We have at the moment a Conservative government. It is in some disarray over clashes of personality and questions of political style, but also on matters of political principle. There is a genuine dilemma for an administration dedicated both to the strengthening of national defence and to leaving the future of manufacturing capacity to the sovereignty of the shareholder and the logic of the market. Defence suppliers have only one customer; defence procurers only a handful of suppliers. Their relationship is political and any decision about it is going to be political. There is a Tory solution to such a dilemma: intervene, even if it offends against the sanctity of private property. There is a neo-liberal solution: don't intervene, even if it means refusing to fly the flag. There is a Peelite solution: do not blink at the inevitable, but call it the national interest. There are many reasons for Mrs Thatcher's failure to embrace any one of these unambiguously, but one of them is the struggle between pragmatism and dogma that has invaded British political discourse. Are British politics still defined by the old Anglo-Saxon landmarks, or have we 'joined Europe'?
LRB 20 February 1986 | PDF Download