The Folksy Left

by Elias Blum

In the 1980s, 90s and 2000s, the left abandoned economic ground to the hegemony of neo-liberalism, and stopped talking about trade union rights, wages, unemployment, job security, housing etc. They stopped advocating Keynesianism, nationalisation of essential services, and the containment of the power of capital over people’s lives. Instead, they embraced all a sort of ‘cultural leftism’ that appealed to the London metrosexual set and a certain type of grievance-bearing worrywart.

In other words, the left stopped trying to deliver a fair deal for working people and started trying to tick all the boxes of the ‘politically correct’. Being ‘left’ or ‘right’ has – rather falsely, in my view – become for many a sort of lifestyle choice, a label that reflects tastes, rather than fundamental concerns about well-being.

My contention is that it is time for a new and very different approach to politics – a sort of ‘folksy left’: one that is democratic not elitist, serves the common good not the good of oligarchs, and takes issues of sustainability and peace seriously, but that gives room to traditional values of family, place, identity instead of collapsing into self-defeating political correctness.

That sort of ‘folksy left’ might convince people that one can have, say, a fair taxation system so that the rich no longer pay less tax as a percentage of their income than the poor, or stronger unions so that growth is reflected in higher wages, or a social security system that gives genuine economic security to ordinary families, or affordable education for all, without having to be an annoying ‘cultural Marxist’ about it.

That’s why, for me, the ‘Christian Left’ tradition – from European post-war Christian Democracy and from certain types of Christian Socialism – is far more appealing than the secular left tradition that draws from sources like Fabianism and Utilitarianism. The Christian element keeps it grounded, in a way. It keeps the family and real people central. It balances solidarity with subsidiarity, and prevents the all-powerful market from being replaced by the all-powerful state.