In this week’s Prospect magazine, Aaronovitch versus Harris on the future of the left. You have to buy it to get it. It’s worth it, as always (I wish I had more long train trips in my life, without Internet).
You may recall the New Statesman doing a taxonomy of Directions for the Left (‘An Ideological Map‘). My colleague read it, furrowed his brow and then, jabbing his thumb at the Centre Republicanism bit, said “Isn’t that really, um, Liberal Democracy?”
The task of progressive politics is radically to disperse power and opportunity. This requires restructuring the state in a much more decentralised direction; individual empowerment in public services; a wider distribution of assets; and a stronger policy of protecting – indeed, expanding – civil liberties and lifestyle freedom. The left should get over its fixation on high taxation of labour income and put more emphasis on taxing unearned wealth and environmental bads.
Well, isn’t it? David Aaronovitch puts himself in that camp too, calling it ‘a position which doesn’t regret (as communitarians do) the revolutions in technology, communication and mobility that have brought the world together, but understands that the consequences have to be managed.
In defending his views against Harris’s assault on consumerism and ‘neoliberalism’ (daft to say the Brown and Blair were ‘in thrall’ to this), there are some choice quotes:
Neal Lawson – the Mary Whitehouse of shopping – [believes that] people in Britain and the US are reduced to mere consumers, deprived of spiritual and intellectual nourishment, made uncaring of relationships and caring only for things. I don’t think people are like that . .. I believe that the declinist narrative is elitist and nostaligic*. How is it that consumerism only became a problem when the masses began to enjoy conditions that the professional classes had long taken for granted . . . As to choice in education and healthcare, I exercise it all the time, in the same way that only the wealthy used to go to Spain.
Great stuff. The only problem for me: why does he assume that this strand of thought will have to be pursued within the Labour Party? (he anticipates an unspecified Miliband). Does he think that his defence of consumerism and choice would be obnoxious to a big strand of Liberal Democracy – the strand represented by our friends the Social Liberal Forum? (prominent ally = the Mary Whitehouse of consumerism). That’s a pity, in my view.
PS good to see the New Statesman is also having a go at Tracy Emin.
*note: JimP is right: it is not only the Right that wallows in pessimism