In a letter to The Times on 8 August 1980, the IEA’s founder Editorial Director Arthur Seldon made the following three predictions:
- The Soviet Union will not survive the century
- China will go capitalist
- The Labour Party as we know it will not govern again
At the time, all three predictions confounded conventional wisdom and seemed little more than the wishful thinking of one of capitalism’s most passionate advocates.
We now know, of course, that the Soviet Union barely survived the decade, collapsing in 1991, two years after its East European satellites.
Despite misgivings one should have about the social and political environment, China has now developed something approaching a capitalist economy; certainly it has abandoned socialist central planning.
But what of the Labour Party? We know that Labour only returned to government after Tony Blair and his fellow modernisers had transformed it from one of the most left-wing socialist parties in Europe to a much paler social democratic party, abandoning its historic commitment to nationalisation and embracing the market economy along the way.
This week the Trade Union Congress is meeting in Brighton. Many union leaders (and indeed Labour Party members) want to see the Labour Party return to its socialist roots. They want the government to adopt an agenda of state economic planning and wealth redistribution driven by increased taxes on high earners and successful business enterprises.
Those who advocate such policies would do well to remind themselves of Arthur Seldon’s predictions. Seldon was not a visionary, of course. Rather, he simply understood that socialism was intellectually and practically bankrupt. It was an ideology that did not work in theory or in practice. It was and is destined to fail whenever and wherever an attempt is made to implement it.
If the Labour Party turns the clock back and returns to its Old Labour roots, it will be adopting a series of policies that will not work and will ultimately condemn the party to another long period out of office. It seems that many have still failed to grasp what Arthur Seldon understood more than a quarter of a century ago.