debt is, or that it’ll take either a decade or more to redress and/or the worst cuts in public services ever. At elections politicians like to promise to give things away rather than to take them away, as Simon Jenkins points out brilliantly in today’s Guardian. So we had a virtual blackout on the Great Deficit-Debt Crisis.

I would say that hopefully the campaign will get more ‘real’ over the next four weeks, but I wouldn’t hold your breath.

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About Colin Talbot

Professor of Government. Universities of Cambridge and Manchester, England.
This entry was posted in Performance, Politics, Whitehall. Bookmark the permalink.

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