Toby Young, the articulate Tory commentator, was on this week’s question time, espousing the line that David Cameron would love you to swallow: “I want an election fought on issues, not on soundbites”.
This, of course, is the opposite of the truth. Young is presenting you with a false choice; the election David Cameron would like to have is one where he hides in his campaign HQ and throws things at Ed Miliband, and conspires with his cohorts at the Daily Telegraph et al. to consume this election in a sandstorm of Ed Miliband is a communist/gay/gypsy/mentally unwell/looks-funny-eating-a-sandwich/is-a-benefit-fraud stories that the British public love so well.
Rather than campaigning on issues, and defending his legacy (which looks sound enough to an uninformed observer) David Cameron wants this election to be about who has the larger dong, and about Miliband’s all-consuming incompetence which will presumably render his well-meaning, naive, lefty attitudes useless the second he stumbles into No. 10.
I regard Miliband as a conviction politician; during his time as Leader of the Opposition he has indeed attacked some powerful people, although the line that he stopped a war in Syria is, I think, rather overblown; if you went there today I don’t think you’d find any shortage of bloodshed.
The hostility he faces from the Tory press is indeed transparent and ludicrous, and seems to add weight to the claim that he is an epoch-making politician in the mould of Thatcher, or better yet, Attlee. The establishment does seem to have taken an almost obsessive dislike to him, and the reason is that he seeks to set the clock back to the Post-War Consensus. This is an admirable goal, but nevertheless a mistake. Despite my strong Socialist leanings I have come to see the folly of Statism for what it is.
When Socialism was starting out, it divided into two camps, revolutionary and reformist. Within the revolutionary camp there was another split, between the Anarchists and the Bolsheviks. Despite is gentleness, there is no denying the social democracy borrows many of its central philosophies from Stalinism. The impulse to nationalise everything, to rob the world of variety and a people of choice and independence is an easy way to implement Socialism. But in the end you have replaced one evil with another.
Now, it struck me as ridiculous when Camilla Cavendish, in the Sunday Times, said that all Miliband’s ideas have an undercurrent of Stalinism. But on reflection, she was right. The conviction that the state knows best for everybody, and that central government could embody something called “community” is a shallow and self-serving ideology.
But the Labour Party wasn’t always like that; and Socialism wasn’t always the domain of the beaurocrat. The success of the CNT in Spain before Franco’s victory shines a light on what could have been, had Socialism and the Labour Party gone down a more humane route. Socialism isn’t, at heart, a longing for centralisation of the economy. At its most basic and pure form, socialism is the desire to share society’s resources more fairly, and to question what elsewhere is taken for granted: the conventional business model. Conventional Capitalism, wherein the vast majority of the British people go to work everyday to make someone else rich; they can never be free because they possess no productive property of their own; capital is out of their reach and so they must sell their labour to merely stay alive.
Thatcher hit upon something meaningful when she spoke of a “property-owning democracy”, but her ideology blinded her to the necessity of how to implement such a vision. The kind of red-meat, no-holds-barred, free market capitalism she longed for could never deliver that dream, it led to the unrivalled international dominance of corporations: private tyrannies.
No amount of progressive taxation (an unfairness in itself, in my view) can make up for the underlying unfairness of a wage-economy, and so the future of Socialism must contain at its heart a committment to economic democracy and workers’ co-operatives, not to big government.
Unless the Labour Party understands this, it can never achieve any meaningful, lasting imprint on society because nationalisation and taxes can be un-done by the Tories every 5 years, a Socialist society cannot. The importance of this cannot be underestimated; at once, we would outflank the Tories on what has become their main weapon: the laziness and cynicism that lies in every middle-aged person with financial responsibilities. We wouldn’t be arguing for big government, we would be arguing for employees to have a share of their company’s profits; a say in their future and in the shape of our economy. There is no reasonable way you can oppose such a manifesto; Toryism would immediately be exposed for what it is: an unapologetic champion of wherever wealth lies.