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Mr. Robertson : When the hon. Gentleman reads his own words, he will realise that the protests about the boxes occurred because only one third of the 4.5 million signatures were able to be presented because of a ruling from the Chair. The hon. Gentleman described the protests against that ruling as organised disruption, and I think that what he said will be interpreted in that way.
Far too many children in Britain still go uneducated due to lack of staff and books. With top-up loans, our higher education system will soon become the province only of the wealthy.
Modern Toryism--Thatcherism--is based on a narrow and false assumption that human nature is unalterably selfish, acquisitive and competitive, and that we are all driven only by the desire to maximise our wealth and income and that the next man can go hang--the "me-now" society that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition described. We believe, as do the newly liberated peoples of eastern Europe that human beings are civilised, that they have a sense of individuality but also of community and of the greater good. They want to banish uncertainty, dishonesty and injustice and create a better world in place of fear, as Bevan said. They believe in essential human equality, justice and self-respect. They do not want a society based on antagonism ; they want more sharing, and more co-operation, which is what democratic Socialism will bring. It stands for democracy, decentralisation and real power for ordinary people to control their lives, whether they live here or in the newly liberated countries. Of course it means redistribution of wealth so that all the people can fulfil themselves.
Socialism, despite what many of its opponents caricature it to be, is truly about the individual. It is about individual personal choice, personal growth and universal betterment and it is an idea that is currently sweeping Europe, both East and West. Thatcherism--a concept unique to this country--is unexportable with its values of antagonism and selfish acquisitiveness and has become a thing of the past. The language of conflict and narrow prejudice both at home and abroad is not appropriate for the brave new world which we see developing in this last year of the 1980s where co-operation and understanding will be central tenets.
Even though 10 years of Thatcherism will leave scars, in the fulness of time it will be seen merely as a blip in British history. Several Hon. Members rose --
Column 1349Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean) : Order. Time is getting short and I have the impression that many fiery speeches are waiting to be delivered.
Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle) : I was honoured that the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) referred to the modest little tome that I wrote when I had the honour to serve on the Greater London council with the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone), who I am delighted to see in his place today. As a real author is sitting on the Government Front Bench, I feel as Queen Victoria must have felt when Disraeli said "We authors, Ma'am". All my book tried to do was to reveal the nature of Conservative politics through what people had said. I am delighted to have heard good speeches from two notable Left-wing Labour Members--the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) and the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer).
Richard Crossman wrote in his diary in 1959 that
"The definition of the Left is of a group of people who will never be happy unless they convince themselves that they are about to be betrayed by their leaders."
When he wrote that, he was intending to be facetious. However, those words ring true today. They are not about to be betrayed by their leaders but are being betrayed by their leaders.
I was also interested in what the hon. Member for Walton said about nationalisation. Apparently, the Labour party no longer believes in it. We have not read that degree of historical revisionism since George Orwell's "1984". In 1957 Richard Crossman wrote :
"The two most important emotions of the Labour party are a doctrinaire faith in nationalisation, without knowing what it means, and a doctrinaire faith in pacifism without facing its consequences."
Those wise words could be listened to with good effect by the hon. Member for Walton.
In the Labour party and Socialism generally we are seeing the belief that, if one sticks up for one's principles and fights elections on what one believes, one will not become the governing party. That is a dose of realism but it is sad for hon. Members such as the hon. Member for Walton. That was not always so. In his younger days the leader of the Labour party wrote in the "Broad Left Alliance Journal" of October 1982 :
"I must emphasise that there is nothing in the Labour Party constitution that could, or should, prevent people from holding opinions which favour Leninist-Trotskyism Certainly Marxism has and will continue to have an important function in the Labour Party." He believed that then, but does he believe it now?
We know that the Labour party fought an election on a truly Socialist manifesto in 1983. In March 1983, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) wrote in the New Socialist :
"The Labour Party can go into the next election united behind the most radical manifesto on which we have ever campaigned." The result of that campaign was the greatest defeat that the Labour party had suffered in 50 years. The Leader of the Opposition has become a "desiccated calculating machine". Those are not my words but those of Aneurin Bevan who said in 1954 that that is what every successful leader of the Labour party had to become.
