Labour’s inability to embrace optimism is a betrayal to traditional left-wing values
Conservatives have traditionally been terrified of change, happy to keep themselves shackled to the injustices of society by carrying on about free markets and therefore clinging to the status quo. Traditional left-wing politics has been marked by the ability to embrace a crisis and use it to implement meaningful reform for the working classes. Yet something seems to have changed, the roles have been reversed. The Conservatives have suddenly become the ones prepared to embrace change and the left wing became more sceptical.
A crisis is now viewed by the left as fraught with danger rather than opportunities to shake things up. The optimists are to be found on the free-market right rather than on the social democratic left. What’s more, the left’s defensive posture is proving costly.
Take for example, the announcement earlier in the week by Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell that if the Labour party won power it would consider asking the Bank of England to work on a three per cent productivity growth target, in what would mark one of the most radical economic policies towards the bank in decades.
Britain needs an investment revolution. Labour will provide it https://t.co/vd0hgi4ufv
— John McDonnell MP (@johnmcdonnellMP) 20 June 2018
Such an announcement would ordinarily cause a stir and excitement amongst the Labour circles, yet there’s hardly been a word about it. The reason is because Labour is completely paralysed by Brexit. Labour is completely unable to seize the opportunities that arise out of a crisis.
If one were to look at traditionally left-wing governments however, there was a backbone that now seems to be missing. Consider the left-wing administration of Franklin D Roosevelt in the 1930s in America.. President Roosevelt relished having a fight with the big battalions of Wall Street. He stuck up for the little guy and made life easier for trade unions. He didn’t say that there was no real alternative to global financial capitalism and that those who didn’t like it would have to suck it up.
America eschewed populism during the Great Depression, even though the economic pain caused by the slump was far more severe than that suffered after the financial crisis of a decade ago, because it had a progressive in the White House who said the only thing to fear was fear itself.
The 2008 Financial Crisis however, showed us just how the left has changed. This was a crisis that was as big a blow to the free-market right. It was an opportunity for real change.
In the months that followed the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008, we waited with baited breath for the left to begin the monumental changes but 10 years later, we are still waiting.
There was a fundamental mistrust of right-wing policies, free-markets and economic liberalisation, which had propped up those who had caused the crisis in the first place. Not only that, it was the policy of the status quo to provide bail-outs to the banks but not to those who were worse-off by their corrupt policies.
There was a thirst for change and yet the left completely ignored it. The timidity of the left meant that the wrong ideas were promulgated and the wrong people were punished.
For Britain, it has been business as usual in the decade since the financial crisis. In the eurozone, austerity has been accompanied by an erosion of collective bargaining rights, a dilution of labour protection, privatisation and deindustrialisation. By the time of the EU referendum in June 2016, the UK had experienced a lost decade in which wages and productivity had flatlined, the gap between London and the rest of the country was wide and getting wider, and the economy was being supported by one of its recurrent housing bubbles.
Whilst John McDonnell may understand this, there are those within the Labour movement who fail to grapple with the fact that this must be the time to seize opportunities and address inequalities. McDonnell is a longstanding critic of the global shift to neoliberalism; it has led to rising inequality and an elitism that only profits the wealthy.
What we have seen with the Labour Party since Tony Blair was the Prime Minister, is a full embrace of globalisation. The people that permeate the party now, see so no possible way in which Britain could make a success of Brexit with different policies in place, and want a deal as close to the status quo as possible. But be in no doubt: the status quo is a failing Britain as part of a failing EU. The financial crisis of 2008 was the first opportunity to come up with an alternative to an economic model that clearly wasn’t working.
Brexit is the second opportunity. The Labour Party can use Brexit as a chance to address growing inequality. Brexit was a clear rejection of the political elites and it is another sign to the Labour Party that globalisation and free-market economics has only helped the wealthy. This is a chance for Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell to embrace their traditional scepticism of the EU and introduce the reforms we were crying out for in 2008. It’s time for Labour to be more optimistic and see just how we can use Brexit as a chance for change.