Monday, July 27, 2015

Reclaim the centre

There's a post here announcing the apocalypse: "Corbyn is going to win".  Oh nos!  There will be rats - and other stuff that's bad.  It's not that I disagree - albeit for slightly different reasons than some.  Mine are more pragmatic: Corbyn is not going to be able to lead his party, and will struggle to avoid a split, especially if he pitches his lot in with the 'No' crew in the EU referendum.  He certainly isn't going to be Prime Minister.  I have no idea if any of these poll predictions bear any relation to reality but one thing I've been continually thinking during this leadership campaign is, it really doesn't take much to get you designated 'hard left' these days, does it?

I'd have to stress I don't know much about Jeremy Corbyn.  He obviously is the leftwing candidate in some respects.  I have no idea what he thinks about the IRA and Hezbollah but if I bothered to find out, I'm quite sure I probably would disagree.  In other respects, one thought that keeps re-occurring is, how leftwing is Jeremy Corbyn anyway?  Some of his ideas obviously are, like a 75%  higher rate of income tax.  Other ideas like increasing corporation tax are leftwing but strike me as a bit nostalgic for an age when pesky capital didn't move around as much as it does now.  Others I'm not sure.  Getting rid of the monarchy?  Join hands with Rupert Murdoch on that.  Free university tuition fees?  We have this already in Scotland and as a middle-class parent, I would welcome this but maybe for selfish reasons - perhaps making the point that this sort of thing, whether it's a good idea or not, is a hand-out to the median voter.  

But in as far as one can tell, the two positions he holds that are usually given as evidence that a left platform would be popular with voters are nationalisation (specifically of the railways) and an end to 'austerity'.  I would argue that these aren't leftwing policies at all.  Heath nationalised the aircraft bit of Rolls Royce in 1971 and the last Labour government nationalised Northern Rock in 2008.  In recent years, this Conservative government has nationalised schools and our Scottish Government has nationalised the police force.  Here's Peter Hitchens arguing for nationalised railways.  Do we need to provide more evidence that this is an issue that is both a mainstream opinion and cuts across the political spectrum?

It's a similar story with 'austerity'.  I appreciate this is repetition on my part but it's worth elaborating: the idea that the level of government borrowing does not impose the sort of restrictions on government spending that the Conservatives say it does is a centrist, not a 'radical left', position.  Here's Lord Sidelsky, for example, taking issue with my compatriot historian Niall Ferguson,  He argues a fairly standard Keynesian line that the history of the interwar period shows that you can't cut your way out of a recession.  Compare to the postwar period where a national debt that nearly reached 250% of GDP was reduced over time, not by slashing spending but by the economic growth of the long postwar boom (aided and abetted with an occasional bit of inflation).

Sidelsky is obviously to the left of Niall Ferguson - but that's true of most people.  The point is that his is a centrist position.  Keynes was a liberal, after all - as are most of the 'anti-austerity' economists, as far as one can tell.  Which leads me to the following suggestion: Jamie K in conversation on Twitter expressed the view that Blairism has solidified into a doctrine whereby 'capturing the centre ground' means in practice moving to the right as a default position.  (Apologies to him - I'm paraphrasing here.)  Could it be then that 'winning from the centre' might involve  Labour reoccupying this centre they've surrendered in deference to what some people have (correctly, in my view) described as 'deficit fetishism'?  It's a matter of no small importance: both in Britain and the European Union, fiscal orthodoxy is putting enormous strains on these multi-national institutions.  I would suggest in this context 'winning from the centre' might involve reclaiming 'anti-austerity' centrism from the nationalists and the supposedly 'hard-left', which would require moving a little to the left.


Paulie said...

I think the left/right thing doesn't apply either. What does apply is any interest on any candidate's part to take an interest in economic growth. We had an election where barely no social grouping didn't have to endure Labour declaring itself to be on their side.

Women? We have pink buses! LGBT? Every Labour candidate wore rainbow underpants! We're anti-racists, anti-sexist, anti-Islamophobia, anti-everything. And if you were gay / not a bloke / muslim, you could bank Labour's support and cast your vote depending on the issues that really bother you.

If Corbyn does well, it will be a signal that the party wants to be a pressure group. If any of the other three clones win, it signals that we want business as usual. It's not good.

Shuggy said...

No, it isn't. Wondering if you've any view on the veracity of these polls? Corbyn's obviously going to do better than anyone predicted but is it even possible to get a proper sample, for example? I'd imagine that would be quite difficult. Staggers article went on about them feeling right - which is about as much use as a chocolate fireguard.

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