FOR the past forty years, mainstream British politics has deliberately avoided talking about some of the fundamentals that define our lives – like political economy, ownership, and the nature and failings of British capitalism.

Everything can be changed – according to the Tories’ and Labour’s tinkering at the edges – through supply-side adjustments such as tax rates, deregulation, and reducing costs on corporations while never addressing the big stuff.

The ideological assumptions behind this can be seen in what is and isn’t talked about. Over 40 years since Thatcher came to power, Tories still justify privatisation by posing those who oppose it as ideologues. They say: “we are not ideologically fixated about whether private or public is good. We believe in what works.” Labour down the years just prefers not to talk about the subject.

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Look at the state of Britain. It is not in a good place and this is a product of global factors, unfettered capitalism, toxic Toryism and the legacy of Thatcherism – and its dominance in domestic politics, despite its abject economic and social failures.

Thatcherism was meant to produce a Britain that was free, liberated, go-getting, shorn of the dead hand of the state and meddling bureaucrats. It was presented as a land where consumers would be king, businesses hyper-sensitive to our needs and choices and markets, and society would be defined by the sovereign self – each of us self-governing in a land where “there is no such thing as society”.

The reality is privatised energy companies, which continue to enjoy huge profits driving millions into poverty with more than £5000 annual bills for many, and the prospect of them rising further.

In the past year, UK household energy bills have increased 215% and while Tories claim it is a global phenomenon, other governments own or regulate energy, meaning, for example, that German prices are up 23% and French a mere 4%.

Privatised water companies in England and Wales have removed £70 billion from the system in profits and have in nearly 30 years built not one single reservoir or renewed infrastructure. These businesses are guaranteed cash cows for their offshore owners, who pump more and more raw sewage into rivers and violate environmental and public health laws.

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What is missing from centre-left politics – Labour, SNP, LibDem, Green – is an unqualified defence of public goods like water, electricity, railways, education, health, and clear support for the view that these should be publicly owned and accountable to us.

There is minimal critique of private monopolies and, what used to be called in the US, “robber baron capitalism”. This became a major issue in late 19th-century America, with Republican President Teddy Roosevelt, when elected in 1901, passing anti-cartel laws, which broke up major private monopolies and brought about greater competition.

Connected to this is the weak opposition to privatisation of progressives who quibbled about the share price, timing and logistics of each offer, but given the popularity of the sell-offs of British Telecom, British Gas and others, feared being on the wrong side of public opinion.

Such a position does not contest the wider philosophy. The writer James Meek in Private Island: Why Britain Now Belongs To Someone Else laid out that privatisation of publicly-owned monopolies into privately-owned monopolies was based on monetising their estimated value which included selling off us – the captive public. We have no say or choice in this but to keep paying our increasingly exorbitant bills.

Meek wrote about water in England and Wales: “Millions of customers have no choice of supplier, no choice but to take the water, and no choice but to pay for it. Millions of captive monthly payments in perpetuity … a form of buy-to-let scheme with us, the customers, as the tenants, paying water bills, like rent.”

Was this critique of us being sold as captive “bill-paying citizens” central to the value and profit of these companies ever convincingly made? Was an alternative prospectus of the public and our collective interests ever articulated? To answer this, we must understand the failings of centre-left parties and politicians and their timidity in the past and present.

The Thatcherite era persuaded centre-left politicians to avoid talking about, critiquing, or offering any policies to change the political economy – meaning the nature, dynamics and forces at play which made capitalism work or not work.

Until Thatcherism there was on the centre-left a robust political economy which interrogated the character of British capitalism. It understood its short-termism, prioritisation of shareholder interests, poor strategic management and culture of defensive trade unionism.

It analysed the lack of private sector investment, R&D and innovation and its relationship with the UK’s appalling productivity record per worker, which has across the post-war era lagged behind our major European competitors. This last point is something which has been rediscovered by governments of late, without linking to the failures of capital.

Previously on the centre-left, this critique was set out by the likes of former Labour MP Stuart Holland and the Cambridge Group of radical economists which fed into Tony Benn’s Alternative Economic Strategy.

The Thatcherite era saw no economic transformation of the underlying weakness of the UK economy – but did produce a redistribution of income and wealth in favour of the ultra-rich and a shift to the forces of finance capitalism. It also witnessed a reframing of the political and economic debate aided by a class of parasitical hangers-on, apologists and shysters in the media, corporate lobbying and right-wing think-tanks.

The pale progressive politics of the past four decades will no longer do. It gave us New Labour, the Salmondite era of the SNP and the current Labour and SNP dispensation, which is to talk about freezing and reducing energy prices, while letting a rigged monopoly market disempower us.

The National: Alex Salmond leader of the Scottish National Party waves to the audience after his speech at the SNP Conference in Inverness.

Rather, we have to go back to understanding the importance of political economy, ownership and understanding the nature of British capitalism – and the relationship all of these have to the British state and society. So too must we understand the promotion of inequality, selfish individualism and undermining solidarity.

Politics has to become about fundamentals: ownership of public goods, the state’s stake in key strategic interests of the economy, different types of state intervention, and publicly-owned companies. And we must be able to devise a kind of democratic control which does not replicate the old nationalisation model of Whitehall managers, replacing short-termist private sector management.

The stakes in this are high. Thatcherism and its antecedents have failed, leaving an embittered, divided, anxious society and a tiny pampered, super-remunerated elite. A British Labour Party which cannot adapt and speak to this new environment is not worthy of the name. Labour has to draw from its radical past, otherwise any future Labour administration coming to office will be rocky, unsure and unable to make much headway.

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A vision of Scottish independence which cannot put ownership, public goods and enterprise, and a different kind of capitalism and state at its core will be about independence in name only. It could end up being a Scottish version of the present rotten British consensus that is unravelling.

If we do not rise to the challenge as the present political order disintegrates around us, forces of reaction and prejudice will make hay, offer up immigrants and minorities and peddle ridiculous conspiracy theories – and find an audience. Such a mindset is already tarnishing the Tories with the indefensible comments by Liz Truss about the civil service and antisemitism. Expect more of this as stormclouds gather as diversions and to sow division.

The era of Thatcherite nostrums is coming to an end. But that means we need centre-left politicians to break free of its shadow and its apologists, and to lay down an analysis and route map out of this situation.