The coming by-election in the Scottish borough of Glenrothes is one that is already looking to be a very close call between Labour and the SNP. It is also perhaps the most glaring example of how outmoded the traditional 'Left-Right' political axis is as regards politics within the United Kingdom.
As there is sadly, no Conservative presence in Glenrothes (as everywhere in Scotland) the two parties contesting the election are the immediately 'Right wing' nationalists and what one would presumably regard as their opposite, the self-described socialist and decidedly 'Left wing' Labour.
Yet in an election that cannot help but be defined overwhelmingly by the current state of the economy, there is actually very little to distinguish between the two parties' policies. Both are traditionally protectionist, interventionist, and in favour of State ownership. Both have been forced to climb down a peg or two in this post-Thatcherite political arena, but to be sure, only a couple.
For example, although Alex Salmond has paid lip service in the recent past on freeing up the Scottish economy for foreign investment, since becoming First Minister he has also sent Scottish State expenditure and benefit payments through the roof - a combination that would, to anyone with a reasonable grasp of economics seem utterly contradictory. But alas, it is exactly this kind of behaviour by Gordon Brown over the last decade that has landed us in the dire economic straits we're now in. Even worse, it appears that in his efforts to take a revised approach, the Prime Minister has got it the wrong way round - jettisoning the former while accelerating the latter.
In effect, by ditching the free-market rhetoric of Blairism from Labour policy, Gordon Brown has given the equally reactionary First Minister the green light to do the same. After all, it hardly opens the doors for a Tory take-over of Scotland. What it does do however is expose very plainly that on economic matters these two populist parties are completely out of their depth - meaning that in a crisis they invariably grasp for the same old tired straws of State intervention.
This shouldn't come as much of a surprise. There is a long precedent in Europe of seemingly opposite political parties of the 'Left' and 'Right' at each others' throats simply because their policies are so resoundingly similar. Indeed, the Nazis and Communists of inter-war Germany never ceased to tire beating each other senseless, but afforded very little attention towards the liberal and conservative groups. The Social Democrats too, had a rivalry with the Communists approaching that of which both had with the Nazis because all three were in competition for the same minds armed with broadly similar economic programmes. As economic disaster was the key to most of their electoral success, the conflict between them was bitter.
Unsurprisingly then, all three parties were fond of using the giant crimson proletarian superman on their posters - usually seen smashing through his chains and/or stomping upon the petrified faces of capitalists and priests. Nonetheless, this does seem to contradict the notion held by most of us that the ideologies behind these parties presented radically different visions on what the future of Germany should be. Indeed, the Third Reich and East Germany are both very real and chilling testaments to how the latter two would realise these differing but equally terrifying ideals.
Growing up with the idea that Nazism and Communism are as different as back and white, one may overlook the fact that the practical applications of their ideologies were not all that different. It is worth posturing that in domestic policy at least, the Third Reich and East Germany changed day-today life very little for ordinary Germans - even, to an extent - if you were Jewish. It is principally because all three had such a thin grasp on the study of economics itself that their policies were so resoundingly similar. As frequently put by the economist Milton Friedman - there can be no political liberty without economic liberty.
It is certainly no moot point that Hitler, a man who viewed economics as supremely unimportant in his grand scheme of things, should immediately jump to State ownership and direction as policy once his chief economist Schacht had stopped telling him what he wanted to hear on rearmament. Indeed Enoch Powell, a man many would wrongly associate with the nationalist 'Right' argued this precise point - observing that there was so little to distinguish the economic policies of successive Labour governments from the Fascist and Communist regimes of Europe simply because "they are all at heart totalitarian". Certainly in this light it can come as no coincidence that the celebrated fascists Oswald Mosley and Benito Mussolini were dedicated members of Labour and the Socialists respectively, before beginning their own political movements.
The point to be made here is this: when the crux of your policy falls on essentially one issue - be it the welfare of the toiling masses, national independence, the environment, religion or race - economic concerns inevitably take a back seat, more often than not as merely a tool used towards an end. Consequently it is always poorly understood, always misused and always abused. The consequence being, naturally, that it always ends in tears.
