Twenty-twenty

20 December 2019

We leave 2019 in finer fettle than we found it: both Europhile revisionism and polytechnic Trotskyism seen off by the voters; a government with a decisive Commons majority for the first time in a decade; a firm commitment to implement the decision of the 2016 referendum; and a reforming Queens’ speech. But before we succumb to self-congratulation, let us take stock.

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On 20 September 1988, Margaret Thatcher spoke at the College of Europe in Bruges, famously declaring,

"We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain, only to see them reimposed at European level, with a European super-state exercising a new dominance from Brussels."

Thirty years later, one of the strongest reasons for baling out of the EU is its subsequent embrace of corporatism on a continental scale. Examples of producer capture include the Common Agriculture and Fisheries Policies, which add to the price of food; the Vehicle Directive, which has led to the poisoning of our cities’ air; and the Renewable Energy Directive, which has magnified the cost of power generation and illumination devices (light-bulbs to you or me). Similarly, Brussels has succumbed to regulatory capture in its lethargic implementation of the Services Directive in the face of producer-interests; and its failure to enforce capital standards on the busted banks of Germany, Italy and elsewhere.

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Boris’ ministry set out its approach yesterday in the pot pourri of the Queens’ Speech. He wants to introduce points-based immigration, toughen up sentencing and revisit the common-law offence of treason. Such plans may fairly be seen as right of centre but by no means out of order. On the reform side, he is to convene Royal Commissions or suchlike on foreign relations including defence and aid; on the machinery of government, in particular defence procurement (good luck with that!); on constitutional matters, including the role of the courts and the House of Lords; and on social care. These are neither one way nor the other on a left-right spectrum.

Boris’ economic policies are trickier as silent on regulatory reform and giving a whiff of domestic corporatism. He proposes to pay up for subsidies to new house-buyers, railways and what could easily end up as “bridges to nowhere”; as well as on schools and on healthcare, where he is reversing some of the Blair-era reform of the NHS. This promises unearned fortunes to property-owners; and hostages to fortune to the unreconstructed producer-interests of the teaching and rail unions, together with the Royal Colleges (ie, the medical unions), all of which have enjoyed seventy years’ or more of success in extracting money from the public purse for insufficient public benefit. It would be a missed opportunity at best, if our escape from the corporatism of Brussels were to be succeeded by the installation of its home-grown equivalent.

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For the time being, however, let us revel in the delights of the season, the promise of the new decade, our relief at the bullet we have dodged and our hopes that the energies, goodwill and reforming zeal of our new masters give rise to the prosperity which experience tells us comes most certainly from economic freedom.

A very happy 2020 to all our readers.