Why are some British politicians so keen on injecting “competition” into the lives of working people?

Andy Beckett: “In the early years of the 21st century, the inevitability of an ever more competitive, deregulated, internationally orientated market economy, to which both government and society were subordinate – a doctrine often called neoliberalism – was accepted right across the mainstream of British politics: from the Thatcherites who still dominated the Conservative party; to the increasingly pro-business Liberal Democrats, who would soon form a coalition government with the Tories; to the Scottish National party, whose then leader Alex Salmond praised Ireland and Iceland for their low corporate taxes; to the Blair cabinet itself, where, I was told by a senior Labour figure in 2001, “You won’t find a single member with anything critical to say about capitalism.” It was assumed by the main parties that most voters felt the same way.”

Tony Blair, 2005: “… there is no mystery about what works: an open, liberal economy, prepared constantly to change to remain competitive.”


Will Davies: “At a key moment in the history of neoliberal thought, its advocates shifted from defending markets as competitive arenas amongst many, to viewing society-as-a-whole as one big competitive arena. Under the latter model, there is no distinction between arenas of politics, economics and society.”

Which becomes Cameron’s stripped back “Big society” in which “We’re in this together.”.

Except that “… wealthy Britons have stashed about £300bn – equivalent to 15% of our GDP – in offshore tax havens”.

So: We’re not all in it together. We’re not competing on a level playing field.

A lot of ink has been spilt about the benefits and mechanics of competition.

Competition soaks up a lot of the time and energy of working people.

Perhaps competition isn’t just about increased productivity.

Perhaps it’s also used to distract, to keep working people too busy to think too deeply.

Marx saw constant change and competition as part of capitalism:

“Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.”

See also

The battle for Britain’s story

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