Friday, 27 January 2023

Tweedleleft and Tweedleright


Leaving aside for a moment the not-inconsequential question of how meaningful terms like left wing or right-leaning are, a self-styled ‘right-leaning’ think tank produced a report last week claiming that Labour could secure a huge majority if only they shifted their social policies to the right. It’s a cunning plan – become indistinguishable from the Tories on policy in a range of areas, and Tory voters might vote for you. It’s hardly a new idea, though. It was, after all, Thatcher’s boast that her greatest achievement was New Labour, meaning that she had shifted the Overton window of political debate in the UK to the right in such a way that, to stay within that window, Labour also needed to move right. And if we assume that the prime function of any political party is to gain power, then pitching its appeal to the beliefs and prejudices of the electorate is one way of doing exactly that.

What it is not, however, is a programme for change or any sort of demonstration of leadership. Nor is it about setting out the possibility of an alternative future. It does seem, though, to be exactly what Keir Starmer is doing, with or without being nudged that way by Tory think tanks. And not only on ‘social’ policies. The think tank suggests that a more left wing approach to economics is acceptable to voters as long as social and cultural policies are right wing; but Starmer and his shadow Chancellor are wedded to right wing economic policy as well. They are hopelessly committed to the idea of avoiding new debt and repaying old debt, a policy which is not only unnecessary, but which also commits them, one way or another, to some variation on austerity.

Specifically, the report suggests that Labour needs to appeal more to ‘authoritarian’ voters. A choice between an authoritarian Tory government and an authoritarian Labour government, pursuing broadly similar economic policies, is not the most appealing prospect. It’s another argument, for those of us who believe that there is an alternative, for Wales to go its own way.

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