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April 28, 2016

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Alex Gurney

Who within the Tory party would you identify as being an Oakeshottian-Burkean sceptic? Anyone on the front bench, or near it?

Peter

But would we have had the NHS if we had taken the Oakeshottian view? Would we still have slavery? Isn't the problem that sometimes a big change is required and sometimes it's dangerous. We need principles which allow us to distinguish these two cases.

H

Sometimes Tories want to turn the clock back, as opposed to being all Oakeshottian!

Luke

Peter,
"Would we still have slavery?"

In England and Wales, though not the colonies, slavery did come to an end through a rather Oakshottean process, namely common law. In 1772, Mansfield J held that as he could find no explicit law laying down that slavery was legal, he would not order that Somerset be returned to his master (see "Somerset's Case"). Mansfield seems to have regarded slavery as a new development requiring justification, not an established evil requiring abolition.

Deviation From The Mean

"Oakeshottian conservatives prefer the devil they know; idealists, rationalists and managerialists think they can improve upon it."

This is the problem. Change is constant, it never lets up for a minute. The reason conservatives appear to be so, well, radical, for example Thatcher's extreme policies, is that they are formed out of a conservatism that fears the change actually taking place threatens the fabric of society.

So for conservatives the answer to the fact of constant change it radical policies to ensure the fundamentals are not tampered with too much. So what appears to be radical is in fact conservatives holding back the tide.

Now, of course, the law of unintended consequences cannot be mitigated against.

To be fair to conservatives, they are in a constant battle, a constant, never ending quandary between facing a world in constant change and unintended consequences.

Steve

And Labour is often against the working class, and the Liberals are frequently illiberal, and Peoples Democratic Republic's are usually none of those things. That's politics for you.

Martinned

Oakshottian conservatism is an inherently difficult position for a politician to take, regardless of their ideology otherwise. People are psychologically inclined to prefer to believe that what they do is useful, that they are able to make a difference. If politicians didn't think that politicians could fix the world, they wouldn't have chosen to be politicians.

Deviation From The Mean

"If politicians didn't think that politicians could fix the world, they wouldn't have chosen to be politicians."

the presumption here of course is that people elect politicians to fix things rather than keeping the good times going! Underlying much UK politics is a fear of by the grace of god go I. For example, comic relief night highlights acute problems in other parts of the world. The public, if only sub consciously, will vote hoping a perceived supremacy is retained. Therefore those offering to fix the world threaten the supremacy.

Passing By

You don't do the NHS strikers any favors by comparing them to the 1980s coal miners.

Even if, as you say, Mrs. Thatcher had a head full of addle-pated ideology and a heart black with class hatred, she was right about the coal mines.

A mining town must be the clearest example of a community that cannot keep on with "its familiar if imperfect traditions". When its mineral deposit is exhausted, the miners must relocate or change occupations.

By the 1980s, most of Britain's coal mines had already reached economic exhaustion (i.e, their remaining coal cost more to extract than it was worth, even if the mines had been manned efficiently). They only stayed open through subsidy. If they had not closed back then, the mines would have reached physical exhaustion and closed long before now.

So Mrs. Thatcher didn't "destroy" those communities. She merely stopped artificially postponing the inevitable.

From Arse To Elbow

@Passing By,

You're confusing the dismantling of the coal industry with the destruction of mining communities. They're not the same thing. The biggest reduction in employment in coalmining occured over the course of the 1960s, but no one sees that as being destructive in the way that the smaller reduction in the 1980s was.

The point at issue was not the destination (coal had been in "managed decline" since WW1), but the route taken. In other words, the manner in which pit closures were accelerated for political rather than economic reasons (related to electricity privatisation and the "dash for gas" as much as outright class hatred), and the inadequate support offered to the communities in terms of new jobs and retraining (this was largely left to the magic of the "market" with predictable consequences).

The idea that the closure of the coalfields was inevitable, so no blame can be attached to those who did the closing, is just a variant on "there is no alternative". There was an alternative in the manner in which the industry was wound down and in the attitude of disregard displayed by the Thatcher government.

