What with my time being divided between canvassing and gardening at the moment, it was inevitable I should eventually get round to thinking of the election in terms of gardening.
The other day we were having a discussion with someone on Facebook about manifestos: OH had opined that the Conservative one seemed devoid of content and asked for opinions from Tory voters, to which one friend replied that the point of Conservatism is precisely not to have ideas but to allow the economy to function on its own: to, as it were, find its own level. The phrase ‘find its own level’ is reminiscent of water, but my mind turned to gardens.
So, imagine if you will, our nation as a garden. When you start out, there seem to be two ways to go. You can try to control everything: you can spray every weed, get everything out of your lawn that is not grass, have neat rows of flowers and veg and not a single weed. This looks scarily controlled, and leaves no space for spontaneity or creativity. In political terms, this represents total state control as practised by the Soviet Union and others (I won’t call it communism because it wasn’t).
Alternatively, you can practise the opposite policy of unfettered capitalism, and leave the garden to regulate itself. Initially, this allows for plenty of spontaneity; but after a while the weeds take over and you end up with a garden full of the strongest, most invasive weeds – brambles, horsetail, nettles, dandelions and poison ivy. Nothing else is allowed to flourish, and useful flowers and veg are throttled. And so it is that capitalism swallows everything: public services, health, even democracy itself if we let it.
What we need, I suggest, is a mixture of the two: we need judicious pruning and weeding for beneficial plants to flourish; we need a zero-tolerance policy towards brambles, ivy and of course horsetail; and for other, somewhat beneficial weeds such as dandelions and nettles, we allow them to grow in moderation and in the right place. This represents a mixed economy and in my view, allows the best of both approaches.
We need a mixed economy in order to flourish. Capitalism has its place: innovation and creativity often flourish here. We need creative people like Dyson, to name one person off the top of my head. And public ownership has its place: some industries are natural monopolies, and essential services ought to be run in the public interest.
So, to summarise: if profit is allowed to permeate everything you get corruption. If the state controls everything you can get stagnation. Some things ought to be nationalised, most industries should stay privately run, and that way everything in the garden will grow in a balanced environment.
It’s not perfect, but what is? A mixed economy is like democracy: it’s the worst system apart from all the rest.