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January 29, 2015



My 5 year old came home from school one day chanting "You-get-what-you get-and-you-don't-get upset". She will take this mantra as the truth throughout her life. She won't be taught that equality is what we should aim for because luck plays a huge role what you get. Instead she will be taught that everyone deserves their lot in life and inequality is a natural outcome. It starts from a very young age this brainwashing. The Left needs to get in there early.

James Bloodworth

Excellent piece, Chris. James

Luis Enrique

I blame The Guardian, which I'd guess constitutes the major part of what people think "the left" is about


I think the rightists haven't done well with ideas in the last couple of decades - and some of their older ones aren't standing up well in the face of empirical evidence.

So, beyond the eternal verities (which both the left and the right has) does either perspective deserve a reputation for ideas at the moment?

The big ideas of the moment (e.g. complexity) seem, for now, to be ignored by both.

Dave Timoney

Aaronovitch's article contructs a strawman: "Socialists [who] like to think Syriza’s victory will usher in a new economic order". Dave Spart gets a mention (apparently he's relocated from Neasden to Lewisham).

As evidence for the existence of this beastie, Aaronovitch cites the posturing drivel of Giles Fraser and Natalie Bennett, before going on to contrast this with "the achievements of the centre-left government of the hated Tony Blair".

Given Aaronovitch's fondness for an old tune, his lament for the lack of ideas seems somewhat forced. But perhaps we are being naive in thinking that newspaper columnists actually deal in ideas. From the weeping Tories of the Guardian to the true believers of the Telegraph, ideas (rather than ideology) are noticeable by their absence.

PS: I managed to bypass the paywall using the Google cache, which might work for others (yeah, stick it to the man): http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:c09fbBYY4QcJ:https://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/opinion/columnists/article4337585.html+&cd=3&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=uk


I'm intrigued by this jobs guarantee idea - how much do you get paid in that system?


> I'm intrigued by this jobs guarantee idea - how much do you get paid in that system?

If you're doing a job that nobody wants, and that costs the taxpayer, maybe you should be paying in not paying out. It's all about the job, right?


The inability of The Professional Left to connect with ease is undeniably troubling for someone like me (of a working pauper household). An economy that positively supports the many and embraces a future for all regardless of ability, luck, or indeed mistakes made, is not argued against by any British political grouping (unsurprisingly). Such an economy is what working pauper households need, and in so far as the ‘middle’ classes fear descent, also what the vast majority of voters want. And yet, the Free Right’s ideology of Conditionality for nations and individuals alike – which is dependent, not on democracy but on the Free Right wielding its power – is running amuck. In the circumstances isn’t it great that the symbolism of Syriza laying that single red rose has upset a towering intellect? - a Times journalist no less...


"making people pay back money that they owed was immoral"

Aaranovitch pulls this one out as an example of duff thinking, but capitalism is based on the fact that people don't have to pay back their loans. They can declare themselves bankrupt and work their way back without their entire lives being blighted by a bankruptcy that may well be not their fault (google Taylor & Sons bankruptcy). This means that those providing the loans should assess the risks of that being the outcomes, charge accordingly, and not moan like children when it happens.

Compared to how capitalism treats companies, Greece is being treated in an appalling and ultimately self-defeating manner.

Aaranovitch is often worth reading, but on this occasion his hysteria masks a basic lack of understanding.


One of Blair's problems was that he had too many ideas. I seem to remember that in 2003, after all the hard work persuading MPs that he knew Iraq had WMD, he had a short break and then told journalists that he felt refreshed and was fizzing with ideas. It's far from clear that he really understood his ideas and how they supposedly addressed identified problems: if they appeared "modern" and brought in the private sector, that was enough.

gastro george

As Aaranovitch has built a career saying "nothing to see here, move along", it's not as if he has a vivid imagination himself.

An Alien Visitor

David Aaronovitch is the last person to dish out this advice as he is not so much an ideas man as a person who says shit and seems to have found employment doing it (and they say the public sector wastes money)! For this reason David Aaronovitch has no idea how ideas come about.

