15 NOVEMBER 1997, Page 30

A social(ist) disaster

Sir: In his very clear review of the life of Lord Callaghan, covering two pages of your edition of 8 November (Books), Alan Watkins omits a point which might be con- sidered of the first importance when look- ing at the political contribution of any social democratic leader, although he does refer to the 'collapse of the beliefs of sever- al generations'. The fact is that socialism, even when democratic, was an economic disaster and to some extent a social disas- ter. The Attlee government froze out initia- tive through high taxation, massively nationalised industries which subsequently consumed billions, and encouraged struc- tural reaction and class warfare through the entrenchment of the trade unions — and all this to the detriment of the very people they thought they were assisting. Perhaps it was the spirit of the times, perhaps it was the conspiracy of the intellectuals, but this country suffered massively, and Lord Callaghan was — one is glad to say — the last prime minister to represent that view.

These ideas affected not only this coun- try. One can only weep in India as one sees the tensions and problems raised by the necessary but recent move to a free market economy, which could have evolved natu- rally over the last 50 years. But those 50 years were wasted, as the result of the importation of social democratic ideas to the Indian economy in 1947. How many died in poverty as a result? What a waste! Why were they all so wrong? And why do perceptive commentators like Alan Watkins fail to take up the point?

David Damant

Acar House, 12 Acar Street, London WC2