In this post, I make a confession. As much as I regret voting for Corbyn, as much as I argued against him in the second leadership contest, and as much as I’m convinced that nothing can be done to close the gap before the election, I have to admit I like what the Labour manifesto has done to the political discourse in this election. It is nice to see a (technically) mainstream political party advocating social democratic policies without apology. It is nice to see Andrew Neil on the Daily/Sunday Politics scruitinizing Tory politicians’ arguments against nationalisation. It is nice that the BBC have been forced to braodcast that nationalization is not some retrograde obsessive fantasy of the left, but incredibly popular. The spin on the manifesto, so far as I can see, is that Britain likes the policies, but do not like Corbyn.
I understand the temptation, in part, of calling this a victory of sorts. We will probably lose seats, but we may, just may, have shifted the “overton window”. There are real problems with looking at it this way, though. For a start, it outright undermines the idea that there is something special about Corbyn rather than Labour that means he needs to be in the party, and yet that is what his supporters believe. What is special about Corbyn is that he is able to make an objectively appealing manifesto unelectable.
I think that the problem we’re dealing with on the left is about the interpretation of the purpose of democracy: is it about power or is it about ideas?. Progressive politics can be conceived in one of two ways, and they are mutually exclusive. It is either about having people in government who agree with their electorate, because the electorate believe progressive things. Or, it is about having people in power who act in the interests of the electorate, making sure they are healthy, educated and protected. I think we are obsessed with the former at the expense of the latter.
The best way to bring this to the fore is the issue of proportional representation. The progressive looks at the fact they are losing and says the game is not fair because the seats the tories have in parliament are exaggerated compared to their vote share. The problem with PR, as I discussed a bit in my last post, is that you’re also talking about increasing UKIP’s voteshare. But, if you say to a PR supporting progressive that they’re talking about giving seats to europe, they usually respond “well, if that’s the will of the people, it’s right”.
But demo-cracy is about the power of the people, not the power of what people think. Look at May. We all know, so far as it is possible to know, that May did not and does not ideologically support Brexit let alone Hard Brexit. But, she is now pursuing it because of the power expressed by the people in the referendum, which has nothing to do with what she thinks. It is not hypocritical of her to do this, it is actually a fairly reasonable interpretation of her role. The problem is, there is no one representing the decision of 48.2% of the population to remain in the EU to counterbalance that effect, except Sir Keir Starmer.
What I’m trying to say, in an admitedly rambling way, is that not only does it not matter what the opposition think, it doesn’t even matter what Theresa May thinks. What matters is who has power and how much of it they are able to use and for what purpose. This has nothing to do with ideas and everything to do with votes in parliament and polling of voter intention.
Political power is about action not hypothesising, and progressive ideas floating around temporarily on mainstream media are no comfort to what the Conservatives are going to do if/when they get the majority they were only able to get because Labour’s support hit what we hope was rock-bottom a few weeks ago because we’ve elected someone that hardly anyone wants to see as prime minister.
Nevertheless, I’ll be voting for him, as should everyone.