The delusions of middle class liberals are holding the left back.
The centre in Britain has never been more toxic, nor more morally vacuous and devoid of any coherent political programme. It remains the brick tied to the left’s feet as it attempts to swim to the surface.
Why did we never have a Jeremy Corbyn government in this country? Well, a detailed response to that would draw on a number of driving factors that thwarted that once credible prospect, but at its core there is one single force that killed any prospect of a Corbyn win stone dead: the misguided belief it was both progressive and POSSIBLE to overturn a massive popular referendum result when all evidence indicated overwise. The delusion of middle class liberals thinking they’re the country once again killed the left’s chances of a transformative and radical government, and the best chance of a “progressive” government on things like civil liberties, public ownership, and trade union rights we may see until well into the 2030s.
Right now the centre in British politics has never been more morally bankrupt or devoid of ideas; it is a truly toxic sect of politics, with little to nothing working in its favour, and outflanked on all sides by actual ideas. The centre quite literally takes feather dusters to a gunfight, and hasn’t even began to reckon with the myriad problems of the 21st century, that any political project worth its salt needs to start addressing, for all our sakes. There is a wedge in the Labour party and within the British establishment as a whole which is, (and will for the next decade or more) holding back progressive change and preventing a new generation of leftwing Labour politicians from taking the reigns of power, even though the centre of gravity among that generation in the party is so clearly tilted in that direction.
These deluded establishment liberals (a shrinking political minority, but a loud one) react with vitriolic hatred to any politics that professes an ideology, or a commitment to one side or another, displaying their allergy to conviction and determination. This anti-ideological bent in politics stems from the breakaway of the economy and so many other aspects of the social sphere from “political” contention, where they were placed in depoliticised containers and silos, to be dealt with by dispassionate “technocrats” as if social welfare and economic management were as simple as a formula to be cracked by experts, away from the concern of us plebs, to be managed by our betters.
This form of politics is what lead to a rapidly increasing feeling of resentment, which (in the face of a collapsed left which the centre had waged war on in most places since the 80s as it accepted sweeping chunks of neoliberal dogma on the left’s behalf) found itself a home in rightwing populists and neofascistic demagogues in most western democracies, who in their own demented way brought areas that had been taken out of political contention (globalisation, immigration, etc) into the political sphere again, but in a regressive and often bigoted manner, which latched effectively onto people’s anger, but failed to address the core concerns on anything other than a superficial level; because deporting people won’t make your life better, never will; but it does serve as an excellent distraction away from the financial and political elites stealing your lunch money for the best part of 50 years.
These liberals often subscribe to the debunked and dangerous “horseshoe theory”, the belief that the far right and the far left have far more in common than they have apart, and that the “rational, logical” centre has the real answers to stable governance. This idea is a case of liberalism holding true to those same principles that have seen time and time again (such as in Nazi Germany at one point) seen liberals view fascists and communists as the same threat, and side with the fascists as the lesser evil because of their protection of elite’s private property rights. Horseshoe theory is particularly worrying because it essentially renders anything “political” mute, since in order to be political you have to take a strong position, and doing so is wrong in this view, so you can never actually come up with a compelling programme or narrative, beyond tinkering around the edges.
The scariest thing about horseshoe theory is that it shows us what these folks really think about working people; the false equivalence between a far right that often wants ethnic cleansing, mass deportation, genocide, and a “far” left that might want increased public ownership of services and industry, or some sort of curbing of ruling class private property, is so wrong and morally repugnant on its face that it sort of discredits the person uttering it on the spot. And the elitism runs through it to the core; the false equivalence because both sides are “noisy” or involve masses of people, and an inability to distinguish between a mob of militant fascists, or a massive popular movement of workers, shows these people’s utter contempt and even disgust at the sight of real working people getting involved in politics, and the beautiful messiness that taking politics out of the silo and into the streets entails.
The centre knows it has no ideas, but in this country it is consolidating around the new leadership of the Labour party, learning all the wrong lessons from history, and cheering on a fully factional assault from the top down party structures on the grassroots “bottom up” left. As I’ve consistently said, these are people who would be far happier seeing the left obliterated and removed from Labour permanently rather than winning an election in partnership with the left. The assault on, and contempt for, grassroots Labour members and their ideas demonstrates in a very clear way another case of these people’s contempt for real people, their politics, and their ideas. Labour members are some of the loveliest people you’ll meet, Labour politicians are some of the nastiest people you’ll meet.
We’ll only be able to truly address the big challenges ahead when these delusional takes about a “centre-ground voter” (while all polls indicate on economic policy the public is left of Labour), and this bizarre anti-populist politics bows out and lets real people and real ideas take hold again. This plastic and superficial way of politics cannot win minds in the 2020s, and if it does, it’ll leave office with people more angry and disillusioned than when they came into office. This dinosaurs need to step aside and let the rest of us take charge.