Do the Tories really own the future?
Phil Hearse says the ‘soft left’ alternative put forward by John Harris in the Guardian is weak and unworkable
Within hours of the announcement of Tony Benn’s death, ex-Labour cabinet minister Clare Short was on BBC TV saying that “the problem with Tony” was that “he refused to acknowledge that the world had moved on” and that in particular “the world economy had moved on” – and thus he remained “stuck in the past”.
John Harris in the Guardian recently said the same thing about the whole of the left, in which he includes everyone from the Labour leadership to Left Unity’s Ken Loach, who he patronises with the word “venerable”. His theme is that while the Tories own the future the left is stuck in the past. The Tories have understood the present and how to adapt to it; the left has not.
A flavour of what he regards as the left’s problem is the two demands he singles out for special attack: a massive national programme of housebuilding and the renationalisation of the railways (!) More popular demands capable of mobilising the enthusiasm of millions could hardly be imagined. John Harris regards these things as problematic because they involve a central role for the state, which in the era of neoliberal free enterprise and privatisation is a no-no. And Harris knows full well that the Labour leadership does not advocate such things: he is really attacking the militant left like Left Unity.
The rational part of what John Harris says is that we cannot go back to the old Keynesian welfare state model of capitalism, but the radical left has never been so minimalist in its ambitions. For us the future is not about adapting to neoliberal globalisation, or imagining that 1950s Labourism can be recaptured, but making a radical break with the whole logic of ‘turbo capitalism’.