Charles Moore Charles Moore

The Spectator’s notes | 26 May 2016

Also in The Spectator’s Notes: The EEA, the memoirs of Algy Cluff, and whatever happened to Tory modernisation?

Obviously there is no such thing as ‘Cameronism’, as there is ‘Thatcherism’; but once upon a time, David Cameron did have a project. It was called Tory modernisation, and his most imaginative adviser on the subject was Steve Hilton. At Policy Exchange, on Wednesday, Mr Hilton spoke, Mark Antony-like, over the dead body of Tory modernisation. On virtually every modernising count — localism, openness to the world, looking to the future, ignoring the interests of the rich — the EU is failing, he said. Yet Mr Cameron is staking his career on it. It is rather as if Mrs Thatcher, in her last years in office, were fighting flat out for nationalisation.

The Leave camp sometimes looks stumped because it cannot give a precise answer to what would happen economically if we were not in the EU. This is always a problem for people who believe in freedom rather than government control. In the 1970s, inflation and bad labour relations were the enemy. It became an article of faith among the elites that the answer was a ‘prices and incomes policy’ in which wise people, managed by governments, decided what should be the fair relation between the two. The widely worshipped J.K. Galbraith explained in 1975 that ‘pay and price curbs will be a permanent feature, both in Britain and in every other industrial nation’. Anyone who suggested otherwise had to put up with ‘How on earth will you control it? What will you do about industrial anarchy?’ People who said that essentially the best thing to do was to break the automatic linkage between pay and prices and then see what happened next were considered mad. By the 21st century, no western country any longer had such curbs, and even the heirs of Galbraith are not trying to bring them back. Almost all of the economic arguments for membership of the EU are based on fear of freedom.

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