I am sure that the hon. Member for Walton is right. If one fights an election without believing in what one is
Column 1350saying, one will come a cropper and have to change policies overnight. That is what we have seen with previous Labour Governments and it will happen again.
There are some wonderful quotations on this subject, but I shall give only one or two. Lord Wilson said :
"I myself have always deprecated in crisis after crisis, appeals to the Dunkirk spirit as an answer to our problem."--[ Official Report, 26 July 1961 ; Vol. 645, c. 451.]
On 12 December 1964, he said :
"I believe that the spirit of Dunkirk will once again carry us through to success."
It would be a disaster if, just as eastern Europe is emerging from Socialism, we were to become an inward-looking community too much wedded to bureaucratic mechanisms, whether they be central banks or a common currency. It would be a disaster if we were to turn our backs on what is happening in eastern Europe. This is the opportunity to help it become a member of an outward-looking Europe, a Europe of concentric circles, a Europe of borders but not barriers. There should be a Europe of free trade, in which goods and services, labour and people can circulate freely.
So much of what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said in recent years has been vindicated by recent events. Events in eastern Europe provide her with an historic opportunity to lead opinion in Europe. The Government and Conservative Members generally--I fear that we shall not receive any support from the Opposition--must lead that opinion. I referred earlier to the necessity of creating intellectual consensus so that it is possible successfully to implement domestic policies. It is necessary also for us to create that consensus in Europe, and I believe that we can do it. The plans that we have advanced for competing currencies and freely floating currencies in a Europe that is moving towards free trade are part of a value system that can take Europe from the dark ages of Socialism to a much brighter future.
There has been what I would describe as a chocolate economy in eastern Europe. An article headed "Bitterness on Chocolate Express" states :
"The Chocolate Express', the Berlin-Warsaw-Moscow train favoured by Soviet- bloc smugglers, was the scene of fierce argument and fisticuffs yesterday as East Germany tried to shield itself from the Solidarity virus."
That was before East Germany started to reform itself. The article continues :
"The Chocolate Express--so called because returning Polish workers bring out large satchels of East German chocolate and sell it en bloc, so to speak, to black-market leaders on the Polish side of the frontier--is being delayed for two to four hours every night." That was the economy of Socialist eastern Europe before we started to see the changes that are now taking place.
The changes are resulting in the former leadership having to change its entire life style. Another article states :
"Mr. Edward Gierek, who lives in a sprawling villa in Katowice, complains that he can make ends meet thanks only to a small hard currency pension he receives for when he worked as a coal miner in France and Belgium."
One's heart bleeds for him. The article continues :
"At 7 am at the hopelessly understocked food shop on First Polish Army Avenue in Warsaw, the usual queue includes three former Ministers, (sent by their wives to buy fresh bread), an ex-Council of State member and a number of senior Solidarity activists who inherited their apartments from Communist parents."
Eastern Europe is emerging from the chocolate economy, but countries such as Poland and
Column 1351Czechoslovakia are struggling with enormous inherited problems, with which only we in the European Community can help.
The new Czechoslovak Finance Minister, Vaclav Klaus, who until a few weeks ago was a barely tolerated dissident, was recently asked whether he would like to institute a heavy dose of monetarism. He replied, "I would like to". This is the new Czechoslovak Minister for Finance. But he said that he doubted that he had the resources to do so. Fears are being expressed in Poland about whether it has the institutions and mechanisms, whatever the will for change may be, to enable it to move forward. All that proves that the collapse of Socialism which we are now witnessing must be our stimulus and opportunity.
