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?