After her first election triumph in 1979, Margret Thatcher proclaimed that her government would “change the way we look at things and create a wholly new attitude of mind.” From this point onward, the cult of individualism had now started inflicting the British citizen with its economic and social poison. Neo-liberalism was introduced to society to bulldoze every last remnant of solidarity we felt as a country. This abstract ideology has now been ingrained into our everyday life. There is no escaping the harsh reality that has become of this fantasy. But, as more people yearn for solidarity and discover the heavy toll individualism has had on our nation, is it time for the apple of individualism be torn off the tree of liberal democracy, in our United Kingdom?
Individualist thought didn’t originally commence with Thatcher taking office in the 1970s. She merely portrayed herself as the cheerleader for this new experiment, rather than the true chess-player, executing key decisions, behind the elitist curtain of Whitehall. It was only during her terms as Prime Minister, where individualist thought that had been bubbling intensely inside the Conservative Party, was able to manifest as policy. Individualist thought in Great Britain has been expressed as ‘Thatcherism’ or as the ‘New Right’ which merges Neo-liberalism and Neo-conservatism together. Before we can beat our enemy, we must know our enemy. Thus, what does individualism seek for its supporters to believe in and fight for? Individualism can be defined as the irrational belief that favours freedom of action for individuals over collective or state control. This is meant to promote the exercise of one’s goals and desires and so value independence and self-reliance. Instead, this rationalises inequality, because it perpetuates the myth that the wealthiest are the brightest and hardest working while the poorest are the most stupid and the laziest.
Behind the illusion of freedom, lies a dreaded menace. The menace of corruption, inequality and contradiction.
The instalment of Neo-liberalism hasn’t even been a major improvement to the world’s economy. Evidence has shown that economic growth has been markedly slower in the Neo-liberal era (since 1980 in Britain and the US) than it was in the preceding decades.
The Neo-liberal project didn’t take long to seize control over the agenda during the 18 years of Conservative dominance. There were massive tax cuts for the rich, the crushing of trade unions, deregulation, privatisation, outsourcing and competition in public services. The individualist regime targeted what it called ‘institutional socialism’ by attacking trade unions and the millions of those who remained as council tenants. As a result, trade union membership fell, and the number of council housing has fallen by an astonishing 69% since 1980.
The only freedoms that individualism generate are those in which allow the suppression of wages, end to distribution of wealth that lifts people out of poverty and to endanger workers through a lack of regulation, to be orchestrated with the upmost efficiency. Individualism promises to liberate those who are the wealthy minority, rather than the working majority.
Political evolution has meant that rather than Conservatism, Neo-liberalism is now the more formidable foe to socialism. The Labour Party has the chance to design their own individualism, based on the promise that only socialism can liberate the individual by allowing them to reach their goals, no matter the size of their wallet or bank statement.
After all, those who are faced by economic hardship, are faced by constraints on their own freedom. Ask yourself this question, is an individual saddled with debt, who lives in fear of gas bills landing on their doormat, and who must choose between a hot meal for themselves or their children, ever truly free? It is shameful to imply that those in unaffordable, and squalid private accommodation whose rent troubles their income and is forced to submit to the unlawful demands of the landlord, are indeed free. What about the worker who is on a low paid zero-hours contract, who does not indeed have a stable wage? There are no true victors of individualism as it has robbed individuals of security and consequently, individualism has robbed them of freedom as well.
Debating and analysing the ideas of collectivism and individualism is one whose answer is clearly attainable. All individuals flourish only by standing together, shoulder to shoulder, against the attempts to break our society apart. Individuals can prosper once they have got secure and decently paid jobs, have a properly funded education system on which the youth can rely on to unlock their potential, and live in accommodation which is affordable and habitable. These are the characteristics which allows Great Britain to put the individual first. However, to make this the reality, we must implement socialism, and this requires a collective approach.
Liberating the individual can take another form; by pooling resources into education from taxes, which has the positive effect of allowing the youth to realise their talents. This just shows how reasonable investment into the public service can create future leaders in private and public sectors of the country.
We must restore the sense of togetherness, just like in our old, industrial towns in the North of England.
Let’s finish with the same exact question we asked ourselves at the beginning of all this. Must the apple of individualism be torn off the tree of our liberal democracy? The answer goes deeper than the question itself. If it is the tree which bares the apple, does it not just show how incompatible so-called ‘liberal democracy’ is with Great Britain?
Therefore, rather than tearing off the apple of individualism, we must unearth the rotten roots of our so-called ‘liberal democracy’ altogether. We must plant a seed of change in its replacement. For this time, the benefits will be felt by those who have been let down by the very same ideology which was meant to grant them independence and liberty from the state, meanwhile, allowing private-sector monopolies to exploit the working classes and enslave them in an added burden of debt.
Thatcher’s strength was what gave individualism the spotlight on the national level, we now need a leader who has the same strength but who can bring collectivism into the 21st century, so the entire country of Great Britain can prosper.
Written by Tyler Reeton