I have talked about the history of Socialism in this country and events in eastern Europe, but the collapse of Socialism--the collapse of the international consensus that has sustained it over the years--is our opportunity to begin to move the debate from our point of view. Conservatism is nothing if it is not about caring for those who hitherto have not had many of the privileges that some of us have enjoyed. A hundred years ago, it would have been inconceivable for an ordinary working man to have owned his home, but now 68 per cent. of our population do so. We must take the debate forward, at a time when erstwhile Socialists seem to be adopting the tenets of Thatcherism. We cannot afford to stand still or to consolidate ; we must move forward, and I believe that the way to do so is to open opportunities that previously did not exist. The Conservative party has been most successful when it has provided a gangway, such as into home ownership, which is now enjoyed by 68 per cent. of our population. We can talk now about people enjoying the opportunities of private health care, which they never did before, and of private education. We should be putting forward such ideas. The collapse of Socialism gives us the opportunity to do so, and we must take it.
Mr. Giles Radice (Durham, North) : I shall not follow the hon. Gentleman the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) along the gangplank of Conservatism, because it my come to a worrying end.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson), who made a most eloquent speech, that we are witnessing a historic series of events in eastern Europe. We are witnessing a successful 1848. a successful democratic revolution has toppled Communist regimes in Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, and I believe that it will lead to democratic Governments in East Germany and Bulgaria. Clearly, we have witnessed historic events.
I enjoyed the amusing speech of the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton), although perhaps it was somewhat long. Occasionally, I felt that he was not living up to the level of events, particularly when he suggested that everything that was happening in eastern Europe was a consequence of the example of the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher). That astonishing claim was made by the right hon. Lady herself in her rather extraordinary speech to her party conference, when she claimed to have lit the torch of freedom in eastern Europe
Column 1352--this was just after we had all the laser beams and Nuremberg rally stuff that now goes on in the modern Conservative party.
Watching on television, I noted the keen support of the chairman of the Tory party. No doubt he was still then in his St. Crispin's day mood. The right hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe) was somewhat less enthusiastic. His hands went through the clapping motion, but the body language told us something different. It is always useful to watch the right hon. and learned Gentleman's body language. I noticed it recently on television, when the Prime Minister was speaking. His body language and the distance that he keeps between himself and the Prime Minister on the Government Front Bench are always revealing. It told us that in this case the right hon. and learned Gentleman felt that she had made a boast too many. I am glad to say that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster did not claim this time that everything that was happening in eastern Europe was happening because of the Prime Minister. He knows, as all of us do if we are honest, that the real architect of what has happened in eastern Europe is Mr. Gorbachev. Mr. Gorbachev has made it clear to all the leaders of the Communist regimes in eastern Europe that the Soviet Union is no longer prepared to support Communist regimes with Russian troops.
In effect, Mr. Gorbachev has told the Communist leaders that they are on their own. The withdrawal of this threat has encouraged the peoples of Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and East Germany to insist on a democratic revolution in their countries. They want free elections, a pluralistic system and legal democratic rights--the kind of things that one wants in a civilised democratic society. They want an end, too, to the arthritic command economies which have kept back their living standards. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton said, that does not mean that they want a totally free market. They may not want a command economy, but they want to keep the welfare system that exists in their countries. They do not want the unemployment that we have in ours.
We are wise to conclude that their revolution is very much their own. Many views are held and there will be many political parties. If they have a model of society that they seek to emulate, it is certainly not Thatcherite Britain. It is probably the welfare democracy of West Germany, which has been greatly criticised by the Conservative Government in recent years, especially by the right hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson), who claimed that it was arthritic and had many features that stopped the market working properly. I am glad that it has. That is why the people of West Germany are able to enjoy a decent standard of living and get something out of the growth of their economy. We are seeing a democratic revolution in eastern Europe. It is not what the hon. Member for Tatton said it was : it is not so much the death of Socialism as the birth of democracy in eastern Europe.
It is true that our western European democracies are imperfect. Certainly the system in this country is imperfect : I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) that tiers of local government have been abolished under the rule of this Conservative Government. Other countries in western Europe do not understand how one can get rid of a tier of government and get rid of the government of London. We have seen rights diminished in many features of life in this country.
