14 August 2015

The Devil Incarnate?

A couple of days ago, I listened with interest to the latest twist in the Labour Party Leadership Election saga - that the election should be postponed because too many people were joining the party and there were doubts about their intentions. What a great story or, more accurately, what a great spin. And it only serves to illustrate the fears that the Labour Party harbours about Labour's electability, should Corbyn become leader. But, at the same time, this illustrates the challenges facing any politician who espouses 'social' values.

In this context, its important to make the distinction between 'social' values and policies and 'socialist' values and policies. Socialist policies lie rooted in the 1960's and 1970's where labour was locked in an idealogical struggle with the representatives of capital and, in that struggle, neither faction truly benefited and everyone lost, particularly the broad swathe of the population who had to endure the three day week and the Morris Marina, both products of the struggle.

Today it's reasonable to suggest that wider society is better off (setting to one side the disparity in wealth between the haves and the have nots) and, as a consequence, society should be better able to invest in social policies, such as those espoused by Corbyn. But the political right are fearful of concepts such as 'social responsibility' and will do anything to denigrate anyone who promotes such values and herein lies the threat to Piers Corbyn.

Corbyn isn't a wide-eyed Trot but the right (including Yvette Cooper, Liz Kendall and Andy Burnham) would want you to believe that he is. The right suggests that Corbyn seeks a return to the confrontation of the 1960s and 70s and they need to represent him that way in order to move attention away from his 'social' policies.

If nothing else, Corbyn represents a return to dialogue and discourse, something that has been sadly lacking from the British political scene for the past three decades. The dominant political view since Thatcher is that unshackled free market capitalism underpins everything. Corbyn questions that wisdom, and rightly so, particularly in light of the financial crash of 2008. In that regard, Corbyn observes that nationalisation was the only thing that saved the banking sector from total collapse so maybe selective nationalisation might not be such a bad thing after all.

Privitisation hasn't been the roaring success that some might wish to suggest. 30 years after it was privatised, BT still owns much of the telephone infrastructure in the UK. Yes, there are other service providers (Vodafone, Orange, 3, EE, etc etc) but they all sit on top of BT's infrastructure. The same goes for the rail network and, most interestingly, for London's municipal administration. St. Margaret so loathed the Greater London Authority that she dismantled it, only for it to reappear in much the same form under the Mayor's office.

Speaking personally, I hope that Corbyn gets the chance to have an intelligent debate about the nature of our society, with particular attention to investment in our social fabric. The profit motive appeals to the basest of instincts and diverts capital away from investment and, yes, Corbyn will question the profit motive and scare the hell out of the City but maybe that is a good thing. Maybe our society, including industry and investment, would be better off were we to recognise that some infrastructure needs to be owned and run by us, for our own good. Maybe there is still a place for public health, public transport, public housing and public education and maybe Corbyn will remind us of that.