Sunday, 8 September 2019

Tories are paving the way for Corbyn's socialism

The latest wheeze from Labour is a right to buy policy that would allow tenants to buy their homes from private landlords. John McDonnell said he wanted to tackle the 'burgeoning buy-to-let market' by giving private renters the right to purchase at a discount.

It's a well meaning idea but in practise it's like all socialist meddling. It takes no account of the unintended consequences that do more harm than good. Moreover there is a moral dimension to this in that it is an attack on private property - the cornerstone of our society.

This is why the Tories end up being the natural party of government in that no matter how bad they are, at least they aren't socialists. There's a reason New Labour won elections when old Labour didn't. Blair might well have been a big state paternalist but he knew socialism doesn't work.

Ultimately a left wing Labour party is always based on the politics of envy. Rather than creating, it destroys. It makes the well off poorer but it doesn't make the poor any richer. All it succeeds in doing is chasing wealth away and deterring investment.

As bad as that is, Corbyn and Co see themselves as revolutionaries which is why they can always be found sucking up to terrorists from Ireland to Israel. In normal circumstances Corbyn' Labour wouldn't get anywhere near power. There is only now a danger of an accidental Corbyn government because the Tories have embraced right wing economic radicalism going far beyond anything Mrs Thatcher ever envisaged. In a real sense the Conservatives have abandoned conservatism. 

That is not to say that Brexit of itself is unconservative. As Sam Hooper Notes today:
There’s an insidious argument that it is automatically “un-conservative” to oppose anything that has been baked into the British political landscape for more than a couple of decades. Hence Brexit is supposedly a sign of the Tories being irresponsibly revolutionary.
Now, I’m the last one to disagree with the notion that this government has been (and continues to be) cavalier and irresponsible in flirting with a disruptive No Deal Brexit, which was certainly not the Brexit which I and many others campaigned and voted for. But the lazy idea being bandied around by journalists, commentators and others is that Brexit is inherently un-conservative. Which sounds pleasing until you actually stop and properly think about it.
The EU is at its core an attempt to transcend (others would say subvert) the nation state, the basic building block on which our democracy and prosperity rests. You can say the intentions are good, but it is also undeniably revolutionary - albeit a “boiling frog” revolution.
Recognizing that this experiment is a leap in the dark - one that has been undertaken with startlingly little public input or consent, despite occurring in the age of universal suffrage - and to counsel caution, or to stand athwart history yelling “stop”, is right and proper. Supranational (as opposed to intergovernmental) institutions and technocratic government may or may not be the future, and the best next step in human governance. But moving in that direction by stealth, overriding public objections when they arise, is deeply antidemocratic.
Nation state democracy has allowed a system of stable government with losers’ consent to flourish, benefiting us all. Moving toward a system of remote technocratic government upheld by an elite which accepts or ignores public opinion on a whim is FAR outside the current norm.
Now, since we are already well on our way to being deeply embedded in such a developing system, it would clearly be radical and inherently un-conservative to “rip off the bandaid” by seeking to depart the EU in an abrupt, unmanaged way. The critics are correct, to that extent. But to voice scepticism at the drift toward an untried, untested new mode of governance in the face of significant public opposition - and to demand a reversion to past norms when the experimenters refuse to slow down or change course - is both natural and deeply conservative.
This Tory revolution, though, uses Brexit as a trojan horse, casting all other concerns to the side in pursuit of a low tax, low regulation free for all economy. This has been brewing for years, stalking politics since the 2008 crash.

What we are witnessing is the collapse of the post-war settlement and the latter era political consensus. The nation has lost the institutional memory of whey socialism sucks and has forgotten the lessons of sell-your-own-granny Thatcherism. Politics is in the hands of a new generation who should know better but don't.

This is largely to do with tribalism. Most of us receive our politics by way of our surroundings. From an  early age we learn the scriptures of of left or right wing politics and become political cannon fodder in an age old battle over who is right. In respect of that we have a population geared to those central philosophical questions (markets versus the state) but we are left floundering over Brexit because we are not equipped for it. It interrupts and we don't know what to do with it so we retreat to the comfort zone of politics we do understand.

This means that the politics we need is not on offer. Brexit is poses complex questions to which there are no easy answers, where the off the shelf answers we are used to deploying are of little use. Free market dogma has limited value in a world of hyper-globalisation and international regulation. "Global Britain" as a buccaneering free trade nation might well be a pleasing slogan but translating that into reality proves somewhat when we're a minnow in shark infested waters.

With typical revolutionary zeal, the Tories have dispensed with realists and experts. We are into tribal winner-takes-all territory and because the opposition is playing the same game, the voice of sanity and reason is drowned out by the noise. Consequently the bad ideas currently in circulation have to be tried and tested.

If there is one argument in favour of the EU it is that regulated market based economics is baked into the "neoliberal" model which neuters the far extremes of national politics. The lack of democracy is a feature, not a bug. It stops this kind of hapless experimentation by ideologues. The problem, though, is that there is no such thing as a permanent political settlement. They all end. 

Now that it has come to an end in Britain, with the central questions having been in deep freeze for at least two decades, our politics lacks the experience and institutional knowledge most self-governing countries have acquired. We're coming at it cold. We have to re-learn the art of statecraft and rediscover first hand why our bad ideas don't work. In that respect, the new conservatives are now the remainers who see change as too disruptive and seek to avoid the turmoil that goes with political renewal.

They are not alone in their trepidation. Though I will forever be a leaver, the ruthless zeal of the new administration is more than a little disturbing. It demands ideological purity. Even long time Eurosceptic Liam Fox was shoved out of his job when, having learnt the ropes of trade, started to make noises that contradicted the free trade Brexit scriptures. Anyone casting doubt on the scriptures is, in the eyes of the puritans, not a true Brexiter and is failing to show the required level of untempered optimism.

In this current phase I have argued that we don't get near a new political settlement until one side comprehensively loses. No consensus is possible in the pre-exit stalemate. But then I'd go one further and say we don't get near a new settlement until the revolutionaries themselves have been deposed when their ideas fail. Which they will.

The Brexiters have convinced themselves that breaking free of the shackles of the EU, the UK is free to soar by being more agile and more competitive. They fail utterly to note that we live next door to a global trade superpower who has different ideas and is not going to the UK any favours whatsoever - especially when the UK has left a giant mess for the EU to clean up.

Sooner or later this is all going to come crashing down on the Tories. Boris Johnson may win the imminent general election but no government can survive the avalanche of bad news that goes with no deal especially when Johnson will be left to explain why promises he and the leave campaign made didn't come to pass. I seriously doubt Johnson will see out a full term. He doesn't have the stomach for it and it's too much work. He will slink off in disgrace.

It now looks like a radical left wing government is an inevitability. This is what happens when conservatives abandon conservatism and torch their own reputation for stability and continuity. By the time the free trade radicals have finished demolishing UK exports there will be fertile ground for hard left wing policies.

If there is to be a new settlement, not only must the free trade radicalism of the Tories be tested to destruction, it looks like we'll have to go through that same process with the radical left too. It's going to take a while but ultimately Britain can't pick up where we left off until we have destroyed the rotten old parties. Bizarrely, though, these days, it seems the best way to destroy a party is to give it what it wants. The bigger question, though, is what comes next? Our politics has not thought that far ahead.

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