Column 1353In western Europe we have one crucial advantage--or have had--over the peoples of eastern Europe : we can replace our Governments at general elections by putting a cross on the ballot paper and putting it in the ballot box. The ballot box shows that there is a clear trend against the Right in European political opinion. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton said, in France the Right has been decisively rejected and the French Socialists are in power. In Spain, the Right has been defeated in three successive general elections and the Socialists are in power. In Sweden and Austria, Socialists and Social Democrats are in power. Even in West Germany, a centre-Right Government are in power who are different in character from the British Government. We should hear what the Prime Minister has to say about Mr. Genscher or Mr. Kohl. The West German Government are different in character from Britain's Conservative Government. The European elections showed that, far from a tide of Thatcherism sweeping across Europe, as one might have thought after listening to the hon. Member for Tatton, the Right is being decisively rejected in other European countries. That is why the biggest single group in the European Paliament is the Socialist group, not a group from the Right.
Part of the Prime Minister's problem at successive European summits has been her ideological isolation. The other countries of the European Community want a social Europe and a social charter to secure the social rights of the people of Europe. That is precisely what the Prime Minister rejects. No wonder that she feels so alone when her views are so decisively rejected by the rest of Europe. Despite three Conservative election victories in Britain, the polls show that the values of Thatcherism are still not supported by the British people. The polls show that people believe in fairness and social justice, want to see a strong National Health Service, a state education system, and selective Government intervention. They do not believe in letting the free market go totally unregulated and untrammelled. The Government's increasing unpopularity, the big Labour lead in the public opinion polls and the changing political agenda all suggest that, far from seeing the end of Socialism, we are beginning to see the end of Thatcherism in this country.
The fact that Socialists have changed their policies and agendas in West Germany, France, Spain, Scandinavia and this country is nothing to be ashamed of. On the contrary, the ability to renew itself is Socialism's abiding strength. A new political agenda is emerging in west Europe, and also in east Europe, based on more active government, good public services, a proper benefit system for those who are less well off, proper environmental protection and enhanced citizens' rights.
That is what is being asked for in eastern Europe, and that is what we need in western Europe. Europeans are also asking for greater political co- ordination and co-operation across national frontiers, which is why Europe is now much more popular than it has ever been and the Conservatives are so isolated on this issue, not just in western Europe, but in this country.
The agenda which is emerging is rejected by Thatcherites and most Conservative Members, but it is gaining support, not only in this country but across Europe. It is not Socialism which is on the defensive, but Right -wing Conservatism. The coming decade will be not
Column 1354Thatcherite but Socialist--one in which Socialist ideas will dominate the policital agenda and political debate, and Socialists will be in power across Europe.
Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham) : We owe a debt of gratitude to my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton) for introducing this debate, which records the end of an era. Throughout the 20th century, Socialism has flowed through the politics, history and economics of the world. The Socialists have obtained power but now the Socialist states have withered. What has Socialism left in its wake? Millions of dead, economies in ruin, and failure and disillusionment in much of the Third world. Opposition Members have celebrated the departures of various Socialist Governments in eastern Europe, but we in the House must judge Socialism by its achievements. The proof of the pudding is in the eating.
Let us look as some of the brand names. In the Soviet Union, we had Marxism, then Leninism and then Stalinism, and all of them were identified as sub-branches of Socialism. Socialism led to widespread oppression and to the slaughter of millions of Kulaks, peasants, intellectuals and religious leaders in the Soviet Union. It also led to the cynical deal that the Soviet Union put together with those other Socialists--the National Socialists in Germany.
The economy of Russia was growing fast before the Russian revolution, but since then there has been stagnation and decline. A recent study in The Economist tried to find reasons for the decline of the economy of the Soviet Union, where production is running 2.5 per cent. lower than last year. Coal production, for instance, is 5.5 per cent. down. The Economist study says :
"The steel ministry has been refusing to supply steel to the railway industry, because the railway ministry failed to supply enough trains to the steel ministry. The coal ministry is complaining about the same thing. The steel and railway ministries in turn say it is all the fault of the coal ministry, because it did not send them enough coal, thanks to this summer's strikes. And so on--and, for once in Soviet official history, they are all probably telling something like the truth."
