Over the last almost seven years since Labour left government, there has been no shortage of figures from that party writing long theses on how the Left can turn itself around and gain the upper hand once again. The thing is, pretty much every single one of them rings totally hollow. And as much as they often differ wildly from one another in terms of policy recommendations, they all feel false for the exact same reason: they are all attempting to recreate a set of circumstances that once existed but no longer do and will not – and more to the point, cannot – exist again.
The era of full employment is not coming back. Figuring out how to expand the real economy beyond London and at least into some genuine regional hubs that could be on the same relative scale is devilishly complex and may be impossible other than through massive steps forward in transport infrastructure. Mechanisation is going to make more and more working-class jobs redundant – and there is no realistic way to prevent this from happening other than oddly hoping for lack of human ingenuity to slow the process down.
Everything I’ve just said is fairly obvious to most objective viewers. Yet whenever most thinkers on the Left begin to pontificate regarding how to revitalise left of centre politics, they always start by trying to deny these basic truths. So long as they continue to do so, the Left will continue to lose ground to the Right.
Instead, the Left could talk about the problems facing us in the immediate future in a realistic fashion. I spoke earlier about transportation infrastructure: instead of Corbyn mentioning a Crossrail for the north of England once in passing during a really boring speech, he could give a whole speech about this one particular policy, citing jobs the building of it would create, what the money estimated to flow to the north would be as a result, and the overall improvement to the UK economy that could be expected in hard, verifiable figures. This is what is known technically in politics as “connecting with people”.
The Left, in other words, just needs some answers. Weirdly, looking back on it, I thought Corbyn would provide some perspective solutions; I expected to disagree with them, but I thought they’d be there. Alas, it has been a void, much like when Ed Miliband was in charge. The Left needs to take some real chances – and given how dead in the water it is anyhow, with Labour 19 points behind the Conservatives in general election polling, it has nothing to lose. Suggestions: stick to stuff that sounds believable, could reasonably be afforded, and is easy for people to fully comprehend (example: I will build 250k houses per year or you can vote us out, people would get that. I will build a high speed rail line between Edinburgh and Manchester, and here are the exact plans, people will take seriously. “An immigration plan that works for everyone” works for no one). Avoid socialism in general. Face the fact that you haven’t been getting through to people of late, and start from the perspective that no one gets what you’re about at all these days. Start fresh. It might even work, if the Left keeps at it for long enough.