The Left Was Right!
Mark Seddon is the former United Nations Correspondent and New York Bureau Chief for Al-Jazeera English TV. He reported from eighteen countries during that time, including North Korea, China, Haiti, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. He has interviewed, amongst others, Ban Ki-Moon, Lech Walesa, Tony Blair, Hans Blix, Michael Foot, Mia Farrow, and George Clooney. In a journalistic career spanning over twenty years, he has been Editor of Tribune and an elected member of the UK Labour Party's National Executive Committee. He has written for most British newspapers and many magazines, including The Guardian, The Independent, The Daily Mail, The Times, The Spectator, New Statesman, Private Eye, British Journalism Review and Country Life Magazine. For a number of years he was a Diarist at the London Evening Standard, and has also reported for, amongst others, the BBC and Sky TV. He lives in Buckingham, England.
Self justification, we are told, is an unhealthy preoccupation. But just for a change – and considering the enormity of the issues that are and have been at stake, I got thinking the other day about just some of them. I also got thinking about how those of us who have argued passionately for them or against them were frequently castigated, ignored and insulted. I also got to think about so many in the Labour Party who were disparaged, blocked and barred from office – in order that those who let ambition guide them, were rewarded for their sycophancy.
Here are just a few. Readers will no doubt think of more.
*The systemic flaws in the Anglo American free market system; many of us argued that worshipping at the altar of the market place, allowing state assets to be flogged off and the banks, insurance and credit companies complete carte blanche would not only result in a more unequal society, the whole system risked imploding. Back when we were doing so, the then Chancellor, Gordon Brown MP, had gone to worship at the altar of the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan. He came back to Britain to tell us that he would end “boom and bust”. He competed with the Conservative Opposition to relax regulation of the financial services – and came to believe that a combination of the ‘dot com’ revolution and ever rising property prices would lead to permanent prosperity.
Then came that “bust” we all knew would happen. Fortunately Gordon Brown, by then Prime Minister and his Chancellor, Alistair Darling were clever men. They had studied Keynes, and they knew what they had to do. As did the incoming Obama administration. They plugged the gap and prevented a banking crisis through a massive bale out. This of course was our money! The bankers didn’t contribute a dime. None of them have been prosecuted for their grand larceny, and now they are back paying themselves huge bonuses again as the rest of us are told to tighten our belts. We know who is laughing all of the way to the bank!
Gordon Brown has now written a book and Alistair Darling has written a perspicacious article for the New York Times. They are both now singing from our song sheet. We were right when it counted, and they were wrong.
*European Monetary Union; Many of us who were not anti European, but worried at the centralising aspects and the democratic deficit associated with the European Project, had huge doubts about the long term prospects for the European economy. We thought that this was as much a political project as an economic one, and one that brought together economies that didn’t perform at the same rate, but that would enjoy the same interest rates. The then Prime Minister Tony Blair told friends that he wanted to be “remembered in history” for taking Britain in. Those of us who disagreed were labelled ‘little Englanders’ and told to “get with the project.”
Had Britain joined the Single Currency, given our over exposure to credit driven debt, our recession would have turned into a depression. Perhaps the British economy – and the British banks – would simply have been too big to bail out by the European Central Bank. Britain would have been another Ireland or Greece. So who supports Britain joining the Single Currency now?
*Manufacturing and the Financial Sector; For thirty years, since Margaret Thatcher was elected to power and used unemployment as a tool to control inflation and was allowed that to take key sectors of Britain’s heavy and manufacturing industry with it, we said that it was a terrible mistake to allow the country’s manufacturing base to shrink. We said that cyclical unemployment wasn’t worth the social and economic cost, but were labelled ‘dinosaurs’. We said an over dependence on the financial sector was the equivalent of putting all our eggs in one basket.
Now everyone seems to agree. Britain has to export itself out of recession by selling goods to the World, instead of exporting our best brains and most able bodied to the Middle East and South Asia. But what exactly does Britain have to export?
*Closing the Wealth gap; the gap between rich and poor in Britain and in America is the widest it has been since Victorian times, and just keeps getting wider. Once Britain had North Sea Oil to act as a cushion, but now that has gone. We said that Labour owed its very existence to tackling the most fundamental inequalities of all, and they just kept getting bigger. We were attacked for wanting to ‘level down’, for failing to understand aspiration. Instead the Meritocratic Society was offered up as sticking plaster by mediocrities, and we were allowed to imagine wealth ‘trickling down from above’.
Now we know that the wealth kept on trickling up. Now we know that the “squeezed middle”, the so called little people who pay their taxes are paying so that the super rich can get, er, richer!
*The Special Relationship; the British establishment has for years fostered the idea that there is a ‘Special Relationship’ with the United States. We said that could be loosely translated as the US telling Britain to “jump”, and the British saying “How high?” We know from the Wikileaks, just how many British politicians worried, wheedled and promised in order to maintain the fiction.
Now even Jack Straw, who arguably jumped pretty high when he was asked to do so, agrees with us.
*Afghanistan; in the wake of the horrendous terrorist attacks on the United States, which saw thousands of all religions and nationalities lose their lives in the Twin Tower outrage, some, including the American and British Governments thought that it would be a good idea to send armies to Afghanistan. We said that the terrorists weren’t from Afghanistan, but that militant extremism that led to terrorism had to be dealt with in much more imaginative ways. We reminded the politicians that Afghanistan had not only seen off Hannibal, but the British and the Soviets. Britain’s Defence Secretary said that “not a shot would be fired”, and those British troops would be back by Christmas.
Now we know that the Afghan war is the longest in living memory. It is largely futile and has been years. Now we know that the politicians are desperate to bring back the troops, knowing, as we always did, that foreign armies always come to grief north of the Khyber Pass.
*Iraq; we said that we doubted that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Furthermore, we said that war could only be declared with the agreement of the United Nations, and that a war conducted without it could conceivably be against international law. We said that the construct that is Iraq could fall apart and descend into civil war and that the whole balance of power in the region could fall apart and that Iran could only stand to benefit.
Hundreds of thousands of lives later, with tens of thousands of hideously wounded and disabled in its wake, we know that there were no weapons of mass destruction and that Government on both sides of the Atlantic with the collusion of many journalists told lies. Only George Bush (Retd) and Tony Blair (Retd), plus a bunch of loony neo cons now think that the Iraq War was right.
Of one thing we can be sure; to be proved right on so many of the great issues will not invite gratitude. Still less, by reminding those who were wrong. In fact quite the reverse.
So just for good measure, here is another warning for those who ignore history at their peril. The Anglo American model has de stabilised the World economy to such a scale, economic power may now be irrevocably shifting from West to East, and with it the life chances of millions. Instead, in Britain at least, the new political establishment is beginning to mirror a very old one indeed. This political elite, millionaires all, is intent on rowing back the State to such an extent that it will exist primarily to protect the interests of the super rich. The bottom have been squeezed into apathy and defeat. But by squeezing the middle, this new elite does not know what it risks unleashing.
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