Why has all this happened? The industries of the Soviet Union have been managed by political hacks who refer to their political party for their marching orders. They are not run by managers, and that it why they are in such a mess.
I shall give the House an example of Socialist state planning. Shortly before the era of glasnost began, reports came in of some confusion at the railway marshalling yard in Kiev. There were trains in the marshalling yard loaded with organic fertiliser--a delicate way of saying animal dung--and trains loaded with coffee. Thanks to Socialist management's incompetence the trains went to the wrong destinations. Glasnost or no glasnost, the collective farms which thought that they were getting the fertiliser complained that what they had received did not work. Because glasnost had not yet arrived, consumers of coffee knew that they should not complain and simply swallowed it.
Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East) : Are not railways rather a bad example? Compare the Socialist railways in France, which are delivering the goods with a substantial Government subsidy and contributing much to regional development in France, with what has happened to British Rail over the past decade.
Column 1355Mr. Arnold : What happened to British Rail over the past decade was that it failed as a nationalised industry, as it failed in the decades before. It is incapable of keeping the freight off the roads and on the railways. It is incapable of providing a flexible service, which private road hauliers have been able to do.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) told us that what has happened in the Soviet Union, and in western Europe for that matter, is not Socialism. He told us that the French Socialism of which the hon. Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice) spoke is not Socialism.
Where do we go to find examples of different kinds of Socialism and what they deliver? Do we go to China, where Socialism has delivered poverty, rebellion and finally Tiananmen square? Do we go to their Socialist surrogates and Pol Pot, the self-avowed Socialist, and his killing fields in Cambodia? Perhaps we should go to the Soviet Union's surrogates in Vietnam, where that brand of Socialism brought economic failure and caused the population to flee to capitalist Hong Kong. We are concerned about people fleeing from Vietnamese Socialism to capitalist Hong Kong where they create a problem for us.
Mr. Heffer : The hon. Gentleman knows damn well that I do not agree with what happened in Tiananmen square. I include all the countries to which the hon. Gentleman has referred in the same breath as I referred to the Soviet Union. The hon. Gentleman should apologise for trying to suggest otherwise.
Mr. Arnold : I will not apologise. I acknowledge that the hon. Member for Walton referred to the practice of Socialism in western Europe and the Soviet Union. However, for the sake of argument, he does not recognise that in China, Cambodia or Vietnam.
What about the brands of Socialism in the new world? For 30 years Cuba has been a Socialist country. But what has become of Cuba now that it no longer has the Soviet Union's subsidy which the Soviet Union can no longer afford? Cuba is a bankrupt backwater presided over by an aged prima donna. It cannot provide a decent standard of living for its people. But it seems that it does achieve exports. It exported revolution to the rest of Latin America. Was that successful? Not a bit of it. It saw the death of Che Guevara, but what has that achieved? Che Guevara has served only as a sartorial example for the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn). If we reject Cuba as an example of Socialism, what about Nicaragua? Socialism in that country has led to economic failure and to political prisoners. Nicaragua needs help from the capitalist world outside and that is forcing it to the ballot box. At last there might be democratic elections in that Socialist state.
What effect has Socialism had on Africa? Let us consider what happened in the Portuguese terrorities that turned to Marxism. I travelled to Mozambique to find out what was happening there, and I found nothing in the market places except lettuce. However, there was a new breed of British Socialist there. They had gone to Marxist Mozambique to take part in the great Socialist future of that country. They were quaintly called co- operands. Even in the Ministries which they were assisting, those co- operands discovered that they were hungry. Their Meticais, the Mozambican currency in which they were paid, bought them no food. Before they knew it, they were dabbling in the foreign exchange black market. In the end,
Column 1356they were humiliated and had to make regular weekly expeditions to the supermarkets across the border in South Africa. What price Socialism there?
