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The problem of why socialism in England did not follow on from Toryism, and therefore displace the Tory Party, instead of following on from Liberalism and displacing the Liberal Party, never presented itself to the minds of socialist ideologists precisely because socialism developed under the wing of Liberalism. But the Socialism hatched by Liberalism was undoubtedly a self-contradictory movement, an infertile hybrid, as is demonstrated by the ease with which Blair and his colleagues resolved it into mere liberalism - the ideology of the market.

Liberalism, as universal competition in the market, was the ideology of the Great Reform and of Manchester capitalism - and of Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair and his colleagues. In the perfectly liberal society each is in conflict with all in pursuit of economic advantage. There was at the outset a kind of Millenarian vision underlying the commitment to the pursuit of profit, which was therefore understood to be a means towards an end.

One of the early glorifiers of commercial profit was Richard Baxter, a very influential Puritan divine of the mid-17th century, who took profit to be a sign of grace, and the means towards an infinitely worthwhile end in another world. That other world was still held in view by many of the reformers of the 1830s. The extreme case was the complacency with which Liberal ideologues presided over the Irish Famine (a product of English political economy that was merely triggered by the potato blight), because they understood it to be the means chosen by the Almighty to clear Ireland of human rubbish and prepare it for the general pursuit of commercial profit. (Charles Edward Trevelyan, who had economic control of Ireland during the Famine, and wrote an account of it in The Irish Crises - 1848 - was bred in the Evangelical Clapham Sect.)

But the other world did not long survive the Great Reform as a medium of actual political thought in England. Within a couple of generations it had become incredible, and the long theological mania that first gripped England in the 16th century finally came to an end. The pursuit of profit then ceased to be a means towards a conceivable end and became an end in itself-an activity to which there could be no imaginable end on its own ground, since the more general the pursuit of economic advantage became, the greater the incentive was to seek economic advantage, and the more opportunities were sought and found for making a profit.

Blair, like Thatcher before him, may pander to backward, unprogressive, unradical sentiments in the electorate with declarations in support of family values, but as a politician who gained power as a radical, a liberal, a progressive he necessarily dismantles the residue of the family that survived eighteen years of Thatcherite radicalism and a century and a half of more gradual liberalisation. Because the family is a black hole in a strictly commercial society. It is an anti-economic element in a market economy.

It used to be said that the family was the unit of society. That made sense when the family was itself a miniature society. But what is called the family today is a mere fragment of what the family used to be - and even that fragment is a suspect institution, heavily policed by social workers. The unit of liberal society is the individual. And things that used to be done within the family, in the form of living, and without thought of profit, have been taken away from the family and transferred to the market. And the human values that made family life attractive have been systematically devalued in actual life, and represented as forms of oppression, with a pale semblance of them being produced as commodities, as a source of vicarious experience, in the form of soap operas.

By strength of will and a degree of affluence an unprogressive individual may still arrange to have an old-fashioned family. But by current social standards that is eccentricity. And if there was large-scale reversion to family life the result would be drastic shrinkage of the market and economic collapse.

This state of affairs is not what was envisaged by the socialist ideal which gripped great numbers of people a hundred years ago. The socialist ideal as expressed by Robert Blatchford - the most influential socialist writer there has ever been in England - was, by present standards, nostalgic rather than liberal and progressive. But the socialist movement has in practice - with one, major, exception in the form of Ernest Bevin - contributed to the realisation of the Liberal ideal rather than the socialist ideal.

Socialist writers have never questioned why this was so. They have taken it as axiomatic that the socialist movement should have been Liberal in orientation, and axiomatic assumptions are not conducive to historical questioning.