One very important part of developing ideas is sitting back, being quiet and looking to learn from results. there is a humble, painstaking and reflective process behind it. David Aaronovitch is not cut out for this work.

So David Aaronovitch please do us all a favour and shut the fuck up!

WVO House

Or maybe the reason for the author's statements is that half of the ideas you discuss are well understood and understood to be ridiculous and/or too vague to be considered legitimate policy proposals.

"Worker democracy" and jobs guarantees are not serious proposals.

"Wage-led growth" isn't a policy or an idea, it's the PRODUCT of serious policies and ideas.

"Participatory economics" is just a vague, unsystematic notion that again is the product of policies and not in itself a policy idea (and even that is only if you can actually define it rigorously).

So yes, most of these "ideas" are best described as symbology.

It's not because of the Overton window or because of the media, it's because if you want to be taken seriously you need to come up with actionable ideas that can withstand rigorous analysis and the demands of the real world.

Richard Evans

'As Nick Robinson said of Jonathan Portes, "he would not have a chance of getting elected in a single constituency in the country." '

That's because his arguments are based on faulty logic, such as areas of high unemployment don't have many immigrants so immigrants don't cause unemployment. It's this "crime is highest in countries with the most number of people in jail, closing jails will reduce crime" logic that leads to the left coming up with ideas that don't work and ruined the lives of millions of people in the UK and US.

gastro george

"... the left coming up with ideas that ... ruined the lives of millions of people in the UK and US."

Care to be more explicit?

drunkard in italy

It seems like unless a leader has stregnth and charisma or at least a posture , physically and verbally then allideas can go out the window as a lefty I can say with confidence that at least cons and ukip have that, I'm not sure I'd trust any major figure on the left to run a pub right now.


I don't think you can get voted in on the back of promoting radical policies - so don't peddle them up front. Radical policies are for after the election. For example a competent publicity campaign could sacrifice Green Belt land on 'our duty to the young' or 'don't be selfish' grounds. But what bothers me is the effect on the economy of removing housing as a one-way savings bet. People and the banks would be on the hook for potentially big losses. Our economy is feeble enough and I suspect there will be no big housing push for economic reasons rather than Green Belt reasons. So after May we get same-same and repeat this blog post in 2020.


Great piece - I highly recommend "Manufacturing Consent" by Herman and Chomsky as the best analysis of filters that limit the spectrum of debate in the corporate media

Igor Belanov

'as Nick Robinson said of Jonathan Portes, "he would not have a chance of getting elected in a single constituency in the country."'

Another reason why no attention should be paid to Nick Robinson's opinions. It is one thing becoming a party leader, another thing entirely being elected as MP. If Portes was wearing the right rosette he could easily be elected in a wide range of constituencies.


@ WVO House - the vagueness in worker democracy is deliberate; the appropriate form of such democracy will vary from firm to firm.
My proposals aren't intended to be immediately actionable. There's a big tradition in Marxism which is wary of blueprints. This is because the transition to socialism must be a long process. It's not a matter of imposing a pattern from on high. The political challenge for the left is to create the conditions which encourage the transition.
Capitalism did not spring fully formed overnight; it evolved over centuries. Why assume socialism will be different?
As an analogy, imagine a Russian in the 60s calling for a market economy. His interlocuter could make exactly the same remarks you've made: "market economy" is a vague phrase and there's no chance of the demand being actionable soon. None of this makes the call wrong.


But the parties that carry the label of the "left" have ideas, and they have been actionable, and the main ones have been:

* Push up asset valuations and balloon debt collateralized by assets via very loose regulatory and credit policy.

* Push down wages and benefits for working age people via smashing of unions and unionized industries, effective abolition of the right to strike, and massive immigration of a reserve army of workers.

These are the same actionable ideas that the rightist parties have.

Because the reason is the same: that's what "Blow you, I am allright Jack" asset owning swing voters in the South East want, and both parties want to win elections.

Having ideas that make you unelectable is not what parties of the left or right want to boast about.

Since the "idea" of pushing up asset prices via the debt-collateral spiral is uncontroversial, right and left parties differ only as to the zeal with which they pursue the other idea, to push down wages and welfare and up unemployment and insecurity.

