A British Tea Party?

by Alex Massie

Rod Dreher has a good post riffing on today's David Brooks column which is in turn well worth reading. Brooks argues, astutely in my view, that the Tea Party movement is in many ways the flipside of the 1960s New Left:

Members of both movements believe in what you might call mass innocence. Both movements are built on the assumption that the people are pure and virtuous and that evil is introduced into society by corrupt elites and rotten authority structures. “Man is born free, but he is everywhere in chains,” is how Rousseau put it.

Indeed. And, as we've discussed before, since many American political trends end up crossing the Atlantic it's probably not a great surprise that there are British Tea Partiers too. Here's Daniel Hannan explaining it all:

[T]he idea, in 1773, that Britain was a foreign country would have struck most Americans, patriot or loyalist, as ridiculous. A large majority of the British population sympathised with the arguments of the colonists. So, indeed, did the greatest British parliamentarians of the age.

“I rejoice that America has resisted,” proclaimed William Pitt the Elder setting out the case against the Stamp Act in 1766. “Three million people so dead to all feelings of liberty as voluntarily to submit to be slaves would have been fit instruments to make slaves of the rest [of us]”

“Let us get an American revenue as we have got an American Empire,” said Edmund Burke in 1775, taking up the cause of no taxation without representation. “English privileges have made it all that it is; English privileges alone will make it all it can be.”

Those British Lefties who now sneer at what they regard as the Americanisation of the British Right would do well to remember their own history. They are the political heirs of Charles James Fox, of John Wilkes, or Tom Paine. I have no doubt that if the heroes of that age – Burke or Fox or Pitt or Johnson or Swift – could be transported to our own time, they would recoil with horror at the level of taxation and state intervention.

To remind you, Labour has introduced 111 tax rises since 1997. It has taken a trillion pounds in additional taxation. And it has still left us with a deficit of 12.6 per cent of GDP.

Enough is enough.

Well, I'm not a fan of the intruding state, nor of high taxation but this is hardly a serious political manifesto. We may all admite the giants of the 18th century (and their rhetoric and principles) while appreciating that, you know, we don't actually live in the 18th century.

If Fox and Burke and Pitt and Dundas and all the others were to be transported to our time they might indeed be astonished by the levels of taxation and state intrusion (and their horror would not be baseless) but they'd also be astonished by stuff such as, I dunno, universal education, universal health care, universal pensions and much, much more. Unfashionable as it may be to say this, all these things need to be paid for.

Noting that hardly makes one an apologist for Big Government or punitive taxation but, entertaining though it is to dream of an era of Georgian political giants and contrast them with our own dessicated pygmies, it's not really terribly useful.

Lower taxes and a smaller, more limited idea of govenrment would both be very good things and, as an outlet for pent-up frustration, there's not too much wrong with the idea of British Tea Parties. I sense, however, that this will not become a mass movement. There's something of a Monty Python sketch about it all and, however well-intentioned they may be, the Tea Partiers will simultaneously be too silly and too earnest to be taken too seriously.