What about Angola, where Socialism is propped up by the bayonets of Cuban troops? What about the Marxist Government in Ethiopia? Earlier this week we debated the consequences of the policies of that Marxist Government. What price starvation there? Everywhere we look for examples of Socialism in action we find failure or worse. What about Socialism in this country? The Opposition saw the light about Socialism along time ago. The right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock), the Leader of the Opposition, in a debate on industry 15 years ago, said that the British people
"know that at the end of the day the system which has failed will not bring us to a new prosperity. A new system must be tried". He may have been right.
"The simple assertion, therefore, is that we have tried the private enterprise system for a long time. It does not meet the needs of a modern civilisation".
He went on to state :
"Therefore, that system"--
that is, the private enterprise system--
"must be moved aside, and it is best replaced by a Socialist system".--[ Official Report , 4 November 1974 ; Vol. 880, c. 770-75.] Everywhere we look we see examples of what happens with Socialist systems. The great Leader of the Opposition would have blundered with the best of the Kremlin by trying to impose Socialism on this country. He knows that his case is so untenable that he does not try to defend it today. It is significant that there is no Opposition Front Bench amendment, and not even a member of the shadow Cabinet present. It has been up to the tired old warhorses of the Left, like first world war generals, to move an amendment and carry on as though there is no experience of what Socialism means in practice. At least we cannot accuse the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) of double standards. In his maiden speech on 7 February 1951, he said :
"We on this side are a Socialist party--we have been for some time. We have never made any secret of the fact. In 1945, when our election programme was published, we made no secret of it".--[ Official Report , 7 February 1951 ; Vol. 483, c.1782.]
It seems that the right hon. Gentleman is consistent. Today, the right hon. Member for Chesterfield expanded on that statement when he said that some people think that Socialism is whatever a Labour Government are doing at the time. As an extension, it seems that Socialism is whatever is proposed by Labour Front Bench Members at the time. If the Labour party is to win the next election it must somehow convince the country that what it is peddling is Socialism and of value. But what is the likelihood that the Leader of the Opposition will be able to put that message across? What are his capabilities? I quote no less a person than the hon. Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) who, at one of the marvellous Socialist conferences of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield, referred to her Leader as
"a no-talent, weak man."
She scorned his parliamentary debating skill, and said : "Mrs. Thatcher gobbles him up for breakfast."
Column 1357That is her judgment. For once, I do not disagree with the hon. Lady. The people of this country do not disagree, either. This week, The Guardian told us that, with television cameras in this place weighing up the two Front Benches, the Prime Minister has scored heavily in the presentation of policies.
The debate is about the future of Socialism, but we have not heard what Socialism is about and what future the Labour party sees for it. The future is not one of "isms", it is one of freedom of the individual and the market place. That will be safeguarded by this House, which is a democratic House, not a Socialist House. 1.53 pm
Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : I will try to practise a bit of Socialism by sharing the remaining time more equitably among hon. Members who still want to speak. I associate myself with the tribute that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster paid to Andrei Sakharov. Andrei Sakharov was a great man who struggled for freedom in the Soviet Union. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that Sakharov died a Socialist, not a capitalist.
Certain events in eastern Europe are most exciting in political terms. They are probably the most important political events that have taken place in Europe for the past half century. Such events are worthy of regular debates in this House so that hon. Members' views can be expressed and heard.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton) on being lucky in the ballot, but we could have been better served by another motion. Quite frankly, the wording of his motion is about as useful a contribution to the great events in eastern Europe as the Beano would be to a discussion about Aristotelian logic.
Comparing the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), who comes hurriedly to his place, with the speech of the hon. Member for Tatton is rather like comparing Demosthenes with Alf Garnett-- [H on. Members :-- "Which is which?] I hasten to add that Demosthenes has come from Chesterfield, while Garnett has, presumably, returned to Tatton.
