RDN on Voice of Russia on “the Left”

In my second (and equally) enjoyable outing on Voice of Russia, from its Chancery Lane studio, we discussed the role of the modern Left in UK politics….

I argued that the surprising thing is that the left is not in much better shape. We have had a crisis in banking and world capitalism; we have great inequality amidst a recession; we have a clawback (however slight, actually) in government spending. And yet Occupy, which articulated unease at lots of this stuff, has disappeared with the same puff of wind which has followed the one which seems to have blown away Climate Action.

I am inclined to think, as I told Brendan Cole of Voice of Russia, that we may now be in a happy new place in British politics. “Political realities are beginning to align with economic realities”, I opined. What I meant is that many people, and from all over the economic and social spectrum, seem to accept that a free country must first become capable of earning a living in the modern economy and can then spend such, probably quite small, amounts it can wring from the earning and owning classes.

Politically, we have, it might be added, government by Toffs (again, this isn’t actually true, as Michael Mosbacher has pointed out, but it is quite a strong general impression). We even have the beginning of Tory-led economic improvement. This is the moment when the country should, on normal expectations, be preparing to swing back to Labour, as the working classes listen to their union-leaders; start to want to clobber those better off than themselves; look – in short – for the Left’s security blanket against reality.

But Labour is wrestling with an understanding that these essential, historic dynamics are much less in play. We seem to have a low-tax, entrepreneurial, success-orientated active working class. Indeed, to put it bluntly, we may have a working class which wants business to put it out of business. It may even be prepared to insist its children behave in school as though they want to learn. This is tough on politicians of the Left, who have lost their great, unthinking mass of supporters.

And yet Blairism is unfashionable. This creed attempted to square the circle on the Left, and indeed to put Labour firmly on the same footing as Major’s equally fresh take on Conservatism. Both addressed the post-Thatcher world with a solidly Thatcherite understanding of the new world. Ed M has sought to find an Occupy-lite, something a bit mutual, a bit Big Society, a bit Blue Labour, to try to find a post-Blair response to things. He seems so far to have failed to find a form of words which carries conviction.

I think it is likely that politics, like broadcasting, will follow cultural and technological trends. After all, 20th Century politics followed a nice Marxian formula of class and economic warfare, out of which socialism (to do it more credit than it deserves) reduced some features – mostly in education and health – of the very inequality it feeds on; and the tide of capitalism (mindless as ever) did lift almost all boats. Labour and Conservative parties got a decent living in the rhetorical and economic stand-off. But now the stand-off is too-obviously fake, and dangerous.

It seems to me that fragmentation will be the order of the day, as more and more heavyweight figures claim our attention with various forms of self-publicity, and do so within existing parties or, quite possibly, in a plethora of new ones. This will produce a complicated and confusing picture, in which political life will be – even more than it always has been – a matter of coalitions. (I see local constituency associations being keener to ally themselves with rising stars, and less able to control them them once elected, and maybe even the happy day when MPs become that blend of personal, national and local figures which Burke envisaged, and not the horribly constrained, over-active, pre-occupied bureaucratic fixers a few of their aggrieved constituents can currently turn them into.)

It is worth adding that this is the Populus way of looking at the electoral world: as having a Venn-diagram of voters and their over-lappings different from the old left-right spectra between and within parties. It also resonates well with the analysis of Tim Montgomerie in The Times of 4 April, 2014.

So I would say that ours will be a world in which people like Jesse Norman, Jon Cruddas, Mark Field, Andrew Tyrie, Robert Halfon, Rory Stewart and Caroline Lucas (and I will think of more on the left, given time) and yes Nigel Farage and Margaret Hodge and Keith Vaz, will become identified with bits of policy, even whole junks of narrative, and will become un-ignorable as governments are formed and act.

It was fascinating to read the very clever Janan Ganesh in the FT on the way this coalition has produced more libertarian economics, and been more often driven there by the Liberal Dems, than could ever have been expected. How odd, and how cheerful.

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Publication date

02 April 2014