Tuesday 13 October 2015

The real division emerging on the Left

Peter Oborne is one of the most thoughtful commentators on the centre right. I see his comments pre-Corbyn are being circulated around Corbynista circles (thank you, Barbara), where he says:

"No one who is loathed by the bankers, the BBC and Tony Blair all at once can be that bad."

I can relate to that.  The establishment hates change and, since the Blair-Brown nexus seemed to be a about avoiding change as much as possible, it isn't surprising that those who manage the nation yearn for a different, duller Labour leadership.

That doesn't make Corbyn right on many other things, but Oborne made a good case that he is right on foreign affairs. We are still living with the consequences of the disaster of the invasion of Iraq, after all.

Now, after the general election, I found myself sharing platforms with people who wanted to talk about cross-party co-operation, notably a fascinating debate with Caroline Lucas in Hay-on-Way.  More on this another day, I hope.

Most of these have been debates about collaboration on the Left, and that is where the need for an effective opposition in the UK is most energetically felt.  I've been approaching this from three angles so far:

1.  Change is inevitable.  Change will come, as it always does, pretty much by clockwork in the UK, every 40 years - which makes us due for a reset around 2019/20. But there is very little consensus about what to do.  My own thinktank, New Weather, aspires to fill this gap.

2.  Sharpen Liberalism. One way I believe I can help this process along is, paradoxically, to be clearer about what the role of Liberalism is now in the 21st century - not as a way of beating up other political traditions, but because my own tradition has been a little muddled since 1979 or so, and it doesn't help us move forward.

3.  Make small changes. Overwhelmingly the best way forward for inter-party co-operation is to now use the House of Lords - where the government has no overall majority - to make things happen. They will be small things, at first, but - as long as they are real achievements - they will lead to others, and build trust across the various political divides.

But that last one is more important than I had realised a few weeks ago. Because I am increasingly aware that there is a completely different division emerging on the Left than I had seen before.

One the one hand, there is the traditional, irritating, negative Left, backward looking - to the policies of 1945 and the symbolism of 1917 - fearful of the future, defensive of the past and apparently with little to contribute to the present. Pretty irritating, in fact.

On the other hand, there is the emerging Left which is overwhelmingly positive, highly practical, ideologically committed, but seeking new ways forward with energy and innovation - especially in the field of economics.

This is powerfully local, aware that centralism no longer works, and using the language of renewable energy, social entrepreneurship, social enterprise, people powered prosperity, and the strange nether world between small business innovation and urban revival.

What is fascinating, and rather unexpected, is that the sheer pragmatism of this emerging Left is remarkably similar in one part of the pantheon as it is in another. It is English in the sense that it goes for what works.

I recent found myself in Preston (of which more another day), interviewing members of the council, and found that I agreed with practically every word of the bold and innovative economic programme the Labour Party put forward there in last year's local elections.

Blairite it isn't, but then neither is it obviously socialist - its concern with enterprise could almost make it more Right than Left. It is certainly positive and pragmatic but also radical.

So what does an Liberal ideologue do in this situation? When recognisable parallel ideas are emerging across the Left - in my own party certainly, but also among people I happen to know are fervent supporters of Jeremy Corbyn?

I'm not sure.  But what I'm going to do now is to hail what may turn out to be a genuine re-alignment of the Left, broadly between the negative, backward-looking and the positive, pragmatic. They know who they are, and I'm definitely on the side.of the latter.

I think we all should be. Because this is where the new consensus is going to emerge from.

AND! My ebook Operation Primrose is on special offer for 99p this week. There is also a conventional print version here

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Neil Stockley said...

I'm no expert on the politics of Preston, but I see little connection between the interesting economic policies emerging from many Labour Councils and Corbyn's dismal 1970s socialism. The risk for the Lib Dems is that by having nothing interesting to say about the new urban agendas, or by trying to offer a milk powdered Corbynism, we end up as the real conservatives.

Matthew said...

I had the pleasure of meeting David in Preston and am very pleased by the interest he has shown in our politics. Much of the ideas emerging from the Corbyn camp in which I am a strong supporter fits in very well with ideas around economic democracy and producing a democratic economy locally whether that is supporting worker cooperatives, local business, credit unions, municipal enterprise, shifting procurement and pension wealth to the local economy or aggressively promoting the living wage.

In Preston there has also been a great deal of influence from some thinking in US states by thinktanks like The Democracy Collaborative. I would suggest a read of "America Beyond Capitalism" by Gar Alperovitz and especially the example of Evergreen Cooperatives in Cleveland. Interesting how this has supporters from anarchist Noam Chomsky to right wing Republicans. I personally think these ideas are firmly of the left but I can see how the ideas of self reliance and enterprise may appeal to some on the right (and centre) also. Though as a radical this does disturb me a little maybe the growing consensus around new ideas across the political spectrum is something to celebrate.

Ian Eiloart said...

A comment made to me, by a Dutch D66 historian, at conference in Bournemouth was that it's the mission of liberals to prepare society for the future. As distinct from conservatives (by definition), and the defensive Left that you refer to above.