Wednesday 12 August 2015

The left have lost their way and have nothing new to offer

To listen to the British left you would think that the Conservatives we hell bent on bringing about the libertarian wet dream of privatisation, low taxes and an end to the welfare state. But this is a leftist fantasy. The state still spends well over forty per cent of GDP and our welfare cap is still twenty thousand pounds - which is a staggering amount of money - and still more than at least a third of the workforce takes home by working. Far from the dynamism of markets, all we see in terms of privatisation is outsourcing and what are described as "savage cuts" amount to little more than petty accountancy.  

Since 1997, we have seen the exponential growth of state funded "charities", now known as the third sector, who are paid local authority money to perform social functions normally assumed by the voluntary sector. The result of that was an NGOcracy - an aristocracy of what we now know as the poverty industry - those organisations dependent on Labour spending who would not exist were we to solve the problems of poverty. Thus they have a special interest in talking up the problems, exaggerating them and building a narrative as though there were third world conditions in the UK. This just isn't true and the public are sceptical of their message.

Similarly we are told that we are living in a crippling era of "austerity". In truth our public services are being remodeled to cope with a new century of challenges. We cannot have non-discriminatory universal entitlements with open borders - nor would we wish to sacrifice the liberties we enjoy in order to ensure for certain that nobody is getting more than their fair share. This in reality is what drives the latest round of welfare reforms. The natives get restless over immigrants being entitled to benefits without being full citizens. It's better to remove universal entitlements than to close the borders.

The reality is that Britain is doing quite well. Even if you cast a sceptical eye over our economic recovery, there is no denying there is a greater economic confidence and sooner or later the capital adequacy requirements placed on banks will be met and we will see another boom in the financial sector.

That leaves the left in a real quandary. The left supposedly represents the working class, but the traditional working class from which their movement was born no longer exists. Consequently they find themselves with little moral purpose. The socialism at the soul of their party fails to inspire. For whatever good there was in it, it has served its purpose and it has had its day in Britain. There is nothing it could now be applied to that wouldn't make things worse.

Instead of modernising, Labour set about convincing us that there was still a need for their old fashioned ideas. In the recent general election they attempted to weave a propaganda tapestry that inequality was growing, poverty was getting worse and the poor were being left behind - even to the extent of talking down the recovery - which is always a political mistake.

The gulf between the ever more hysterical propaganda and the reality of our daily lives was too great. It suffered from a credibility gap. The left underestimated the intelligence of the British voter and it cost them. The public rejected it in large numbers. Thus there is now a political vacuum on the left. As far as campaigns go, it was one of the most epic miscalculations of modern times. Though in truth, Labour's economic record was so simply badly tainted that a loss was inevitable.

But the rejection of Labour is certainly no embrace of the status quo. The Conservative Party has little room for complacency. We are seeing fragmentation where the traditional Westminster parties cannot command influence in Scotland, and English conservatism holds no sway in the post-industrial North. Nobody is capable of commanding a "one nation" mandate.

It is born of a stagnation in British politics, where there is a strong feeling afoot that things don't change whoever you vote for. As rule they don't. We have reached a political equilibrium that in the main works. But there is still an appetite for change. The public are open minded to the possibility of a political revolution which explains why voters and are more willing than ever to test their votes outside of the traditional parties. 

In recent years we have drifted into a post-democratic benign managerialism that seems to work but something seems to be missing. Democracy. While it's my own opinion that many of the recent reforms have been for the best, I don't recall ever being asked about it - and I expect those who disagree with such reforms are furious about that. This is how the Scottish Nationalist Party was able to nurture a narrative of being the victim of Westminster misrule. It's a powerful and believable message. Even the UK Independence Party tapped into that, by setting the regions against the "Westminster elite".

We're seeing minor surges all over the place. We have seen a rise of the Green Party, which has made a stand on scaremongring about the weather, and Ukip, whose sole preoccupation seems to be the number of foreigners coming into the country, and the Scottish Nationalists who breathe life into the oldest of old grudges. What they have in common is a rejection of "the establishment" - but they each play to their own respective core votes which have an inherent glass ceiling of appeal.

That is why the establishment is still in no great danger. Any move to unseat the establishment must command a clear nationwide majority based on a genuine shared grievance. Unless Labour can tap into that they risk becoming yet another minority tribe. 

If there is any hope for the British left it is to be found in a genuinely radical message that speaks everyone. But this is not within their grasp. Western politics has run out of ideas. Like Hollywood with its endless remakes, British politicians borrow from the past, repackaging the products of old, with the solutions of the last century, and like Hollywood, they pitch it at the young and the sentimental who don't know any better. That is why the British left seriously looks like it will adopt Jeremy Corbyn as leader. Jurassic Park is not the only bunch of dinosaurs making a comeback this year.

Because Corbyn is certainly no anodyne media friendly clone, his personality alone is an antidote the to sanitised media driven soundbyte politics that most of us are so heartily sick of. But ultimately he represents nothing new. The kids under thirty don't remember just how bad nationalised railways were or just how expensive British Telecom was. Nor do they have any conception just how filthy the north of England was when every village was a coal mine. But most of us do. We don't want a return of those dangerous and filthy jobs. In the end the socialist rehtoric harking back to those post-war years will be defeated at the polls. We've been there and done it. There is no going back.

Never again will we use thousands of men to extract coal, nor will we be a ship building nation as we once were - and the public knows it. Our exports will be innovations and scientific discoveries. Corbyn and the old left cannot speak to that. While he represents a snub to the asinine media circus politics, it is as much a rejection of modernity as anything else.

If there is a place for the left in Britain it is to ensure that nobody gets left behind by the tides of massive change. Corbyn's socialism is wishful thinking, belonging to a time before global markets in everything. Nothing in his rhetoric says that he understands that his world is gone forever and a totally new one is emerging.

Where the left could speak up for the left behind is by addressing the clear democratic deficit between the rulers and the ruled. That is the one universal thread in our politics. Almost every voter is aware that something is disconnected somewhere. Some believe tinkering with the voting system is the answer, others believe leaving the EU is a silver bullet. But the voting rituals and the institutions we have are only the symptoms. The things we have lost is democracy. We have elections but the power does not reside with the people.

The state taking control of the railways doesn't address that. We're not going to be moved by promises of re-industrialisation, nor are we going to be convinced that Britain is descending into Dickensian poverty. Thus Labour will continue to fail. Propaganda is the art of building a political message. For it to work it must posses a degree of universalism and must speak to a political truth. In an internet age where assertions are easily verified or challenged, dry facts and figures won't cut it. Nor will exaggeration and hyperbole.   

A real leader would be one who speaks to the needs of the now, who is in tune with what we instinctively know to be broken. But more than that, such a leader must have answers. As I see it we shall not see such a leader from the Westminster set. Those who are the problem cannot design the solution to it. They can only hope to fool some of the people some of the time.

The existence of these minority splinter parties is very much a sign that the left has lost its way and has failed to tap into that central dissatisfaction. In the end, political survival is dependent on the message - and while charismatic figures may come and go, we are looking in the wrong places if we expect new ideas to come from Westminster. It will be those with answers and something new to say who will snatch power.  

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