Whither Socialism?!

The results of Thursday’s election in the UK took us all by surprise. None of the P’s predicted it, neither pollsters, nor politicians, nor pundits. As the exit polls came in and the final results were predicted, political leaders vowed to eat their hats, or their kilts, if they were right, and now they must make good on those promises.

To my mind there was only one interesting surprise, the Labour Party’s failure outside Scotland.

That the Scottish National Party did well was no surprise at all. It was accurately predicted. The Referendum on Independence had energised politics in Scotland and Scottish consideration of Scotland’s interests. But I hope that the rejection of the Unionist parties doesn’t mean that Independence is the goal of all those who voted SNP.

The shocking collapse of the Lib-Dem vote (to which I would have added my own if I were not disenfranchised by 15 years’ residency outside the UK) was predictable, if not its appalling extent.

UKIP polled more or less as expected, and, unjustly, won only a single seat.

The real surprise was the failure of Labour. After the left-centrist politics of the Blair years, and encouraged by the Unions (whose influence won Ed Miliband the party leadership), the Labour Party moved consciously to the left, towards the ground it occupied in the 1970s and 1980s, both in policy and in language. Ed Miliband’s rhetoric, no doubt milder and more digestible than that of his Marxist intellectual father, was still based on an academic vision of class war, of the proletariat asserting its power. He saw the financial crisis of eight years ago as the predictable result of unfettered capitalism, a manifestation of its theoretical evils ,to be improved, if not entirely replaced by a socialist economic system designed in the university laboratory. New Labour’s cool about people becoming filthy rich as long as they pay their taxes, has no place in Ed Miliband’s emotional palette.

EdM

This old-socialist model is the prism (red and dead) through which Ed Miliband sees the world, but I suspect it’s not a vision that appeals to the ‘working families’ of today to whom he repeatedly referred in his speeches (though, who are they?). In reality he’s no more comfortable having tea with the ‘working classes’ than David Cameron, though I fancy Dave can eat a hamburger more elegantly. But I don’t think the geeky academic other-worldliness lost him the election, rather an ideology that doesn’t make sense any longer, that doesn’t chime with how people see themselves, and that can’t be applied to the economy we live and work in.

Of course, socialism can be a good thing, even without the Marxist theory. Let’s regulate capitalism, but not replace it. (To her credit, Margaret Thatcher saw that what ‘working people’ want is not class war, but a share of what the richer folks have – property and possibility. Fairness, not collective ownership.)

Whither Sociialism?!

Ed is now out, so what comes next? I’d suggest the Party put aside Das Kapital, but take some account, instead, of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century. There’s a good argument to be made that inequality is a danger in itself. So, keep the proposals for an asset-value-oriented Mansion Tax, abolish the Non-Dom status, keep bashing down the walls of privilege and exclusion, don’t pander to xenophobia, but don’t be the Party of ‘working people’. Forget class. Take the vision and argue the case with everyone. The Labour Party needn’t be the party of ‘working families’ alone.

As for a new leader, jump a generation. Don’t choose between the Blair-ites and the Brown-ites. Choose someone new. I’d vote for Chuka Umunna myself.

chuka

And as for the SNP, whoever rules must now bow to the pressure for devolution. It’s fair that Scotland is asserting its own interests (I’m sure it’s that sense of making Scotland heard in Westminster rather than the ‘progressive’ aspect of Nicola Sturgeon’s policies that won the SNP their seats). But let’s keep the Union. Don’t let legitimate regionalism mutate further into toxic nationalism.

Why didn’t anyone foresee what was going to happen? Why were there so many ‘shy Conservatives’, saying one thing to the pollsters and then doing another? Could it be because Labour misguidedly puts itself forward as the ‘moral’, rather than the ‘pragmatic’ choice, and that we tell the pollsters how we would like to vote, not how we will.

Socialists don’t accept human nature as it is (Marx supposed that it could be transformed through Socialism). They have a generous but unreal idea of our human capacity for altruism. When we get to the ballot box we usually vote in our own narrower interests. At that moment, in private, we vote as we are, not as we would wish to be. The new Labour leadership must recognise that.

Ed’s Stone of Pledges

I’ve clung to the belief, despite everything, that Ed Miliband is an intelligent man. He’s not a natural in the limelight, perhaps, but he’s a serious, thoughtful, principled, well-meaning man, whose unalluring manner may not necessarily disqualify him from high office. In fact, I believe it’s likely he’ll be our next Prime Minister following the General Election on Thursday.

Why then, does he do the silliest things?

ed stone

Take this slab of limestone onto which he’s inscribed the pledges that will bind him if he’s granted the keys to Number 10. It’s so religious. It might be the Ten Commandments, the Book of Mormon, the smooth slab at the start of 2001 A Space Odyssey, or indeed a tombstone and the inscriptions his epitaph. And what to make of the pledges themselves (pledge, too, has a portentous sound)? They’re all disarmingly vague, if  you examine them in detail. You might as well be reading the carefully self-fulfilling nonsense you get in horoscopes.

Here they are:

1. A Strong Economic Foundation

So, who would disagree with that?

2.Higher living standards for working families

Who would disagree with that, though I don’t know what ‘working families’ means or how many it applies to?

3. An NHS with the time to care

This is utterly ghastly. I presume what’s meant is that nurses and doctors should have more time to spend with patients. But who can guarantee that they will care, or that it won’t come at the cost of less effective equipment and medicine? What possible policies could actually be derived from this pledge?

4. Controls on immigration

There are already controls on immigration. I showed my passport to the Border Force last night. This means nothing at all.

5. A country where the next generation can do better than the last

Interesting choice of words. Why ‘can’ rather than ‘will’? In any case, who would disagree with this, once we know what ‘better’ means?

6. Homes to buy and action on rents

What action, actually? Rents up, or down?

All meaning, all differentiation, all implication for practical policy have been leached from these anodyne phrases. Who would disagree with any of them? Not Dave, not Nick, not Nige, not Nicola. But civil servants will scratch their heads when asked to draft policy.

Clearly stonemasons will be busy. We’ll all want a pledge stone. I’ll put one in our reception area:

  1. A company that’s nice to its customers
  2. A company that’s nice to its staff
  3. A company that’s nice to animals
  4. A company that’s nice to the environment
  5. A company that’s very nice all the time
  6. Above all, a company with time to care

Don’t take this to mean I mightn’t vote Labour though.