Magazine article The Spectator

Status Anxiety: Toby Young

Magazine article The Spectator

Status Anxiety: Toby Young

Article excerpt

Credit: Toby Young

As you're reading this, I will still be recovering from the dinner I'm due to attend this week to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Centre for Policy Studies, the think tank founded by Sir Keith Joseph and Margaret Thatcher. Earlier the same day, I'm due to appear on a panel with various conservative grandees to discuss whether the other side has won. Classical liberals emerged victorious from the battle of ideas in the 1980s, thanks in part to the work of the CPS, but it's beginning to look as though we'll have to have the same arguments all over again.

One reason for concern is the hard left turn taken by the Labour party. It has often been said that Thatcher's greatest victory was converting her socialist opponents to economic liberalism. The arguments that she and others made in favour of free enterprise, deregulation and lower taxes were accepted by Tony Blair and -- more grudgingly -- by his successor.

The same cannot be said of Ed Miliband. As the date of the election draws near, it's becoming clear that he rejects this consensus. He plans to resuscitate price controls, confiscate undeveloped land and impose a swingeing property tax. He's even started to talk about renationalising the railways.

Miliband and his allies will cite the global financial crisis of 2007-08 as 'evidence' that markets need to be 'reined in' by the state. Yes, the British economy is on the mend, but the fact that millions of people had to make cutbacks during the recession will make them sympathetic to a left-wing critique of unbridled capitalism.

There's also a good deal of scepticism about the benefits of the free enterprise system 'trickling down' to ordinary people. This is at the heart of Miliband's 'cost of living' strategy, as well as his constant rhetoric about how 'out of touch' David Cameron and his 'cabinet of millionaires' are.

Intellectually, the left now has some quite big guns on its side, too, such as Joseph Stiglitz and Thomas Piketty. They've convinced the educated bourgeoisie that growing in-equality is an inevitable consequence of free market capitalism. They're both eloquent exponents of the age-old case for redistributive taxation, namely, that you have to tax the rich to stop the poor from revolting. …

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