Richard Murphy asks a good question: what’s the point of Labour’s right-wing?
Let’s face it: Corbyn did not become Labour leader because he’s a political genius – he’s not – but because his rivals were offering so pitifully little; apart from Liz Kendall’s talk of empowerment, they were bereft of ideas. Jolyon has a point when he says that candidates shouldn’t have fully-formed ideas and that leaders should develop policy later. But Burnham and Cooper didn’t seem even to be asking good questions – of the sort which Jolyon himself poses. Jonathan Todd is right: “something must have gone awry with centrist thinking for Corbynism to be ascendant.”
As Brendan O’Neill has said, Corbyn’s opponents have been offering only “technocratic, principle-free blather about electability.” This wouldn’t be so bad if they actually knew how to get elected, but the loss of two general elections and their abject showing in the Labour leadership contest suggests that the anti-Corbynites don’t even know this. The problem isn’t that they are technocrats: it’s that they are bad technocrats. They use the word “electable” not as a way of describing how to be actually elected, but as the whine of over-entitled narcissists upset that Corbyintes have taken away their toys.
The problem, here, however, is an old one: Gordon Brown spent years plotting to be prime minister, only for us to discover that he didn’t know what to do when he got there. And given that so many Labour MPs’ path to the Cabinet consisted in impressing a mentor rather than in developing outside support or independent thought, it’s small wonder that they should have lost contact with those outside the Westminster Bubble, or even with the ability to think for themselves.
Herein, though, lies something I find regrettable. There are many ideas in politics which aren’t heard as much as I’d like,such as free market pessimism. Left Hayekianism or small-state Keynesianism. Centre-leftism is one such. If I were them, I’d be arguing for some of the following:
- “Make work pay”. Shift taxes from labour to land and inheritances, and defend tax credits as a better way of topping up low pay than minimum wages.
- Openness. Leaving the EU, or controlling immigration, are no solutions at all, but simply mean-spirited little Englanderism.
- Public sector investment. As Simon says, you can combine this with “fiscal responsibility” in the sense of wanting governments to run a balance on the current budget.
- Improve productivity. UK productivity lags well behind that of other countries. Policies to tackle this might include investment in early years education and freer migration (pdf).
Personally, I don’t think these policies are sufficient. But they are coherent, useful and substantive. There could, and should, be more to anti-Corbynism than mere whining about "electability".