#1 How the centre-left can thrive

Posted by RDN under Politics & campaigns on 17 July 2016

In a nutshell: Things look quite, but deceptively, rosy for the Conservatives just now. But against all the odds, the centre-left maintains a strong vote and could – if it made the right moves, and probably because of the support of young arsty-liberals – become the power in the land which Tony Blair always dreamed it might be. Here’s how.

There has for a hundred years or more been a simple underlying dynamic to British politics. It is that the broad church of the Conservatives can easily reach out to a One Nation creed which embraces much of the working class. But the party has other minority tendencies which are variously protectionist, free trade, xenophobic and libertarian. These flourish when theings go very well or very badly for the party.

Labour has had quite a broad church, and it was the unionised working class as steered by intellectual or industrial socialists. It had a historic and shifting split as between moderates who sought to mildly reform capitalism and extremists who sought to overthrow it. It had a minority who openly espoused a liberationist (they would say, a human rights) agenda and a large, largely unspoken, mass who were much more prone to the sort of mild bigotry which was much more often ascribed to Tory voters.

The chemistry seems to be that the Tories have always had a strong grip on power, but (even more than other parties, I think) look uglier or sillier the longer they wield it, especially when challenged only by Labour when it’s lost its way, which is often.

Labour pragmatists can always smell the prospect of power, provided they can scupper leftist ideologues. The Tories always broaden their language so as to scupper this Labour move. The upshot for years was Butsklerism (named after Butler and Gaitskell, the two leading centrists of the two main parties in the 1950s). Then Thatcher, lacking all politeness, opened up a proper divide and – amazingly – took much of the working class vote from Labour. Then Blair co-opted Thatcherism (as it had been tweaked by the centrist John Major) and got them back, and the bien pensant middle class with them. Then Cameron squeaked by with a Thatcherised Blairism (a Major triumph again). Labour are now in deep trouble because their activists can neither embrace Blairism nor get Bennism elected.

Labour ought to be due to split. Whether the pragmatists keep the brand, or the ideologues, who knows. TM has put the Tories in fabulous territory. But the centre left will come back, somehow, sometime. Politics abhors a vacuum, and anyway the electorate sees it as a team sport.

But the deal is now very tough for the left. The country is now capitalist, and “low tax, low welfare” is now engrained as the acceptable mantra (if not yet the acceptable policy) for any party which wants to be electable. The electable left can be at the “kinder” end of that proposition, but can’t be anywhere near socialist.

Only one thing runs in the hard left’s favour, and it may not – should not – last. The arts graduate, and even the science graduate, young are still in thrall to various delusions. I will deal with that as best I can in another post.

But the future for the Tories is no clearer than it ever has been. The party has not made up its mind whether it would like a tax system such that the state spends 40, 30, or 20 per cent of the national wealth. It cannot decide how much it likes the EU (even though it must leave it).

Labour’s future is more obviously uncertain. But the centre left, however it is branded, could yet do extraordinarily well. It could probably agree on a state-take of 35 percent of the nation’s wealth, and also on a civilised version of Brexit. It could probably co-opt quite big swathes of the left of Tory party’s support and of its Parliamentary candidates-in-waiting. It could put the artsy-liberals to work, if only they could overcome their devout lack of interest in the real world.

We need a strong, sensible centre-left. Why not help to build it?

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