The great Bryan Appleyard, surely the most underrated journalist in Britain, has picked up on this Guardian survey of leading Labour thinkers. “Whither the left?” it cried. And the answers were a tad bathetic.
“The environmentalist wants wind farms,” says Bryan, “the ‘education campaigner’ wants parental leave for fathers, the economist wants banking regulation, the democracy campaigner wants new ways of funding political parties. These are, in the context of the question, trivia. I suppose you could say Will Straw’s thoughts on the size of the state are pretty basic. The problem is, I think, that New Labour confused the left. It knew how to win elections – something the left had entirely forgotten how to do – and it did reinforce the nation’s soft left inclination. But, because Blair was very right-wing as was Brown in his neocon statism and his slavish adoration of the City, they could provide no coherent explanation as to why these should be good things. The problem remains that the left does not have an economic argument and, instead, falls back on special whining.”
Mr Appleyard is not exaggerating for effect. Carwyn Jones who as First Minister of Wales, is as of June 2010 Labour’s most powerful politician (how times change) said that the future of the Left lay in clamping down “on dangerous and nuisance driving” and “fighting the idea that speed cameras are a bad thing”. Well, there’s a radical programme, comrades! To the barricades, mes amis!
The trouble for the Right is that although cutting public spending and enjoying the spectacle of the European Union falling apart come naturally to Conservatives, they are as lost as social democrats when they have to think about economics. When the banks went down, their free market model went down with them, and there’s no evidence that Conservative thinkers have begun to come to terms with their failure.
All sides have yet to realise how big a mess we are in.
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