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How to save the Left


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How to save the Left? Let the Tories win

Yes - the impending electoral defeat is almost irrelevant.

“Socialism frees man from the tyranny of living for others.”

Oscar Wilde knew of the truth in paradox. Whilst too many use the term to denote insoluble contradiction, its actual meaning carries no such connotations; rather, a paradox is only an apparent conflict of ends. A keen mind untangles the threads; in revealing the consistency in paradoxical statements we find the truth. Paradox is the dialectic in action.

I can claim for myself a good record of predicting the unpredictable. I anticipated Leave, called the election for Trump, was quite sure of the outcome of the referendum in Turkey; I was sceptical of the Boris coronation and speaking, albeit cautiously, in favour of May.

But the piece I now flaunt before you, the one which really serves to illustrate the point, is one I wrote on June 10th last year. It predicts, with a fairly high degree of accuracy, Farage’s resignation from UKIP, and that party’s subsequent malaise. UKIP, I argued, would be doomed by its own triumph. The title: Hate Farage? Vote Leave.

It is because I have had proven and demonstrable success with this method that I now propagate it. It is because the method has been successful that I make the following claim, and do so in full confidence that it will prove not absurd but sane: losing the next election will be good for the Left. More than that: losing the next election is absolutely necessary for the Left.

There is another truth-by-paradox that we would all do well to remember: the true sign of your victory is the manner of your opponent’s success. Not for nothing did Margaret Thatcher claim Tony Blair as her greatest achievement, and not for nothing did Cameron - the ‘heir to Blair’ - elevate his progenitor: Blair accepted all of the key tenets of Thatcherism, and sought only to expand upon them. Cameron, similarly, challenged none of the assumptions underlying Blairism; he wanted only to refine them.

It is the past successes of the Left that are responsible for its current transcontinental crises. It no longer has anything to say, having ceded its social policy (and its capacity to make money) to the Tories and its economic policy to the EU. It has forgotten how to fight for its principles because it has ceded stewardship of those same principles to outside forces.

The ultimate victory of the suixante-huitards is that there is no longer any such thing as a mainstream social-conservative. When Tim Farron, the liberal’s Liberal, can be vilified for his traditionalism as regards homosexuality for nothing more than not answering a question – this despite the fact that his voting record in this area is about as progressive as you could wish to find – then you should see clearly how profound and total the Left’s victory has been.

Our poor short-term memory is doubtless at fault, but allow me to try and put it as plainly as I can: our current Prime Minister is a vicar’s daughter and head of the Conservative Party. Yet she will speak warmly and (almost) naturally about championing Britain’s progressive, inclusive values, including gay marriage. Hell, her government speaks up for the rights of trans people! It was a Conservative government that introduced gay marriage, and which has given Britain both of its female Prime Ministers. It has accepted defeat and embraced the victor’s platform.

The Left has won the culture war. It won it decades ago. And it suffers for its own obtuseness, for it has not recognised the fact. It has continued to fight battles in which it has already prevailed; this is why the focus on identity politics is to be so lamented, for it is a symptom of a problem. When your raison d’etre is to champion what your opponent has already conceded, and accepted as a matter of course, voters are left (justifiably) asking: what’s new?

By contrast, the most radical departure from orthodoxy has been achieved by those believed – sometimes wrongly – to hail from the Right. With one or two honourable exceptions, such as Kate Hoey and the soon-to-depart Gisela Stuart, our break from the status quo has been achieved by members of the Bruges Group. The bulk of the Labour Party is now more conservative, on matters of economics, than the Conservative Party.

But why should it be so? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if the Atlee government were elected today and pledged to create the NHS and the welfare state, it would be prohibited by EU law from doing so. Austerity, for which we blame the Tories, is a constitutional requirement of EU treaties and directives. Our (allegedly) Leftist parties are those which have united in their defence of the Single Market, but it is the Single Market that makes austerity, and related measures, necessary. Our supposedly Leftist parties have become conservative. The Labour Party has never been made to address this; nor have marginal Leftist groups like the Greens (the last party I voted for).

Tears are already being shed by votaries of both, for our elections in June are almost certain to confer great gains upon the Conservative Party. A number of Labour ‘moderates’ (misnamed, for they are at least as Right as most modern Tories) have already resigned rather wait for their constituents to reject them.

But to be upset by this is to take an unpardonably short-term view. Were it the case that these people – the likes of Tom Blekinsop and Pat Glass – had a shred of principle they would have campaigned upon it. Principled politicians stand not because they think they’ll win but because they believe they should; because they believe their cause is right and that it is their duty to convince the voters. To resign because you’re sure you’ll lose signifies nothing but cowardice and self-interest.

A Labour Party shorn of these rank careerists is better for it. Remain-voting MPs who contest their seats and lose, as many are sure to do, nonetheless help to refine the party. They should, I think, be commended for standing for their beliefs, even if one disagrees with them. But their loss serves a broader purpose: it will no longer suffice to stand upon socially liberal ideals, for those are all but guaranteed. Radicalism comes from the reclamation of economic sovereignty. Labour’s problems arise not from paradox but from genuinely irreconcilable contradictions.

A heavy defeat helps unset the ossified divide in the party. It may well be cathartic. Labour will be free – nay, be forced – to remake and redefine itself, and will be able to do so with some consideration of consistency. This consistency may well come naturally. Whilst internal, structural reforms are as necessary as they’ve ever been (and I’ve written about them before), the fact is that a significant defeat will allow the party to realign itself in favour of the very class interests it was created to promote. A heavy defeat is necessary if the party is to reform and revitalise itself.

So, I turn again to paradox. As with UKIP, so (but constructively) with Labour: to save the Left, let the Tories win.

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