Disclosure seems to be the call of the day, so I’ll begin this blog with a disclosure. I am now a card-carrying member of the Fabian Society. My previously placid, politically neutral self was shocked into action by the revelation that many of my lawyer friends in the General Election had voted Conservative.
Don’t take this as an intimation that I now believe in tribalist, partisan politics. Because I don’t. I hate it. In the words of Chris Rock:
Anyone that makes up their mind before they hear the issue is a fool. Be a person. Listen. Then form your opinion. No normal, decent person is one thing. I’ve got some stuff I’m conservative about, I’ve got some stuff I’m liberal about.
But now, I have heard the issues and the Conservatives have crossed a line that I cannot in good conscience cross. For the time being, I believe that they are not the right party to run the country and would rather see Labour in power. Not because of economics, but because as a lawyer, it seems incomprehensible to me that my fellow legally trained friends would vote for a party that would seek to restrict judicial review, rescind the Human Rights Act and continue to cut legal aid. These moves do, and will, have radical consequences on the constitutional foundations of this State, the protection of which should usually spur politicians to act cautiously, and, for want of a better word, conservatively!
And so I joined the Fabian Society in order to attend the hustings of the potential Labour leaders last weekend. In the packed out, stuffy, basement hall of UCL’s Institute of Education in the otherwise glorious Bloomsbury district of London, around the corner from a plaque which marks the one-time home of John Maynard Keynes, Andy Burnham, Liz Kendall, Yvette Cooper, Mary Creagh and Jeremy Corbyn were asked a series of questions from the crowd about their vision for Labour. The final question asked was whether “Socialism was dead”? The prospective leaders gave their answers:
Certainly not. Now, more than ever, we need to make the case for security. Labour should speak to the aspirations every family has. Ed Miliband was right to focus on this issue at the election. But we need more convincing answers (Andy Burnham)
The fight against inequality is more important than ever. That is why we need a Labour party. That is what Labour is for. But we should not shame the work-shy (Yvetter Cooper)
We have to make sure that, as one world, we can stay together (Mary Creagh)
Socialism is not dead, but it needs to change. We need to be as passionate about wealth creation as about inequality (Liz Kendall)
Socialism is alive all over the world. But socialism is not the same as statism. When socialism emerged, it was community-focused. The most popular institution in Britain is a socialist one, the NHS. We should defend the principle of from each according to their abilities to each according to their needs (Jeremy Corbyn)
Now a further disclosure, contradictory to my Fabian membership: I don’t believe in Socialism, well at least socialism as I thought it was defined. For me Socialism is about mass state ownership. It’s about putting the State at the centre, holding it out as the best body to provide for the people. That particular model is of course attractive in theory and as an alternative to the current system which is still beset by seriously destructive issues of class and inequality. I am also sympathetic to a Marxist reading of history-for that particular philosophy helps explain rather well how we’ve arrived at the status quo.
But in practice, unfortunately, Socialism has yet to earn its credentials.
And so, with much reluctance, I arrive at the conclusion that the markets are generally better at providing for the people. But this is not absolute.
There are some areas in which the State is actually better placed, such as in Education, Transport and Health-areas in which the pure concentration of profit-seeking organisations would result in unconscionable class discrimination, destruction of remote communities, and impoverisation of persons with shallow pockets who through unfortunate circumstances have found themselves ill. The State ought also to be positioned to temper the excesses of Capitalism: to provide a social net below which people cannot fall; to add progressive layers to reduce the inevitable inequality which follows dysfunctional markets; to introduce labour laws to prevent the exploitation of workers; a minimum wage to ensure that people can have dignified lives etc. These endeavours are better placed in the hands of the State, rather than profit seeking bodies. So in this model, the market is at the centre and the State an intervener.
And now, through these disclosures, I propose a hypothesis: I suspect this is the form of the State which all the prospective Labour leaders believe in also, but to varying degrees, Jeremy Corbyn being the most interventionalist to Liz Kendall being the least. What I sincerely dislike however was the hollowness of the answers which they all provided to the question about Socialism. They all toed the line in order to appease both flanks of the Labour party-old and new. And its exactly this trait in the current Conservative party which led me to Labour in the first place-the pandering of David Cameron to the far right flanks that would rather the Government weren’t inconvenienced by pesky judicial review actions, human rights, and criminal lawyers.
And so I lament, and long for a time that politics is less, well, political…
(19 July 2015, ed: It’s been pointed out to me (via Twitter, what a time we live in!) that, for Marx, socialism was about common ownership and not state ownership. However, socialism as expressed by the potential Labour leaders is indeed about the ‘Big State’, and so it was on that definition I blogged)