Conversely, the only surviving party in the United Kingdom that has ever viewed prudent maintenance of the economy and wealth creation as ends in themselves are the Conservatives. The United States has thus far been blessed by this trait in both the leading parties throughout its history. However, the Bush administration has been attacked for seemingly putting fiscal conservatism to one side in favour of pursuing an ideological foreign policy - namely, the neocon 'Towards an American Century' project. Obama too, seems set to repeat this folly with socialistic federal expenditure aimed at one slice of American society. This more European mould of politics is increasingly in danger of infiltrating the Anglo-Saxon community of nations as more and more political parties emerge with ulterior motives aimed at ever smaller sections of our society.
More than ever before then, conservatives in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, New Zealand and Australia must stand strong with a One Nation base of support against this increasingly sectarian trend. We have a rich history to draw on. From the days of Tory paternalism against the Liberal 'millocracy' in the nineteenth century to the tides of Thatcherism against the undemocratic power of the trade unions; the Conservatives have been the only party in the United Kingdom to consistently unite these islands' inhabitants through an over-riding commitment to the cohesion of the Union itself. Who else has so successfully united agricultural and industrial workers with the landed aristocracy? The skilled working classes with a rising set of entrepreneurial of businessmen?
Unsurprisingly then, the Conservatives are also the only party with the accumulated knowledge and experience on economic and social matters to actually achieve this. They may be blamed for many things in the industrial heartlands of England, but it should be cited in their defence that the nationalisation of industry by Labour was the original sin. For ten years it must have seemed to the people of this country that Labour had finally 'got it' with the economy. Indeed, perhaps the most consistent complaint of recent years has been that, given Tony Blair's tough approach to law and order, there has been very little to choose from between the main parties.
Of course in hindsight we know that this really was too good to be true. The maintenance of the economy for the benefit of everyone was never, as it turns out, an end in itself for 'new' Labour - simply a change in tactics. The goal remains, as it was, the same. Socialism. Or, to put it in a few more words - handing all the proceeds of accelerated growth to the working (or more often, not-working) classes through damaging and massively inflated benefits and services while leaving nothing for a rainy day which your ideology has in any case expressly ruled out as a possibility; then, when everything goes tits-up, proceeding to blame it on the very people who raised you all that revenue in the first place before taxing and regulating them out of the country.
It doesn't take a political genius to see that in this way Labour has consistently been a divisive and counterproductive force in the running of British politics, because it has and always will represent the interests of only one section of society - one that happens to be disproportionately dominated by the trades unions who are once again forming the bulk of party funding.
This blinkered and interest-driven view towards policy will always be the downfall of Labour when it comes to economic matters. It nearly cost them their very existence as a mainstream political party in 1983. By 1997 Tony Blair and Gordon Brown had managed to successfully 'decontaminate the brand' so to speak, and make Labour appear electable again - for a short while even invincible. They had managed to convince us that after fifty years of wrecking the economy they'd finally gained some competence on the subject. This is no small feat, and they deserve some recognition for this.
But Gordon Brown has demolished this illusion as just that. It was a very fancy illusion, and darned convincing, but an illusion nonetheless. It is now not such a stretch to conclude that what Labour inherited in 1997 was in fact a Tory upswing in the economy - a Tory mistake fixed by the Tories - proceeding to hollow it out over the next ten years with a spendthrift attitude to public borrowing/spending prompted by an ideological assertion that there would never again be another economic collapse in Britain. "No more boom and bust" indeed! The very idea, that one can completely rule out this entirely natural outcome of the economic cycle and proceed to stick ones head in the sand, refusing even to prepare for the merest possibility of this eventuality shows an enormous degree of ignorance and arrogance on the part of Labour that is usually reserved only for the most feckless and stupid of individuals.
I put it therefore that Labour is unfit to govern. I put it that they have never been fit to govern and their trail of destruction in British industry and society since 1945 leaves very little to defend their claim to power. Furthermore, due to the deep-rooted socialist assumptions and instincts within the party, I do not believe they will ever conclusively prove themselves to be so. Attlee failed, Wilson failed, and now Brown has failed. It's a sloppy record.
This really ought to be the end of the road for Labour in Scotland, but without a fresh and renewed Tory presence there (perhaps by cutting the Scottish Tories loose again in the guise of a resurrected Unionist party?) all we can really expect to see is the replacement of one populist, spendthrift and economically ignorant party with another. The danger is that if the Tories fail to produce a real alternative to this socialist/nationalist economic axis, we may end up in a situation where it's no longer our problem.