THE BLOG
09/09/2012 19:29 BST | Updated 09/11/2012 05:12 GMT

The Right's Whitewashing Of History

I have noted of late the prevailing right wing view of the history of capitalism. In response to the left's general dismay at how unequal and corrupt the world is, the right crow patronisingly about how we've never had it so good.

It is no secret that the whitewashing of history is a common practice among politicians and ideologues. Whether it is to remove inconvenient truths or raise support for scheme, we are party to it much of the time, from all areas of the political spectrum.

There are two types of whitewashing: outright refutation and selective ignorance. Holocaust denial is a clear example of the former while the latter is more often seen in the justification of, say, the Iraq war.

A similar example I have noted of late is the prevailing right wing view of the history of capitalism. In response to the left's general dismay at how unequal and corrupt the world is, the right crow patronisingly about how we've never had it so good. Now, it would be ridiculous to say that this is untrue. Yes, we're healthier, wealthier, more equal, more comfortable, and longer living than ever before. Yes, our standard of life is on average higher than emperors of the past, except, of course, in terms of living space. But the point right wing ideologues refuse to acknowledge is exactly how these gains were distributed beyond only a tiny elite to create the relatively widespread prosperity they so love today.

This victory falls to the role of working class struggle and specifically trade unions - not that you'd know it if you read Fraser Nelson's Telegraph column of a few weeks ago, or Matt Ridley's fascinating yet flawed book, The Rational Optimist.

What these writers don't understand is that it is not enough to merely explain how wealth is created, or to state that huge wealth exists and that we should be grateful. For example, Matt Ridley goes to great lengths to describe how exchange has enriched us over the centuries, but not once does he, in over 400 pages, mention how any of the prosperity he emphatically praises was shared with the masses to create the type of wealthy, developed society he defends. Not once does Fraser Nelson in his column explain why we have it so good; why more people than ever can share a piece of capitalism's spoils, ignoring the fact that the majority's portion is still farcically small compared to the amount of wealth held at the top of society.

The truth is that though the right loves wealth, it despises those who bring it to the masses: trade unions. Granted, the unions held an unfair and destructive stranglehold over the UK in the late 70s, but Margaret Thatcher's devastation of them as a platform for collective bargaining was a thoroughly disproportionate and destructive move. It is no coincidence that since then inequality has risen hugely, most of all for the top 1% of society. According to a study by Professor Danny Dorling, the top 1% of society now receive almost 20% of all income in the UK, compared to around 6% just before Thatcher was elected. A similar trend has been recorded in America since Ronald Reagan's presidency, and represents a contempt for organized labour not seen since the early 19th century. Have we really regressed so far so fast?

This whitewashing is a manifestation of the right's general hatred of the working class, and a cynical attempt to ignore their hugely important part in history; a part which uncomfortably reveals that unregulated capitalism does not work in the interests of us all. As long as the right continue to deny the part played in spreading wealth and prosperity by trade unions through industrial action, and sometimes even violence, serious political debate between parties and substantive engagement with voters will be stifled.