It is ridiculous to suggest in a motion that all the important events in eastern Europe have come about as a result of Thatcherism or because of the retention of nuclear weapons in Britain. It is ludicrous and pathetic, and I am surprised that the hon. Member for Tatton was prepared to suggest it. As my hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice) said, we know where the tribute belongs--it is with glasnost and with President Gorbachev. The people in Prague, Budapest and East Berlin are not reacting to Britain's nuclear deterrent. They are not envious of our poll tax, our homelessness, our lousy transport system or our hospital waiting queues. They are not inspired by the petty nationalism of the bigot from Grantham. It is noticeable that the Prime Minister has realised that. The iron lady phase has now been replaced by the soft cuddly toy phase, as can be seen when she comes to the Dispatch Box at Prime Minister's Question Time. She has lost two important things during the past 12 months--first, her friend Ronald Reagan, who was probably the only western European leader who admired her intellect ; secondly and more importantly, she has lost her enemies in
Column 1358the Soviet Union and eastern Europe. There is a great deal that will no doubt bind empathetically the Prime Minister to the Conservatives and the Stalinists in the Soviet Union in actually regretting what is happening in that country and throughout eastern Europe. There is a great deal of similarity between the authoritarians of the East and the authoritarians of the West--in this case, the Prime Minister.
The peoples of eastern Europe are directly reacting to Lord Acton's old dictum that all power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. That is what they are rejecting. They do not want Thatcherism and they certainly do not want capitalism. They are aspiring to accountable Socialism. When Vaclav Havel, to whom the Chancellor of the Duchy referred, becomes President of Czechoslovakia, it will be a victory for Socialism, not for Thatcherism and capitalism. I should like to see the day when the people of this country storm No. 10 Downing street, tear down the railings and put in Dennis Potter or Howard Brenton as Prime Minister in her place. Although we all admit that events in the East are politically exciting, they are also dangerous. Because events are moving so quickly, we do not really know what will happen. I went to a Christmas party at the GDR embassy the other night. We played various party games, such as spin the Honecker and guess the latest leader. It was all good fun. People were in a good mood because progress was being made. However, they also recognise the dangers. The resurgence of nationalism in Europe is a danger to us all.
There is excitement and a great deal of potential, but there is also a great deal of danger because of the instability. It is incumbent upon all in the West not to table triumphalist motions about the destruction of Socialism. We should extend the hand of friendship to those struggling to achieve a more accountable democracy in their countries.
There have been various interpretations, misinterpretations, caricatures and gross caricatures of what Socialism is all about. It comes in many different varieties. Many people claim to be Socialist without being so. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield and my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) spoke of Socialism having its roots in Christianity, and I agree. To me, Socialism is about equality of opportunity and equality before laws that are accepted as being fair and just. Socialism is about freedom from poverty and homelessness, and about the right to a good education and to a job, as well as to a first-class Health Service. Socialism is about participation at the workplace and in the democratic process by people at all levels. Socialism is also about people having a say in the present and in their futures. Socialism is about uniting a country in its social values, so that it is caring towards the old and the sick. That is why my right hon. and hon. Friends and I espouse Socialism and why we shall continue to campaign for it right up to the next general election.
Mr. David Amess (Basildon) : I agree that this has been a significant debate and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton) on giving the House an opportunity to discuss such an important matter and to
Column 1359identify at first hand what are the policies of the Labour party. Over the past two and a half years, I for one have grown impatient at waiting to hear the details of what the Labour party is all about. Today, we have been given a flavour of what it is all about. I regret that no member of the alliance parties saw fit to be present in the Chamber today. So far as I am concerned, the alliance parties are Socialist, and I hope that they are proud to be so. They always vote with the Labour party, and they propped up Labour between 1974 and 1979. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) and the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) on having the guts to speak passionately and sincerely about their Socialist beliefs. I do not criticise them for doing so. In fact, in 1979 the right hon. Member for Chesterfield criticised his own party for the highly personal campaign that it waged against my right hon. Friend the leader of the Conservative party. Unfortunately, over the past 10 years, instead of there being a sensible debate about Socialism versus capitalism, such as that which we have had today, the debate has all been about the personality of a particular individual. I deprecate that, and I hope that in future we can confine our debates to the beliefs of Britain's different political parties, rather than concern ourselves with any particular individual within them.
