Two things happened for the first time in 1986: a) the government of Margaret Thatcher was defeated in the Commons (in fact it was the only time Thatcher’s government was defeated) and b) a major piece of legislation had been defeated in the Commons at Second Reading. The issue: Sunday trading.
Matthew 6:24 observes: “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.”
When Thatcher decided to try and love both on a Sunday, she first realized that the iron fist with which she ruled, was in fact inclined to bend on occasions after all.
In her letter of public statement about Sunday trading she wanted to “reassure you that the government is not trying to alter the traditional nature of Sunday in this country” but “Eight million people already work on Sundays, about half of them regularly”.
In many ways this makes sense, but I wonder if this was intentional of Thatcher. What is true of the above quote, but probably not true of her sentiment, is that Sunday’s are already blind to the observation of Sunday as a day of rest. In her mind that begged the question of why we are denying shopkeepers of their potential surpluses?
In short, she wanted the same dire Sundays – but more so.
Is this not the rupture of neo-liberalism and traditional Toryism made flesh? Is what divides these two factions most in the Conservative party not what to worship more, God or mammon?
A retired British Army officer in a French work of fiction from the 1950s once said: “If England has not been invaded since 1066, it is because foreigners dread having to spend a Sunday there.” This should give us pause. As a nation have we come to loathe rest?
I’m not sure what kind of debates they have in Spain around longer trading hours and curbs on siestas, but I’m sure the anti-rest lobby are just as willing to ruin shut-eye as clearly some are over here.
It took 26 attempts before Sunday trading laws were relaxed in 1994 as a compromise with Thatcher’s idea to get rid of all restrictions. Now George Osborne wants the UK Parliament to suspend restrictions during the 2012 Olympics.
Local people won’t have any more money to spend; there will be no extra Olympic visitors contributing to the legal economy … Yet the burden of extended opening hours will be felt by those on small wages and low status.
Relaxed restrictions: cui bono? Those anti-relaxation types in the shopkeeper world. Who suffers? Everyone else.
As the architect Le Corbusier rightly pointed out: “commuting time is a surplus labor which correspondingly reduces the amount of “free” time.” George Osborne is trying to make of a Sunday more surplus labour time, to no benefit of the majority. Let’s stick up for rest.
This is a cross-post by James Bloodworth
Julian Petley, co-author of the book Culture Wars, once observed that the British press had ‘perfected a way of representing the ideas and personalities associated with socialism as so deranged and psychotic that they presented a danger to society.’
It’s no secret that New Labour was evolved in part to counteract Labour’s image problems in the 1980s. The order of the day became finding the centre ground and sticking to it, rather than attempting to operate outside it and running the risk of remaining ‘unelectable’.
While many of us on the left did not necessarily agree with the political trajectory taken during the New Labour years, we understood that there was no inherent shame in trying to look like a credible party of government. The political landscape in the ‘80s and ‘90s was undeniably bleak for socialists, and reflected something the outgoing Labour Prime Minister Jim Callaghan had said several years earlier: ‘You know there are times, perhaps once every thirty years, when there is a sea-change in politics. It then does not matter what you say or what you do. There is a shift in what the public wants and what it approves of.’
As if by prophesy, 30 years later we are again at a moment of profound political change. The certainties that have shaped political discourse for so very long are again being challenged, if not by the political class then by workers and students right across Europe and beyond. Questions many of us have long been asking about our economic system are today routinely being raised by those with little history of political struggle – people whose sense of injustice has developed as they’ve seen living standards fall and prospects for the future become increasingly bleak.
The right’s response to the crisis has thus far been defined by a willingness to take the easy way out at every juncture. In place of solutions they’ve clung to ideology. Instead of compassion they’ve hacked away at living standards. Their plan for the long-term consists only of a global race to the bottom. In summing up, their response has been to dig in and entrench themselves further in the failed orthodoxy of laissez-faire capitalism.
Through it all, much of the media has portrayed murmurings of dissent not simply as illegitimate but as disorderly and threatening. They have casually dismissed the Occupy movements and thrown handfuls of mud at any figure who has evoked the most basic right every working person must have – the right to withdraw one’s labour – and, as if looking admiringly at the authoritarian capitalism of the east, called enthusiastically for further restrictions on this right at every given opportunity.
Yet, in the face of this torrent of hostility the public mood toward the economic policies of the right has hardened. The latest opinion poll published by the BBC finds 61% believe Wednesday’s public sector strike is justified, a total that includes almost four in five 18 to 24 year olds. This is on the back of a YouGov poll from a few weeks back which found that 44 per cent of Londoners supported the aims of the Occupy LSX group, with 30 per cent opposed and 25 per cent answering ‘not sure’.
Rightly or wrongly, many inside the Labour Party routinely go along with the evocation of right-wing policies when doing so brings electoral gain. As someone on the left of the party, I have lost count of the number of times I have been told that my ideas would make the party ‘unelectable’ if adopted – as if the sole purpose of politics was the abandonment of all principles in exchange for political office.
I have previously accepted, however, that at times they might have had a point: the outlook for the left was, for many years and for a number of reasons, downright depressing. Resentfully, I bunkered down and grudgingly toed the line.
Today however, things are different. If nothing else, the above-mentioned figures should make it clear that it will not be crass characterisations of the ‘looney left’ that will eat into Labour’s support at the next election, but an unwillingness to properly stand up for the rights of working people in the face of this unprecedented onslaught of austerity.
The Conservative Party rarely needs reminding that it is the party of capital; yet far too often the Labour Party seems intent on forgetting that it is the party of labour.
There has indeed been a sea change in politics. This time, however, the boot is on the other foot: it is most certainly not the left that is acting as a drag on Labour’s electoral chances.
In a case that could have philosophical idealists wetting themselves for decades to come, by naming something before the fact of it, we should adapt to the Conservative attempt at framing inheritance tax as a ‘death tax’. Here’s my proposal:
Step 1. We suspend habeas corpus for those who use the phrase ‘death tax’, or any other such attempts to name a fairly banal law so as to inspire fevered opposition to it. So the entire Tory Party, to begin with, starting with Lansley.
Step 2. We execute all the aforesaid and confiscate all their property, to be liquidated and used to fund universal comprehensive, elderly care. This programme will be called the “Live Long and Prosper Tax”.
Step 3. We collect the votes of elderly people and Trekkies everywhere and guarantee victory at the next general election.
Step 4. (Optional) We liquify the remains of all those who have died (or committed suicide through stupid political posturing) and use this to feed the living, who we will connect to a giant virtual reality machine in which Gore was elected President, communism works and nobody is offended ever.
We will call this the “Matrix Tax”.