I can’t say I’m gutted by the election results as none of the parties are coming from anything like a position I could support.
It is of course gutting that the Tories will see this as a vindication of their Neoliberal ideological position and will act as if they have triumphed, which is of course not the case, with a slim overall majority of only 12.
I would also say that the Miliband factor made such a result almost inevitable. Ed Miliband appears to be a decent man and more left-of-centre than most in the Labour leadership but his Wallace & Gromit physical characteristics and clumsy, clunky, ungainliness made him simply unelectable in this media dominated age.
I am a Libertarian Socialist. I challenge the legitimacy of all hierarchies and believe both in the absolute existential freedom of all individuals but simultaneously accept that we are mutually dependent upon others and that our mutually dependent, collaborative, cooperative, social nature, rather than our individuality, is the most powerfully defining feature of our species.
Economically, this leads me towards a mixed economy, welfare state, with participative and deliberative democratic processes in all institutions, both public and private, including mandated, recallable Councillors and MP’s, elected managers in the work place, workers councils, staff directors and so on.
The nearest we have come to that is the 1945 Labour Party manifesto and the post war Keynsian consensus that lasted until the mid seventies, with strong trade unions challenging commercial corporate power and a strong welfare state providing the powerless with options and choices for the first time in human history.
But Thatcher’s victory in ’79 signalled the end of the post-war consensus and the conscious attempt by the ruling elite to reassert the pre-war, not to say Victorian values, of mass subservience to that ruling elite.
The response of the Labour Party was to consciously and publicly abandon ‘socialism’ and adopt the same Neoliberal ideological framework of the Tories. Tony Blair basically carried on the Thatcherite agenda of ‘modernisation’ i.e. privatisation. It was New Labour who instigated the wholesale privatisation of the NHS, Academy Schools, fees for university undergraduates etc, etc. The press talk about all the main parties being crammed into the ‘middle-ground’ but New Labour wasn’t in the middle-ground it was on the right, just as the Tories aren’t in the middle-ground, they are on the right and New Labour were/are ideologically identical to the Tories as indeed were the LibDems.
New Labour is in fact no different from the LibDems – a slightly less nasty neoliberal capitalist party. Indeed, the main driver of the backlash against the LibDems is that in 2010 their manifesto was further to the left than Labour. So much so that Billy Bragg practically got lynched at Tolpuddle when he suggested progressives should vote LibDem rather than Labour in the 2010 election. For that progressive LibDem party to then support a Tory party for 5 years as they slashed and burned their way through the welfare state is tough to swallow.
It seems hard to deny that the UK has moved massively to the right since ’79 but the question is why? I would argue the mostly capitalist owned media is a huge part of that shift in political consciousness – even the BBC since John Burt been run by ‘executives’ committed to the ideology of neoliberal capitalism. Thus the poor and the working class are relentlessly presented as feckless and worthless – Shameless, Benefit Street, Big Fat Gypsy Wedding… The concept of us as competitors is endlessly reiterated – Big Brother, X Factor, Storage Hunters… and the agenda of ‘business’ as the creative and moral saviour of civilisation is relentlessly promoted – The Apprentice, Dragon’s Den… and on and on and on.
The ‘failure’ of Soviet style communism and ‘the end of history’ rhetoric has also lent credibility to the TINA narrative (There Is no Alternative), making the claim that all alternatives to capitalism have been explored and found wanting to sound, at least in the short-term, credible.
But the New Labour self-conscious abandonment of socialism has also left them without any coherent way of arguing against the Tories. Without a positive ideology (i.e. Democratic Socialism) what is New Labour arguing for? Without Keynes how do you argue against the logic of austerity? Without the moral justification of the redistribution of wealth based on a Marxist notion that workers not capitalists create wealth, how do you justify redistributing the wealth owned by the rich?
The logic of ‘austerity’ goes something like this:
- Governments are just like households and to be responsible and economically competent they have to ‘balance their books’.
- The way for governments to ‘balance their books’ is to only spend what they collect in tax…
- Thus the government has to cut spending until the books balance.
But ideologically Neoliberalism states that tax itself is a sort of theft and thus neoliberal ‘austerity’ goes further because it says governments are in the current circumstances obliged to cut spending to balance the books, but in the long-term, even after the crisis they are obliged to cut spending in order to reduce tax.
According to this Neoliberal narrative it was socialist New Labour’s profligate over-spending that led to the governments increased debt and annual deficit, rather than the government rescue of the financial sector.
There are coherent and powerful, evidence-based, refutations to these very credible sounding ‘common-sense’ Neoliberal arguments but they are, unfortunately for ‘New’ Labour, ‘Old’ Labour arguments.
Keynesian economics, the economic orthodoxy of the post-war mixed economy/welfare state, suggested that ‘balancing the books’ was an entirely fallacious metaphor when applied to government and that counter-intuitively the way for governments to manage economic depression and crisis was to spend, spend, spend. And remember Keynes was a capitalist, who wanted to see capitalism prosper, but he recognised that the sort of minimalist and simplistic free-market economics of the pre-war depression was exacerbating problems rather than solving them. Keynes recognised that in periods of depression/recession government spending stimulated economic activity and thus lead to a speedier end of the downturn. The post-war policies resulting from this insight led to the post war economic boom and growth far higher than in the subsequent Neoliberal era:
|Average global growth||4.8%||3.2%|
|Average global inflation||3.9%||3.2%|
|Unemployment (Great Britain)||1.6%||7.4%|
So there is a perfectly credible Keynsian argument against ‘austerity’ that is powerful and convincing and could even be spun to be ‘pro-business’ – i.e. public spending will benefit business far more than taxation will harm it. But New Labour by self-consciously rebutting it’s supposedly left wing past, has cut itself off from this argument and thus any chance of arguing coherently and more importantly, convincingly, against ‘austerity’.
If, as New Labour do, you accept the logic and necessity of austerity, then surely it would be better to get on with it? To bite the bullet, rather than fannying around trying to be nice about it. The New Labour position of being morally outraged by Tory cuts but promising to make the same cuts if elected is not even hypocritical; it’s simply incoherent nonsense.
To get my vote any credible party of the Left would need to make the following arguments:
- The economic crisis of 2009 was caused by private business but resolved by the public purse. This puts the moral responsibility to pay off the public debts on those private businesses that caused them – not on the public.
- The Welfare System is politically, morally and economically central to the mental and physical health not just of the people but of our whole society.
- Austerity is neither necessary nor desirable; On the contrary public spending is a prerequisite for a healthy economy and a healthy society.
- Public ownership of the health service, the education system, the transport network, power supplies and water supply is politically, morally and economically necessary.
- Tax is a legitimate method of redistributing illegitimate accumulations of wealth caused by the inherent instabilities and failings of the capitalist free market system.
- A democratically elected government has a duty to protect citizens from the exploitative impulses inherent within a capitalist system.
- The mandate of a democratically elected government has primacy over commercial interests (Global or Local), for if ‘democracy’ means anything, it means that the citizenry have the right and the ability to collectively plan and determine the material circumstances and social rules of their own society and not simply have to suffer at the hands of the oppressive vagaries of volatile ‘market forces’.
The only party who got close to this were The Greens, but the Greens see all this primarily as subordinate to the environmental issue, whereas I would say it is the other way round – you won’t solve the environmental issue until you rest power from the capitalists.
Anyway, whichever way you look at it, New Labour had nothing to offer someone like me. It would have been nice to stick it to the Tories of course but I’ve been on the losing side in politics since’79 so while it does get depressing remember the dying words of Joe Hill – Don’t mourn, organise!