Last week we have seen the true scale of Labour’s left wing agenda. If you take a step outside of your front door and listen carefully, you can almost hear the sound of the Overton window shifting in an alarming direction. For good reason news pundits have started talking about a ‘battle of ideas.’ Just some of the policies that Jeremy Corbyn and his allies seek to impose include; renationalising the railways, creating thousands of ‘green’ jobs and thirty hours of free childcare for struggling families.
I remember reading through the Labour party manifesto for the 2016 general election and thinking to myself “this isn’t really that radical.” But this time is different. At the heart of the Labour party’s new approach is the understanding that capitalism has failed and it’s time for something new.
The 2010s have been a decade of important political landmarks. The 2018 Labour conference could well be one of them. We must not forget that unlike many previous Labour party leaders Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnel are committed socialists. Although I enjoy reading his articles, I disagree with journalist Paul Mason when he says “this is probably the furthest left Labour will go.” In my view we will not really see the Corbyn-McDonnel axis go full radical until their second term.
If there is one thing you can count on in these turbulent times it is that the Conservative party will offer absolutely nothing to stem the tide of big statist politics. As will be amply displayed at the Conservative party conference this week the Tories will be discussing little else besides Brexit. To be fair to Theresa May, like David Cameron before her she has never really been a ‘big vision’ kind of politician. So it is rather silly of us to expect her to come out with some inspiring raise on detra at this stage.
It would appear that the real battle of ideas then is taking place between the socialist left and a chauvinist populist right. To address this there have been frantic calls on the Conservative fringes for some kind of unifying message. But here is an inherent weakness for the Tories. Unlike the Labour party which has a large activist membership that can inject some life into party policy. The Conservative party is a slick election winning machine. It is run in a very top down way and is almost engineered to stop party radicals from rising up through the ranks. This is great in times when the status quo prevails. Yet, when demand for radical change begins bubbling the Conservatives struggle to adapt. Harold Macmillain’s government in the 1950s springs to mind.
It is clear (at least to me anyway) that one of the real casualties of this new political alignment will be liberalism. There is little evidence to suggest that the Conservative party will remain the supposed party of free enterprise. In fact, any inclination Conservative firebrands have to champion individual freedom will be diluted by their need to placate the chauvinist current that has gripped most western democracies even if the UK doesn’t go full Donald Trump.
We must also remember that age has become a defining feature of our political landscape. The Tories are increasingly the party of the old, and Labour the party of the young. This drastically limits any room the Conservatives may have to experiment with ideas because they will always need to bear in mind that their core voters are almost all over 50.
One thing that I genuinely believe political commentators have gotten wrong recently is the emphasis they place on capitalism being out of fashion. On the face of it this makes sense. The radical left and the alt-right share much common ground here. However, I feel that it would be more accurate to say that a large numbers of people are frustrated at the twin pressures of being torn apart by cultural and economic whirlwind while the political system remains in a grim stasis.
The challenges that we currently face as a society are substantial and they are getting worse. Wages have remained stagnant in Britain since the 2008 financial crash while inflation quietly bites, getting on in life an moving up the career ladder have become extremely difficult and we are currently living through a cultural maelstrom (for the better in my opinion…mostly). If we consider that these are the challenges we face now seem insurmountable, there will be scant little political bandwidth to deal with the immense tests the next few decades will introduce.
To my mind capitalism is not the common denominator here. The overriding theme is control. I don’t think that handing powers over to an enormous interventionist state project will help alleviate these tensions. In fact I think such an endeavor will make social tensions more acute. If we want to remedy these issues in the long run it makes sense to give people the means to confidently run their own lives.
We saw a brief glimpse of this (believe it or not) at the Labour party conference. One of their most popular policy areas has been the promise to give more powers to local authorities to solve issues that really matter to local people. Even right wing pundits were impressed by this initiative.
One thing I have observed since I became a libertarian several years ago is the varying degrees to which people are happy to let others fly the freedom flag for them. I have come across many individuals who are happy to vote for the Conservative party in the hope they somehow remember that they are supposed to be a pro-capitalist party. Thankfully seem to have rejected the notion that somehow UKIP and the far-right are allies to the libertarian cause.
But one thing that I hope freedom lovers across the country realize this week it is that if we want to stand for free enterprise and individualism, we will have to do it alone. Nobody else can be bothered to make a coherent argument for individual liberty. The battle of ideas is here and we are going to have to stick up for ourselves.