The system doesn't work for the majority of people—Labour must seek to unite themby James Schneider / February 12, 2016 / Leave a comment
In its 2015 manifesto, the Labour Party included something called a “budget responsibility lock.” This committed the party to, among other things, cutting the budget deficit as quickly as possible were it to win power. Though it may not seem like it on the surface, this manifesto pledge shares something in common with the chants of “Tory scum” by far-left activists heard outside the Conservative Party conference last year—both the pledge and the chants were made by people who don’t have hope for a better world.
If we want to build a more equal and democratic society, Labour must be much more ambitious. To get there, the party mustn’t abandon its principles—far from it. But we must leave behind our old way of doing things. We must abandon nostalgia for the post-war economic boom, along with aggressive chants and arcane arguments. None of those things will appeal to the low-and-middle income Tory and UKIP voters who the Party need to win over. Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party allows us to think big about a positive future and to plot a path to it.
This week, People’s PPE (philosophy, politics and economics) launched. It is a project developed by the East End branch of Momentum (the campaign group affiliated with Jeremy Corbyn, of which I am a member). At our first event, 1,500 people crowded into an East London mosque to hear Guardian columnist Owen Jones, academic Layli Uddin, and the Daily Mail’s Peter Oborne talk about history, politics, South Asia and Englishness. Here we saw a glimpse of the future. Jones spoke on the English radical tradition from the Peasants’ Revolt to the present day, Uddin spoke on the legitimate anger of the oppressed, and Oborne on the emergence of the political elite and how it undermines democracy. These three perspectives are clearly very different, but they are all highly critical of concentrations of power at the top of a society.
To bring these strands of righteous anger together we must start with what they have in common—a hatred of corruption, corporate power, our political-economic elite, and a desire for the balance of democracy to be reset in our favour.
Labour should focus on putting across this simple message: “there is too much power at the top and it is corrupting society. Democracy, real rule by the people, is our solution.”
After all, the Daily Mail reader detests Google’s sweetheart tax deal as much as the Mirror reader does. Many different types of people share the same broad discontent, which is why traditional politics is breaking down across the Western world. This is both exciting and terrifying. It gives us Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, Podemos and the Front Nationale, Syriza and Golden Dawn, Corbyn and UKIP.
Labour is in a unique position in all this: it is an establishment party with an anti-establishment leadership. Corbyn won last summer running against Labour’s elite and the Westminster system. Now he must lead Labour to similar success on a national level.
He is the person for the job. Wholly incorruptible, a signpost, not a weathercock, Corbyn can be the leader on the side of the overwhelming majority for whom the system doesn’t work.
To achieve this, we need more than anger—we need hope. That is where Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, his Economic Advisory Committee and the New Economics series (which will see experts give public economics lectures) come in. With some of the best economic minds in the world contributing to both of these projects, Labour is developing a real alternative to the socially disastrous and economically illiterate policies of this government.
Public education also has a role. Initiatives like People’s PPE will help. The second event, “A hitchhiker’s guide to the economy”, is coming up later this month and will have Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis and Economist Ann Pettifor as speakers. Politics and economics are often discussed in a purposefully difficult language so that people just leave the experts to it, which has contributed to the concentration of power and wealth at the top of society. People’s PPE aims to give ordinary people across the country the critical skills to call out the nonsense when they hear it.
Even more important is “education through action.” When people organise politically, even over a local issue that does not particularly connect to a given political party, it can have a radicalising effect if it is linked up with other struggles to form an overall narrative. For example, saving your local hospital from closure isn’t just helping your local area, it is striking a blow against the health privatisers and those sucking the life out of our NHS.
There will be enormous difficulties along the way but let’s see the challenges for what they are. Corbyn and his supporters will always be attacked by the establishment because we expose its corruption. They can defeat these attacks by building bridges to other groups who do not share our politics. This will be hard, especially on issues of race and migration. But much of the anger out there is legitimate, even if it is sometimes hatefully misdirected. Minds can be changed by standing with people, listening to them and linking their struggles with the struggles of others.