Commentary (The Times)

Conservatism: “Sir Keith Joseph says choice is to go down with socialism or prosper in a rational economy” (KJ speech at Upminster)

Document type: Press
Venue: Preston
Source: The Times , 6 September 1974
Editorial comments: The article was published as the most prominent piece on p2 of the paper.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 611 words
Themes: Economic policy - theory and process, Employment, Industry, Monetary policy, Privatized & state industries, Pay, Public spending & borrowing, Taxation, Labour Party & socialism, Trade unions

Sir Keith Joseph says choice is to go down with socialism or prosper in a rational economy

The “debilitating semi- socialism” Britain had followed in the past 30 years could not work, Sir Keith Joseph, Opposition spokesman for home affairs, said on Saturday.

He told a meeting in Upminster, Essex, that Britain had to decide whether to “go down with Mr Benn or on to a more rational economy”.

Sir Keith said: “Thirty years of increasing state ownership and control have so weakened the economy that its socialist critics can use the very weaknesses created as justification for still further collectivism.

” The only conceivable basis for prosperity rests on a healthy competitive private sector, a market economy within a framework of humane laws and institutions.”

Sir Keith said he was setting up a small centre for policy studies to learn from experience in other industrialized countries.

Since the end of the war, Conservative governments had not considered it practicable to reverse the vast bulk of the “accumulating detritus of socialism” which they found whenever they returned to office.

“So we tried to build on its uncertain foundations instead. Socialist measures and socialist attitudes have been very persuasive”, Sir Keith said.

“I must take my share of the blame for following too many of the fashions. We are now more socialist in many ways than any other developed country outside the communist block; in the size of the public sector, the range of controls and the telescoping of net income.

“And what is the result? Compare our position today with that of our neighbours in Germany, Sweden, Holland, France. They are no more talented than we are. Yet, compared with them, we have the longest working hours, the lowest pay and the lowest production per head. We have the highest taxes and the lowest investment.

“We have the least prosperity, the most poor and the lowest pensions. We have the largest nationalized sector and worst labour troubles.”

Sir Keith said that not only had Britain for most of the time overburdened the economy. “But for 30 years industry has been distracted and harassed by constant and often unpredictable changes in policy and taxation and in the framework within which business has to operate.”

Speaking of the trade unions, Sir Keith said that workers in Britain seemed to cooperate less in creating prosperity for themselves than elsewhere in north-west Europe.

“Our shop stewards and those they lead tend to be more resistant to change, less ready to improve techniques and more prone to strike, more given to damaging wage claims.” Tories must show workers that it was in “flourishing, profitable private firms” that they could work in the best conditions.

Sir Keith said that the country suffered from a “running vendetta conducted by the socialists against our free enterprise system and those who manage it”. They had condemned the profit motive and attacked profits indiscriminately although for years profits had been too low for industrial health. “Low profits today mean low earnings and low pensions tomorrow.

“We have inherited a mixed economy which has become increasingly muddled, as we tried our best to make semi-socialism work. Its inherent contradictions are intractable. judging from the past thirty years and paraphrasing Lincoln, we have to ask, can a country prosper. half collectivist, half free?

“Certainly we could not prosper if we were even more collectivized.” Britain must decide whether to go down with Mr Benn, or on to a more rational economy.