Tuesday, 15 February 2011

The Left is good at one thing: rewriting history

Why does the Left invariably get to decide what the “story of our times” is? For instance, you’d think that what defined the Thatcher era was savage public spending cuts and jeering City barrow boys guzzling Flaming Ferraris while flashing their enormous wads at the millions of Northerners whom the Tories had heartlessly and needlessly sacked.

Of course the truth is that a small handful of right-wing Tories took a country that was rapidly turning into Albania and left it richer, stronger and more confident than it had been since before the First World War. So successful were they that it took thirteen years of socialist misrule and a cosmically inept chancellor to set us back on the road to ruin.

But the “narrative” of the Thatcher years, which the Left started writing while she was still in power, tells a very different story. Yes, several millions jobs were lost, mainly in heavy industries, where the more that was produced, the more the taxpayer had to fork out. But there was also huge inward investment in the affected regions – the appalling Michael Heseltine was dispatched to Merseyside to try to find something for the workshy locals to do now that there weren’t so many cargo boats to steal from. But the resulting call centres and Japanese car factories and building projects and shopping centres and privatised docks have been airbrushed from history – effectively, they never happened, or, if they did, the bravery and foresight of local left-wing politicians made them possible.

Left-wing politicians needed to keep “their” people smouldering with sullen resentment during the Thatcher “terror”, or they were never going to get back into power, which is why the myth of Thatcherite  “cuts” was created – and it survives to this day. Apart from those economically ruinous public sector behemoths, very little else got cut: the dole, the NHS, education, policing, defence, local government, the arts and broadcasting all went marching along pretty much as they always had done, merrily siphoning off tons of tax revenue. Luckily there was a lot more tax to siphon off – not to mention North Sea Oil revenues – allowing vast swathes of the public sector to keep sucking at the money teat. Yet even the wets in the Tory party couldn’t resist fostering the illusion of borderline-psychotic fiscal savagery. And, to be honest, the right wing of the party didn’t mind its Mad Axeman reputation – it didn’t half go down well with Middle England and Thatcher’s legion of upper-working class, loadsamoney supporters. 

Helping to foster the myth were the new breed of jeering, oikish, in-yer-face city spivs flashing their wedge at the cameras like ASBO-sporting National Lottery winners whenever the opportunity presented itself. I suspect there weren’t really that many of these tawdry oafs about (I spent a year helping to set up and edit a business news programme at the BBC near the end of the Thatcher era, and most of our wine bar interviews were about City workers losing their jobs). But the press and the broadcasters loved those easy-to-hate images of greed and excess, so they became a byword for the New City which, despite being distinctly unlovely, was powering Britain’s return to solvency. It even dawned on Mrs. Thatcher that this might not be the best way for her reign to be remembered and she eventually voiced her concerns about yobboes making out like bandits – but the damage had been done: the Left had its symbol of Thatcherism.

Of course, the lying continued during hapless John Major’s time in office: the Tories were the party of sleaze and incompetence (if only we’d known then what we know now!).

The reality of Heavy Industry job losses, the myth of wholesale public spending cuts, the image of the City yob and the impression of a party mired in scandal and corruption kept the Tories out of power for thirteen disastrous years, and meant that, when they got back in, they’d be a pallid little left-of-centre party unable to gain an overall majority in an election that should have been a landslide, dependent on a collection of the goofiest socialistic wreckers ever to sit around the cabinet table to keep them in power: all because the left got to tell the story of the Thatcher era.

Of course, it’s still going on. DM, in a comment on a previous post, quoted left-wing journalist Jonathan Freedland writing in the Times in July 2010 about Labour’s urgent need to rewrite history: “... they need to confront what is now a constant Tory refrain and which threatens to become received wisdom: that Labour left behind a foul and sticky mess, and the coalition is merely clearing it up. The risk is that this becomes a 21st-century version of the winter of discontent, a defining myth that says Labour governments always ends in disaster and that the party is too economically incompetent to be trusted with power.” 

The truth, for a left-winger such as Freedland, is merely a “version” - “received opinion”.

So what, in Freedland’s view, should Labour do about it? Apologise? Admit its grotesque mistakes and devise some slightly less apocalyptically catastrophic policies? No, of course not: they need to rearrange reality to fit their “narrative”: “Labour has to craft its own story of the recent past,” he writes. “Otherwise it will have no future.” Yup, there you have it – lie or die, comrades.

Lying about their past is what Labour and their media supporters have been doing ever since. And, of course, they’re lying about the present as well: the Tories have already implemented savage “cuts” which simply aren’t necessary. (Of course, we know that there haven’t been any cuts at all – simply a slight modest downward trend in the planned rate of increase in public spending. The “cuts” mooted for libraries, for instance, are simply a ploy by local councils to avoid the need to sack any of their heroically useless employees.) But people like us don’t get to write history: the BBC, the Guardian and left-wing academics get to do that - with the help of good old Tory traitors like Ken Clarke. 

Andy Coulson has gone. Good – he was doing a rotten job. The new bloke, I predict, won’t do any better. Cameron witters on about the “Big Society” (oh please put a sock in it, Dave!), Osbourne just looks grim, they keep wheeling out Frances “Chocolate Teapot” Maude, and William Hague appears to be more interested in stabbing Israel in the back than helping his own party.

Meanwhile, as always, the Left does the one thing it’s any good at –writing fantasy fiction


  1. Funnily enough, Jonathan Freedland returns to this issue in his latest column in the Guardian*:

    Out hawking his new memoir, Known and Unknown, Rumsfeld reckons it was Bush's "freedom agenda" that paved the way for the current revolutionary spirit sweeping the Arab world ...

    In the Washington Post Charles Krauthammer took the near-universal admiration for the crowds in Tahrir Square as belated endorsement of the Bush programme ...

    In Britain Melanie Phillips has expressed astonishment at the sight of progressives backing the Egyptian demands for regime change: hadn't these same "bien-pensants" denounced the Bush-Blair pursuit of regime change in Iraq?

    How dare they, says Freedland. This is a demarcation issue:

    Those who cheered last week's upheaval in Cairo did so because it was a revolution from within, driven entirely by the Egyptian people ... Nor can the Bush defenders get away with rewriting the history of the former president's "freedom agenda" ...


    * http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2011/feb/15/democracy-love-bombing-middle-east
    Wednesday, February 16, 2011 - 09:03 AM

  2. Charles Krauthammer. What a glorious name for a gung-ho WW2 American general. Better than anything in "Catch-22". Or is it some in-joke? It took me a number of years to figure out the Private Eye "Botney" reference.
    Wednesday, February 16, 2011 - 09:24 AM

  3. You have to sympathise with Freeland, though, DM – after all, some deranged right-wingers even claim that Winston Churchill had something to do with winning WWII, when we liberals know it was the brave trades unionists who organised strikes throughout the war (2000 “stoppages” in 1944 alone) who really brought down Adolf Hitler. Within a few years, even the Right will begin to see that it was Barack Obama’s energy and vision which caused the Middle East to rise up in the name of democracy.

    Don’t worry, SDG, Charles Krauthammer is real – I catch him regularly on Fox News (he looks scary, but talks sense). He has a distinguished past as a psychiatrist who turned to political commentary, and is now one of the main conservative commentators in the US. I’d also suspect Jonathan Freedland of being a construct – a sort of all-purpose too-clever-by-half liberal with ridiculous views – but I actually met him a few times when we both worked for the BBC: he glowed with the sort of self-confidence that allows you to believe insane things.
    Wednesday, February 16, 2011 - 11:20 AM