Politicians on the centre-left should fight for their principles or risk indignity and irrelevance, argues Jonathan Metzer
The centre-left has always been attacked by broadsides from its left flank. The main charge is that centre-left politicians are hypocrites. People who would like to be on the far left but who lack the courage to fight for their principles. When this charge is not rebutted, the result is that the hard left claims the mantle of the ‘true’ progressive cause.
It is time to fight back. The centre-left must claim the moral high ground. Its politics have a formidable set of achievements. The last Labour government’s accomplishments include lifting 600,000 children out of relative poverty, reducing homelessness by 73 per cent, reducing long term youth unemployment by 75 per cent and reducing NHS waiting times to their lowest ever levels. Results, rather than dogma, should be the clarion call. Truth is more important than rhetoric.
Ultimately, the far left is more interested in appearances. This explains why it has always had such a soft spot for the government of Hugo Chavez, which on any objective account has made disastrous policy decisions which have caused its citizens great hardship. But because Chavez did this under the guide of ‘socialism’, he gets a free pass. As Neil Kinnock put it, this is driven by a ‘rigid dogma … out-dated, misplaced, irrelevant to the real needs’.
To take one example today, Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell’s commitment to nationalising utilities does not seem to be based on any evidence that it will lead to better results. And there is little reason to believe that it will. But worse than that, it will come at a cost. The government would either have to print a lot more money (‘quantitative easing’), driving up inflation, or make an outlay of well over £100bn. This cannot be good policy when so many other things – like combating the alarming rise in homelessness since 2010 – surely deserve priority.
Before the general election last June, many moderate Labour members of parliament voiced their clear philosophical disagreements and concerns about the idea of Corbyn leading the country. But since the election, almost all have ducked below the parapet. The logic appears to be that because he did much better than expected, he has earned the right to have his way. But this means the moderates have abandoned their principles. How can it be right to remain silent when you believe that your leader could take the country into very serious difficulties?
Some might defend this by saying that at this point it is about a choice between the lesser of two evils – between a hard left Labour and a Tory government. But the defeatism inherent in this mentality is disingenuous. The reason that the public is being asked to choose between these two evils is precisely because the Labour moderates are not living up to their responsibility to offer an alternative. The moderates should fight for their principles from a strong moral foundation – they know in their hearts that they would do far more good for the people whom the Labour party exists to help.
The latest YouGov poll on had the Tories on 41 per cent and Labour on 43 per cent. Neither of these two evils has managed to seize the initiative. A true Labour alternative may just do a lot better than anyone expects. Stranger things have happened.
Jonathan Metzer is a barrister at One Crown Office Row. He is a member of Progress and was co-chair of the Oxford University Labour Club in 2013. He tweets @JonathanMetzer
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