Monday 1 August 2022

Circular motion leads nowhere


Underlying the sacking of one Labour frontbencher for allegedly making up policy is a circular argument which ultimately leads nowhere. Basically, Starmer is arguing that Labour can only bring about real change if the party wins a general election, but that it can only win that general election by promising not to make any significant changes.

The detail of the statements and events which led to the sacking are strange enough. Apparently, arguing that working people should get pay rises at least in line with price inflation is not Labour policy. The only conclusion to be drawn from that is that it is now Labour policy that working people should accept below-inflation pay rises and be grateful for the resulting drop in their standard of living. It also seems to be Labour policy that working people have every right to withdraw their labour in an attempt to protect their standard of living, but that they should never exercise that right because it might inconvenience other people.

It isn’t just on industrial disputes where Starmer’s Labour has fallen in behind the Tory press; abandoning the previous commitment to bring rail, mail, water and energy back into public ownership is another example. In this case, they are blaming a wholly arbitrary fiscal rule which the Tories have long abandoned themselves but continue to use to beat opponents over the head, and fear of the Tory media causes Starmer to promise to work in a straitjacket from day one of a Labour government. It’s an unnecessary and wholly self-imposed straitjacket at that. And it makes me wonder whether they even understand their own fiscal rules at all – spending, say, £100 billion to bring a series of enterprises back into public ownership obviously increases public debt on one side of the balance sheet, but (assuming that the assets are worth the price paid to acquire them) it adds £100 billion in assets to the other side of the sheet. The net increase in total debt is precisely zero, but the government ends up owning assets which it can either run in a way that reduces prices or in a way which generates profits which flow to the Exchequer. There are good arguments for renationalisation, not least its popularity; there are also some good arguments against, none of which have anything to do with some imaginary and arbitrary fiscal rule.

The net result of the Starmer circularity paradox is that Labour’s leadership are going to great pains to tell us what they won’t change, but are struggling to identify anything that they will change, other than the personnel. Replacing an incompetent and mendacious government with one which is marginally less so is not an entirely pointless exercise, but it’s hardly an exciting or inspirational proposition. Running around in ever-decreasing circles is not an activity which generally produces beneficial consequences, and those participating in such activity might not like the place they end up.

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