It’s high time I expanded on my hints about Britain living in the worst of both worlds politically, socially and economically. I previously mentioned it when discussing drugs (everything is theoretically illegal, but the negligible risk of punishment for dealers is greatly outweighed by the financial opportunities, so organised crime flourishes) and the railways (nationalised risk, privatised reward). But it occurred to me that the idea is much more widely applicable: consider almost any major area of policy, and I dare you not to conclude that we would be better off with a truly conservative, socialist, libertarian, or liberal system – rather than the unpopular populism of the Third Way.
We have an enormous, wasteful public sector, mazes of bureaucracy, high income taxes that are exclusively used to fund a huge welfare state – and huge, growing inequality and declining social mobility. Why not take the bottom fifth or so out of tax altogether, and scrap the Byzantine tax credits system? Bankers take reckless risks safe in the knowledge the state will bail them out if it comes to that, which it has: the meltdown wouldn’t have happened under either a properly regulated or a properly laissez faire system, but was the logical consequence, again, of private reward and public risk. We send more people to prison than any other European country, but generally let them out after a stretch just long enough to teach our legions of petty neds the rudiments of real crime: better to reverse this situation and keep the prisons free for serious and violent offenders to spend the rest of their lives in; this government has been tough neither on crime – beyond headline-grabbing gimmicks – nor its causes. We’re happy to start wars, but fight them on the cheap: as Cicero said, “There is nothing proper about what you are doing, soldier, but do try to kill me properly.” We invite the huddled masses to flock to our shores and prop up our economy while five million adults in Britain sit at home, then offer immigrants every incentive not to work and integrate. The rich can still buy a good education for their children, but the war on academic selection – in the name of social justice – leaves the bright poor at the bottom forever. And we have a state-funded broadcaster, which insists on competing with commercial outlets in a ratings race to the bottom.
On each of these issues, Britain exists in a sorry state of compromise between left and right, where either alternative would be preferable: the legacy of Thatcher choosing to fight on economic grounds and abandon social matters to the liberal left. The political, media and business elite thrives in this corrupt space. The middle classes – and that vanishing breed, the respectable, aspirational working class – pay for the fecklessness of the overclass and the underclass, both of which behave with utter selfishness, both safe in their status quo under New Labour. Surely no-one who is either progressive or conservative can be happy with our current mess. Does anyone else out there wish we could just settle on one coherent philosophy or the other – or at least elect politicians with the ability and decency to pluck the best aspects from both?