How Britain fell out of love with the free market

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Under Thatcher and Blair, it looked unassailable. But now both Britain’s main parties are turning away from unfettered capitalism. By Andy Beckett

Twelve years ago, shortly after winning his third consecutive general election, Tony Blair gave the Labour party a brief lecture on economics. “There is no mystery about what works,” he said, crisply, speaking from a podium printed with the slogan “Securing Britain’s Future” at the party conference in Brighton. “An open, liberal economy prepared constantly to change to remain competitive.”

Blair rounded on critics of modern capitalism: “I hear people say we have to stop and debate globalisation. You might as well debate whether autumn should follow summer. They’re not debating it in China and India.” He went on: “The temptation is … to think we protect a workforce by regulation, a company by government subsidy, an industry by tariffs. It doesn’t work today.” Britain should not “cling on to the European social model of the past”.

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