Neil Wilson

"I'm intrigued by this jobs guarantee idea - how much do you get paid in that system?"

The living wage in a proper Job Guarantee (which is a job offer open to all at the living wage paid for by the state working for the public good).

Neil Wilson

"If Portes was wearing the right rosette he could easily be elected in a wide range of constituencies."

Much as any other donkey would.


«Since the "idea" of pushing up asset prices via the debt-collateral spiral is uncontroversial,»

Which is what Colin Church called "privatized Keynesianism", which is the overwhelming aim of economic policy in most the anglo-american culture countries with first-past-the-post elections and self-gerrymandering of voters by class and a middle class made of rent-seeking middle aged and older highly leveraged asset speculators.


@Neil Wilson. OK, thanks for the reply.
But if you get a living wage how is that defined? Something like the Rowntree Foundation perhaps? It's higher, is it, than the Basic Income, otherwise I suppose you wouldn't bother showing up? And the Public Good is defined how? Something like, picking up litter, helping out at a hospital, or school, or youngsters preparing for a job, or something? Am I on the right track? A bit like if local govt. employs an army of temps to get something done, say?
I'm intrigued because it feels much more like my preferred policy which is a wage subsidy. Kind of, do a job, any job, and get paid a living wage. In effect, you remove all unemployment by finding something that anyone can do, and therefore remove employer monopsony power, leading to a better system.
Are we saying that there probably are jobs out there, that are useful, they just aren't provided by the conventional labour market?
What about parent, elderly person, and people with disabilities, can they be incorporated?

Dave Timoney

A jobs guarantee wouldn't be paid at the national minimum wage, but slightly below it. This is to encourage labour to move from the public sector to the private sector once the economy picks up and (low-paying) vacancies are created in the latter.

The job guarantee is meant to be a self-regulating mechanism to deal with temporary unemployment. If paid at the NMW (let alone the living wage), this would encourage some workers to prefer the security of a public sector role. For the same reason, the jobs are likely to be unattractive, to avoid workers discounting their wage expectations for pro-social roles.

In practice, job guarantee schemes either tend towards the antiquated model of the 20th century (a labour battalion with the prospect of parole), or they are pro-capital schemes that provide subsidies to business for certain types of worker (e.g. the young or long-term unemployed) for fixed periods. The use of the term "job guarantee" for the latter is questionable - "subsidy guarantee" would be more accurate.


Really interesting post. I wrote a post earlier this week on a similar-ish topic (http://buyingqp.com/2015/01/27/against-fatalism/). Ed Balls was out in the US as part of a presentation by think tank The Center for American Progress, on their research into 'inclusive prosperity'. Balls was one of the Commissioners of the report. Many of the policy recommendations were as you would expect - and as laid out in the post above. What was interesting was that although Balls could speak about the strength of the policies he had no political will to try and implement them. When asked specifically about this (the report calls for infrastructure investment vs Labour's spending cap), he waffled an answer. The question remains unanswered, when will the investment that goes into policy report be matched by investment in the politics to sell the ideas to the electorate.

Igor Belanov

'"If Portes was wearing the right rosette he could easily be elected in a wide range of constituencies."

Much as any other donkey would.'

Exactly. You would expect that the BBC's Political Editor would realise this though.

Peter K.

I agree with this post, and see it here in America as well, obviously.

There's the sense that rich people must be smart because they're rich. And so campaign finance laws are done away with and we have the Koch brothers announcing they're going to give $890 million to defeat the Democrats in 2016. Language and ideas have a tough time fighting the corrupting influence of money.

Outside of the economic sphere, though the notions of fairness and human rights are doing well here in America against the forces of ideology and religion (another faction of the rightwing.) Pot is being decriminalized in a few states and the Supreme court will soon rule on the legal status of gay marriage for all 50 states. Even on the economic front, a number of conservative states raised the minimum wage on their own.


Add in Land Value Tax to good ideas.


