This is an item from Iain Martin’s weekly newsletter for subscribers to Reaction. To receive it every weekend, become a subscriber here.
Revolver – the cool, monochrome, meritocratic masterpiece by The Beatles – is re-released this week. Giles Martin, son of producer George Martin, has remixed the songs with the help of new technology that takes apart the old four track masters. The pre-publicity has got me thinking a lot about the mid-1960s and Labour, considering the party is as it stands heading back to power.
What will a Labour government be like? The recent biography of Harold Wilson, PM when Revolver appeared in 1966, is a good place to start finding out. The Winner is by Nick Thomas-Symonds MP, one of Labour’s most intriguing thinkers, a serious academic now on the opposition front-bench as shadow international trade secretary.
It’s obvious that if Labour can continue marginalising the far-left, and avoid a blow up at the hands of the gender identity fanatics who want to abolish women, then the party will run on an updated version of the mid-1960s agenda, emphasising new technology, social solidarity, modern Britishness.
To my eye Wilson and Keir Starmer are similar personalities, though Wilson was an extraordinary speaker and Starmer is not. The Starmer speeches have been much better of late, though. He is like Wilson in that you never quite know what he thinks about anything and will shift to where power lies. Wilson was a bureaucrat trained in the post-Second World War orthodoxy of nationalisation and command and control policy. Starmer is a machine lawyer, a puritan prosecutor, a bureaucrat from the law, the London law. This has become the bastion of the modern centre-left from where it fights its battles to change society.
It is aligning rather well for Labour. Higher taxes are in fashion, and every time someone suggests materially lower taxes Labour can for the next twenty years point to a video of Liz Truss. The next Labour government will spend a fortune on infrastructure, by increasing taxes further, and may even get the benefit of a global economic recovery in a couple of years.
There is a downside, of course, a price to pay. Revolver was released in the summer of 1966. It was followed by the technicolour Sergeant Pepper in May 1967. In November 1967 the Labour government announced the devaluation of the pound. In an infamous broadcast, the slippery Wilson said the pound in your pocket had not lost any value, which was not really true because imports would become more expensive. The Chancellor then resigned. It was ever thus.
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