Neoliberal rhetoric dies in May’s manifesto

In a previous post I argued that ‘neoliberalism’ was more rhetoric than reality. Now that the 2017 Tory manifesto has been published, even the rhetoric has been publically ditched. The ideology of the ‘libertarian right’ is overtly rejected (p7). The State now has a publically declared role. The ‘Government Spring’ has arrived!

In addition some of the insider cheerleaders now admit it has failed. Aditya Chakraborrty commenting on their turn around writes:

“…. it is the very technocrats in charge of the system who are slowly, reluctantly admitting that it is bust.

You hear it when the Bank of England’s Mark Carney sounds the alarm about “a low-growth, low-inflation, low-interest-rate equilibrium”. Or when the Bank of International Settlements, the central bank’s central bank, warns that “the global economy seems unable to return to sustainable and balanced growth”. And you saw it most clearly last Thursday from the IMF.

What makes the fund’s intervention so remarkable is not what is being said – but who is saying it and just how bluntly. In the IMF’s flagship publication, three of its top economists have written an essay titled “Neoliberalism: Oversold?”.

However, the reality of the current economic structure and social relations of production remains the same, but the rhetoric is replaced by the rediscovery of ‘one nation’ paternalist Toryism designed to appeal to older Labour (and UKIP) voters.

I suspect however, that the foundations remain, and will remain untouched. The 1% need not worry.

There are 5 challenges laid out in the Tory Manifesto:


  1. The need for a strong Economy.
  2. Brexit.
  3. Enduring Social divisions.
  4. Ageing Society.
  5. Fast changing technology.


There is no mention of climate change, tax havens, health and social inequalities, housing and education as one of 5 challenges.


The manifesto states:


We believe in the good that government can do (p8)

(my emphasis in bold)

Just look at that statement again, this time from a neoliberal perspective that  abhors state intervention except to provide a framework to allow markets to work. Thatcher and Reagan ‘government is the problem‘ would have choked. Ayn Rand would be apoplectic. Hayek would blush, Friedman would pace palm, Ted Heath would smile wryly. Although Thatcher was not a laissez faire capitalist in practice, she espoused and enacted privatisation, marketisation, deregulation and tax cuts.

‘To do that, we will need a state that is strong and strategic, nimble and responsive to the needs of people. While it is never true that government has all the answers, government can and should be a force for good – and its power should be put squarely at the service of this country’s working people’.

 A force for good!  But good for whom Mrs May?

‘If we are going to keep our economy strong as the world changes, we will need government to play an active role, leading a modern industrial strategy to make the most of Britain’s strengths and take advantage of new opportunities – bringing secure, well-paid jobs to the whole of the country’.

An active role! What happened to ‘government cannot pick winners’? or ‘Let the market decide’ or no ‘Lame ducks’?

‘If we want to overcome Britain’s enduring social divisions, we will need to give people real opportunity and make Britain the world’s Great Meritocracy. That will require government to take on long-ignored problems like Britain’s lack of training and technical education, as well as long-lasting injustices, such as the lack of care for people with mental health problems, and the inequality of opportunity that endures on the basis of race, gender and class’.

Oh, you’ve noticed?

This next is a hammer blow to neoliberal conservatives:

‘Because Conservatism is not and never has been the philosophy described by caricaturists. We do not believe in untrammelled free markets. We reject the cult of selfish individualism. We abhor social division, injustice, unfairness and inequality. We see rigid dogma and ideology not just as needless but dangerous’.

‘…do not believe in untrammelled free markets..’  Say, what?

‘True Conservatism means a commitment to country and community; a belief not just in society but in the good that government can do; a respect for the local and national institutions that bind us together’.

 ‘We know that our responsibility to one another is greater than the rights we hold as individuals. We know that we all have obligations to one another, because that is what community and nation demands. We understand that nobody, however powerful, has succeeded alone and that we all therefore have a debt to others. We respect the fact that society is a contract between the generations: a partnership between those who are living, those who have lived before us, and those who are yet to be born’.


Free market ideologues and libertarians should shudder at such sentiments, for they value a small state that should get out of the way to allow free markets to do their magical thing.


Instead here we have interventionist principles that a socialist may well nod in agreement to. Yes, it is not clause 4 ‘securing for the workers the full fruits of their labour’ but it clearly puts the state back into society. The ‘rugged individualism’ of Ayn Rand is denied in favour here of responsibility and obligations to each other backed by acceptance that we don’t achieve by our own efforts alone. Hayekian economics is publically trashed. Thatcher allegedly held up a copy of Hayek’s ‘The Constitution of Liberty’, May appears to have rediscovered aspects of Keynes.


Manifestos are of course written for electioneering and to provide a unifying vision for the party faithful. This one nails neoliberalism as a dead ideology no longer welcome in the Tory Party.


One wonders what the neoliberals think of it…but more importantly whether these principles will be put into practice.

Conservative Home welcomes the manifesto but say “You may be apprehensive about the effects of the Prime Minister’s Christian Democrat-flavoured politics on the unity of a previously (my emphasis) free market-committed party, as we are”. Germany’s CDU is a centre right party believing in social markets and government intervention rather than laissez faire capitalism. I also think this a reference to all of that ‘Government is good’ stuff as they seem to be saying that they were a free market party but no longer?  They don’t otherwise make a big thing of it…perhaps knowing that state power will still favour their class or that manifesto is more rhetoric.

The Adam Smith Institute had not commented by 23rd May. Neither had the The Centre for Policy Studies or the Institute for Economic Affairs. Five days have passed with no commentary on May’s inclusion of the rejection of ‘untrammelled free markets’ .

What is going on?  Perhaps free marketeers also don’t believe in free markets?

The Economist are clearer. For them, May has ‘interventionist’ instincts, for example on energy prices, council housing, minimum wages and EU rights for workers. May has ‘several digs at business’ on executive pay and worker representation. May’s stance on Immigration is of course another big example of intervention shifting the cost of policing it onto employers. The Economist feels this is tactical  – winning back UKIP voters and stealing Labour ‘moderates’. They suggest this is not only tactical but reveals a new ‘Tory Paternalism’. They are not entirely happy with this arguing for reducing intervention, cutting ‘red tape‘ (that’s environmental protection and worker’s rights in other words) and lowering taxes. All three are standard neoliberal approaches.

The Economist has come out for the Lib Dems and not the Tories!!

Other nuggets:

Universities are spoken of in purely economic terms, so that they ‘enjoy the commercial fruits of their research’ (p20). This is more ‘cognitive capitalism’, more ‘knowledge economy’ more ‘corporate university’. It is a rather narrow vision of the goals of Higher Education. Fracking will be supported. Investing in transport is highlighted but without any mention of actual funding. Cycling is promised expanded cycle networks.

None of this is costed, most of it is vague.

So what it comes down to is credibility. Has the nasty party really changed?

Neoliberalism as rhetoric is dead….leaving what? We will discover what May means by ‘believing in the good government can do‘ when her policies bite even further and post Brexit (unless of course Corbyn, against the odds, wins).


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to toolbar