If the Right agenda is privatisation, deregulation, tax cuts for the rich, union-busting, gutting of socialised medicine and public education and, in fine, the recreation of Jane Austen's world, why can't a Left agenda be constructed by simply adopting the opposites of these things?


«the recreation of Jane Austen's world, why can't a Left agenda be constructed by simply adopting the opposites of these things?»

Because ideas and an agenda that make the left unelectable are not very useful!

For the usual reason: that affluent swing voters in marginal seats in the South East think that recreating Jane Austen's world is a good idea *for them*, because they think that they would be "upstairs" in it, as ladies or lords of the micro-manor, with the northern scroungers and the romanian immigrants as their "downstairs" servant classes.

What you call "Jane Austen's world" I have called for years the "plantation economy", and that dream is very popular with the affluent middle classes of the South East.

As usual, I try to remind the delusional left of Blair's "Sierra man" moment, and of Radice's "Southern discomfort" pamphlets.

Perhaps the "aspirational" affluent voters of the South East could be persuaded that instead of aspiring to an "upstairs" lifestyle thanks to ballooning property prices and zooming rents on their micro-manors, they could aspire to have safer, better paid jobs and more security and freedom to choose a better job with good unemployment insurance, and better pensions when they retire.

But that is a difficult sell, because their experience is that an investment of £10,000 cash as a deposit for leveraged government guaranteed South East property speculation has generated gross returns of £15,000 *per year* with net profits of over half that, thanks to massive redistribution from the lower classes and Northern losers.

There is no way that honest, fairer, less redistributive policies could generate that much after tax profit for the Southern middle class landlords who aspire to "upstairs"-like affluence thanks to huge mostly tax-free entirely redistributive capital gains on assets, and they feel entitled to so much more:

«As the middle classes book holidays in Torquay rather than Tuscany, drink tap water instead of San Pellegrino and put the conservatory they had been planning to build on hold, they start to question the amount they have to pay to the Government.»


Thinking again about this sensible comment:

«If the Right agenda is privatisation, deregulation, tax cuts for the rich, union-busting, gutting of socialised medicine and public education and, in fine, the recreation of Jane Austen's world, why can't a Left agenda be constructed by simply adopting the opposites of these things?»

So the "the recreation of Jane Austen's world" is very popular indeed with voters, as they think that each of them would be "ladies of quality" or "squires" in that world.

Thus "a Left agenda" that makes the parties of the Left electable is not at all "adopting the opposites of these things", but adopting them directly, as New Labour did, but then complementing them with less harsh poor laws than the parties of the Right have adopted.

Put in historical terms, both parties of the Left and Right that want to be elected have as their agenda "the recreation of Jane Austen's world", but the Left supports the Speehhamland system of Poor Laws, the Right demands the 1834 system of poor low workhouses.

Thus for example Brown's introduction of the very important earned income tax credit system, and conversely Osborne's introduction of requirements for unpaid work while getting unemployment benefit.

That's what the Left and Right debate is all about currently: going back to "Jane Austen's world" for sure, but with the Speenhamland poor laws or the 1834 poor law.

Such are the "new" ideas in UK (and USA, Australian, New Zealand) politics :-).


@ Blissex

I think you’re spot on. Thus, speaking as a pauper while I work and wait for something better of the 21st century I’d sooner be a casualty of Speenhamlandism under Labour, than collateral damage courtesy of Tory sponsored poor laws that (aided and abetted by corporate multi media companies) are being beefed-up using age old divide and rule along with today’s understandings of human psychology. So just to say, pleasejust don’t give the poor law brigade yet another boost at the ballot box.


The claimant count and the majorities gained in marginal seats in England, Scotland and Wales, mean if claimants vote differently, they could hold the balance of power in Westminster and usher in a SYRIZA victory for socialism in the UK.

It also means it could save claimants lives immediately after 7 May 2015 general election.

A further breakdown of the voting areas and parties on offer are on my page Help Greens Win Big, but has other parties listed as well:


From Blissex' and e's comments it seems that the UK is going to need something like Syriza or Podemos to break the cycle. To continue the historical analogies, maybe a "New Chartism"?

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