Hello everyone – and welcome to round to of the Great and the Good debate – “Is a return to the centre necessary for Labour”. In this instalment, myself and Stan will be rebutting each other’s points made in the previous article and generally expanding out arguments. You can read part one here.
Returning yet again to strategy, there appears to be a growing misconception made by those in favour of a return to the left is that it will somehow be a strategic advantage. I am by no means arguing that the election was lost due to too many left wing policies, what I am suggesting is that with either a swing to the right or the left (or both, in the case of Ed’s policies), people become uncertain of what you really stand for. Holding firm ground in the centre eliminates the problems that Labour had trying to appease everyone by creating ideas and morals that clearly weren’t congruent, and we know that people see through that.
Secondly on the subject of strategy, I believe that it is almost salesman-like and definitely unhelpful to begin deciding on a political standpoint by wondering what people may think of you. It should be the other way round. We should look at what the country needs (from both social and economic points of view), develop a standpoint and then ‘sell’ the idea to people. We have no hope of winning in Scotland if we attempt to become as socialist as the SNP, and in doing so, we will alienate people in the process further south. The issue with the map Seb showed and his analysis stemming from it is of course that 1) Labour won (as far as I can see) just under half of the seats where the majority ‘not voting’ and 2) voter apathy is not something that you can solve with more promises. It is in fact promises from every party that has contributed to their apathy in the first place. We need to focus more on the vast swathes of blue that engulf most of Britain and this can only be done by coaxing them into the centre – we can’t drag them kicking and screaming to the left.
Morally, a return to the left seems to go against everything that Seb claims it supports. A return to the left does not give a ‘plan for everyone’, it collectively cripples society. First we have anti-business policies that dissuade international investment. Then we create a dole-dependent welfare class, rather than helping those in welfare into jobs (less aggressively than the Tories). Then we begin to fiddle with the economy in ways that only spell bad news. It simply can’t be argued that a return to the left is freeing and liberating for all involved. The idea that Thatcher and Blair’s ideologies of a neoliberal economy damaged Britain is not true. Thanks to a more liberal economy Britain is now seen as the economic ‘gateway to Europe’ – I for one see no need to undo this work.
In a return to left, buzz words seem to shift from ‘aspiration’ to ‘damage limitation’. Not only would this make Labour look dull and weak, but it doesn’t win votes. People become confused and critical about where all the money is coming from to fund these new ideas. The plan going forwards should not be that the state should continue to artificially control things so that the little money people have will go further, but rather a state that works in tandem with private sectors to enable increased wealth and with that the ability to be ‘aspirational’. In other words, a left-leaning Labour will keep people in a constant state of ‘aspiration’ – deceiving them of their real plight, whereas are more centrist Labour would actually enable people to reach their ‘aspirations’. The left and social mobility are simply not compatible.
There were interesting lines of argument in Stan’s first piece, most notably the idea that the left has an inherently anti-business streak that works against the interests of the country, and as such left-wing policies often target the wrong people when trying to mend the country’s wounds.
He cites the attack on non doms as an example of where a left-wing ideological principle has led party policy to penalise people that aren’t actually at fault. Now this, in my mind, is a slightly odd point to make – I don’t think anyone in the Labour Party claimed that clamping down on non doms in itself would be a key move in sorting out the country’s economic issues, but what it was was a policy that was part of a bigger picture – sorting out tax avoidance – something that blatantly is a big issue. On top of that, it’s clearly the moral thing to do – now Stan claimed that this sudden moral awakening was a result of lacking donations from non doms, but more likely it’s because Labour was starting to take tentative baby steps away from the neoliberal outlook of Blair and Brown – something that trapped the party in multiple unethical positions, and something that many want to return to.
Stan also criticised the left as more directly anti-business. Now I agree with him that businesses can and do serve the people – but without certain restrictions and a certain level of care, the benefits of business are totally eroded. Businesses exist to make profit – something I don’t think is an evil – but when they are taking care of a service that everyone needs and everyone should have equal access to, it’s vital that the government makes sure they’re playing fairly. This is why energy price freezes for instance (or even better, nationalisation) are vital, because though businesses can benefit us, if their own self-interest is crippling families with extortionate prices for vital commodities, the government needs to intervene.
Which brings me neatly onto my next point – nationalisation (which when your look at the figures, is actually rather popular, despite Stan’s claim that left wing policies aren’t). Price freezes, for instance, and moderate restrictions on the free market might not even necessarily have to be ‘left wing’ – though certainly not neoliberal, a traditional social liberal might accept those methods for the sake of protecting people. However, nationalisation, which was criticised as “unsustainable” and “damaging” by Stan, most certainly is socialist in flavour, but is far from “unsustainable” and “damaging”. The nationalisation of the health service for instance was one of the greatest achievements of the 20th century, and nationalisations of transport and utilities – though not perfect, were perfectly sustainable. I don’t advocate a mere turning back of time to welfare capitalism though – renationalisation would be done in a different, better way, with far more democratisation of each public service.
As for the effects on the market, it must be understood that many privatisations were complete shams even from a capitalist perspective – take for instance energy privatisation, which has resulted in a distorted sham where competition and other perceived benefits of privatisation have failed to improve the quality of service or indeed the price tag. This is an example of a sector which is ripe for nationalisation – the companies constantly rip off their customers, have no sense of limits, will do anything for profit, be that damaging the environment or leaching money from the people, and don’t even play by the conventional rules of their sector.
In short, a shift to the left wouldn’t be a regression, but a progression, unlike a step backwards into Blairism.