The Conservative party sets out its various policies in its manifesto. It decides what it believes is right for the country and then follows through those policies regardless of any short-term popularity. I am aghast at the actions of Opposition Members over the past two and a half years, which I call designer Socialism. Communism and Socialism have been rejected throughout the world. I shall describe briefly the policies on which Labour has changed its mind. At first, Labour opposed home ownership word for word, line for line--but it changed its policy when it realised that that was a vote loser. However, when mortgage interest rates increased, Labour again spoke out against home ownership. Labour was also against share ownership, but then the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) suddenly decided that he favoured it--until the stock market crash, when Labour again changed its policy. On defence, I always understood that Labour stood for unilateral disarmament and that the Leader of the Opposition supported the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. However, when Labour realised that the electorate did not like that policy, it was changed.
Labour was at its most hypocritical in respect of the Common Market. It fought against Britain's membership of the Common Market. When my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister had the guts and courage to fight for British interests within the EEC, the Opposition attacked her. That dishonesty will be clearly revealed at the next general election.
I conclude by commenting on the future of Socialism in local government. I represent a constituency with a Labour council which retains control by only one vote. That is an excellent example of the future of Socialism. For some reason, Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen now seem to be rushing to Basildon. They must see it as a good example of Socialism. Of course, the policy is always the same--raise rates and raise taxes--and the best example is
Column 1360in Basildon, where the rate increase of 57.2 per cent. was the biggest in the country last year. Hon. Members can imagine my disgust when the council's Labour leader had the gall to send a letter to every ratepayer in Basildon. The letter began :
"I'm writing to warn you and your household that the Government's poll tax system could mean bills of more than £500 for each adult member of your family next April.
I realise this figure will surprise and worry many people, because it certainly shocked me."
It went on :
"It's because I know many of you are struggling to make ends meet that I'm writing to you now. Everyone needs to have as much warning as possible about the likely level of this tax."
It is not surprising people in Basildon will pay a high community charge, as they are unfortunate enough to have a local authority which spends money irresponsibly. So far, we are in debt to the tune of £125 million. A new civic centre has just been built in Basildon, and the shadow Leader of the House came to open it. Unfortunately, he had not been very well briefed : he should have been told that the new centre had cost £18 million-- much of it borrowed from the Banque Paribas, because we had no money of our own to finance it. He should also have been told that the centre cannot house 350 members of the authority's existing staff. Above all, he should have been told that ours was the first local authority in the country to build a civic centre without a council chamber. That shows what the Labour party thinks democracy is worth. I am a great supporter of the arts, but is also strikes me as nonsensical to build a new theatre--at a cost of £11 million--with a foyer bigger than the auditorium. Sadly, that is losing us a great deal of money.
I have always upheld the position of independence adopted by local government officers. For whatever reason, a chief officer recently left the authority. Imagine my horror when his replacement proudly sent me a copy of the authority's magazine, "Waves", containing a piece about himself. Having been in local government for a number of years, he has
"seen enormous changes, especially the relationships with the public and central government. As the Council has moved to closer working with and involvement of the local communities that make up Basildon District, central government has increasingly tried to make local government toe a conformist line of what it thinks is best. The Governments I have known, of either political complexion, have never really trusted the ability of local Councils and their employees to do the job. This is despite the fact that in my personal experience Basildon has out-performed Westminster and Whitehall every time."
If local government officers wish to make such statements, they should stand for election as local councillors. I deprecate that kind of political involvement.
A local councillor has presented the Opposition housing spokesman with a petition concerning the transfer of housing in Basildon. It was our Government who gave people the opportunity to choose their future landlords ; the man who presented that petition to the House stopped the then Labour Government taking over housing in 1977. That is an example of the crass hypocrisy with which we have to deal. If the future of Socialism is to be articulated by the actions of the Labour party in Basildon, long may the policies inspired by our Prime Minister prevail.