Passing By

A2E --

"You're confusing the dismantling of the coal industry with the destruction of mining communities."

Actually, I didn't. The original post did, saying Mrs. Thatcher "destroyed mining communities" when all she did was stop subsidizing the coal industry.

"pit closures were accelerated for political rather than economic reasons (related to electricity privatisation and the "dash for gas" as much as outright class hatred)"

Accelerated vs. what schedule? Those mines were grossly uneconomic and closure was long overdue; they had only stayed open through enormous subsidies.

And wanting to stop subsidies that only postpone the inevitable IS an economic reason.

Granted, the electricity generation stations couldn't very well be privatized if they were to continue subsidizing the coal mines; but that's merely a symptom of the reality that the mines were uneconomic and needed subsidies from somewhere.

"There was an alternative in the manner in which the industry was wound down and in the attitude of disregard displayed by the Thatcher government."

Actually, there were various alternatives. And the choice to disregard them was not Mrs. Thatcher's.

First, the preceding Labor governments did not close the mines when they should have done. They chose instead to kick the can down the road, allowing the subsidies problem to fester and grow.

Second, the miners themselves, through their union (NUM), did not use the considerable economic and political strength they had to negotiate transition packages for unneeded miners.

Instead, they wasted that strength on a heavily-politicized do-or-die effort to keep the subsidies going (and likely forcing Mrs. Thatcher to resign). There's usually a price to be paid for trying to batter your opponent into outright submission and failing.

Paul

If avoiding "wrenching discontinuities like Brexit" is how we define Oakeshottian-Burkean conservatism, then it would necessarily follow that, in an alternate timeline, a war of national liberation against Napoleon or Hitler would have also been un-conservative. For in this interpretation we are defining the known and familiar with a narrow a temporal scope as possible. A preceding hundreds of years of national sovereignty and common law are as nothing, a foreign land.

Igor Belanov

@ Passing By

"Actually, I didn't. The original post did, saying Mrs. Thatcher "destroyed mining communities" when all she did was stop subsidizing the coal industry."

But officer, I just shot the man through the head. I didn't think he would die.

From Arse To Elbow

@Passing By,

The original post did not confuse the dismantling of the coal industry with the destruction of mining communities because it only mentioned the latter, not the former. If you mention apples but not organges, you can't be confusing one with the other.

"Those mines were grossly uneconomic and closure was long overdue". Had the UK closed all of its mines in the 1950s and 60s, as economic "logic" would have dictated, shifting to reliance on cheaper coal imports and the use of oil and gas, the effects of the oil crisis in 1973 would have been truly catastrophic (many countries shifted demand from oil to coal at the same time, increasing international prices, but most industrial nations had the advantage of domestic coal production to fall back on).

Odd though it might seem, the "lights out" of the 3-day week in 1974 was actually a sign of the UK's strategic strength - i.e. its ability to rely on domestic coal. The "weakness" that this entailed was that it gave the NUM enormous leverage, which was the Torie's beef. Of course, it's worth remembering that the NUM had been anything but militant in its history. There were no national strikes between 1945 and 1972, and only 3 in total (1972, 1974, 1984-5).

The decision to accelerate the decline of the UK coal industry was political, not economic (see the Ridley Plan of 1977). Privatisation of electricity could not proceed if that industry was tied to coal, and therefore limited in its ability to increase margins through supply abritrage, not to mention potentially at risk of industrial action. Destroying the NUM, which inevitably meant destroying or at least undermining coal-mining communities, was central to this.

"First, the preceding Labor governments did not close the mines when they should have done". Not so. Mines were closed under all postwar governments. This was a cross-party policy. The idea that 1984-5 was somehow the fault of Labour is akin to blaming the 2008 financial crash, the subsequent recession and the resulting spike in government debt on Gordon Brown (go on, you know you want to).

"Second, the miners themselves, through their union (NUM), did not use the considerable economic and political strength they had to negotiate transition packages for unneeded miners". Again, not so. The NUM cooperated in the strategy of managed decline from 1945 on. The strikes in '72 and '74 were over wages (which had fallen in real terms relative to other workers due to inflation), not pit closures or redundancies.

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