Whatever happened to the politician’s promise of ‘full employment’?

Over the past few decades, politicians in various Western countries have promised ‘full employment’ in times of economic strife.

But when was the last time we heard that promise? Either it’s a pledge to create ‘jobs’ or, in Gordon Brown’s case, ‘British jobs for British workers’.

As for the old promise of ‘full employment’, not a sausage.

It seems that has withered on the vine.

I hadn’t thought about full employment for quite some time until I read journalist Andrew Gimson’s post on Conservative Home, ‘The decline and fall of full employment’.

One of the site’s readers, David Cooper, put forward a possibility not brought up in the article:

“Whatever happened to the Left’s passion for full employment?”

Might it have simply faded into insignificance once the discrimination industry had been invented and developed, generating a pool of potential votes that justified more time and resources for the Left’s pitch because the working class vote could be taken for granted? Cynical, perhaps, but then again perhaps not.

His comment relates to left-wing parties, but what of the conservatives and centrists?

Gimson lays much of the blame at Ted Heath’s feet. He then recalls the Thatcher era slogan ‘Labour isn’t working’.

Since then, however, he acknowledges that British industry has gone into decline. More women have also entered the workforce. More Britons — along with the French and Americans in their respective countries — are chasing the few crumbs (e.g. part time or low paid jobs) under the table. Meanwhile, immigration has ballooned in all three countries. Many workers as well as graduates, once hopeful, have become disillusioned.

Gimson observes that this has led to another problem: how we view the unemployed. He writes (emphases mine):

We live in an age that is more puritanical than we realise, and what puritan ever felt much sympathy with the unemployed? The instinct is to blame the unemployed person for being idle. The Prime Minister chooses to present himself as the champion of “hard-working families” who are engaged in a “global race”: a management consultant’s version of St Paul. The Left competes with this by insisting that it too believes with Calvinistic fervour in hard-working families.

In 1931, Philip Snowden, the first Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer, advocated a cut in unemployment benefit of ten per cent, in order to cut the deficit and obtain fresh foreign loans so Britain could stay on the gold standard. Unemployment had risen from 1.3 million to 2.5 million since Labour won the 1929 general election. But this horrific increase only made Snowden more determined to pursue an orthodox course. As Roy Jenkins suggests, in his book The Chancellors, Snowden’s

“essential approach was that bad times necessarily meant hardship and that Labour could prove its political maturity only by being prepared to press the hair shirt on itself and on its natural constituency with as much courage as Tories or Liberals. In any event he rather liked hair shirts.”  

I wonder whether there is an element of this in Labour’s refusal in recent years to make more of the issue of unemployment. Once again, the party wants to “prove its political maturity”, but nowadays it does so by subscribing to an essentially Thatcherite orthodoxy.

Or is it more of what reader David Cooper said: disregarding a party’s natural constituency for something new and more diverse? I haven’t decided. There seems to be an element of both at work not only in Britain but also in France and the United States.

What do you think?

8 comments for “Whatever happened to the politician’s promise of ‘full employment’?

  1. October 31, 2013 at 2:41 am

    It is almost laughable that the ‘hair shirts’ of so many labourite politicians are made from Llama hair.

    • October 31, 2013 at 3:27 pm

      Indeed — goes nicely with champagne and caviar!

  2. October 31, 2013 at 7:59 am

    Labour shares the same problem arising from this as the other two parties: every one of those unemployed British people is eligible to vote – and we should mount a “big vote” campaign to ensure that they are registered. Hopefully more people are aware of the scale of voting fraud than during the 2005 election, which was arguably rigged, and ready to hold people to account should the next general election deliver a seriously unexpected result.

    • October 31, 2013 at 3:33 pm

      Agreed. We also need a restriction on postal votes which several demographics are abusing, not just those about whom we read in the news.

      I was surprised to find out how many middle class people I knew applied for them. They said, ‘I just couldn’t be bothered to walk to the polling station’.

      That said, even going to vote in person presents problems for certain people. I won’t soon forget an earlier election (around the Millennium) when my better half and I were still living in NW London. A community leader was outside the polling station shouting at all the women he knew to vote for a certain candidate ‘or else’. They were clearly intimidated.

  3. Mudplugger
    October 31, 2013 at 8:49 am

    Full employment is bad news for both major parties. The Left needs to maintain a large welfare-dependent sector to guarantee its votes, the Right needs the implied hunger of unemployment to deliver cheap workforces to its industries, albeit recently compromised by the minimum wage.

    The background message of both is that they care not for the millions of individual lives affected, only for their own purposes.

    • October 31, 2013 at 3:36 pm

      Good point, well said.

  4. Furor Teutonicus
    October 31, 2013 at 4:54 pm

    How better to control a popultion, than to have them reliant of every bread crumb you throw there way, to survive?

    “You don’t do what we say, no fucking dole for YOU laddie!”

    • October 31, 2013 at 6:18 pm


      Sounds a bit like that young woman who was volunteering in a museum whilst receiving benefit. They made her work at a retail shop instead. Happily, this was found to be illegal. 🙂

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