Setting Out the Stall

by Elias Blum

Ranting against Evil Wicked Tories and the iniquities of their heartless oligarchic agenda – opposing cuts here, exposing corrupt stealth privatisations there – is all well and good, but it does not get us very far. It’s always opposing, always negative, and always reactive. It allows the right wingers to determine the narrative and to choose the field on which politics is played, and we have to respond to their moves rather than setting out own alternative stall.

Likewise, fissiparous lefty posturing doesn’t achieve much either; it just makes us look like a bunch of student radicals with nothing better to do than stroke our unwashed beards. It doesn’t appeal to voters who are not already in our camp.

So I’m much more interested in putting forward practical and pragmatic policy solutions that will make a real difference in the lives of ordinary working people.

I believe that people – not just a coterie of self-confessed lefties, but a majority of voters, including those who might be relatively conservative but still see a case for giving ordinary folks like themselves a fair go. The American Constitutional Law theorist Cass Sunstein has written of ‘incompletely theorised agreements’, which are practical agreements on policies or laws between people who use very different reasoning to get to the same point. A good example of this would be the construction of welfare states in continental Europe, where Christian Democrats, Social Democrats and Left Liberals – although differing in their overall ideological aims, were able to agree on practical policy measures. In the same way, I am convinced that our best hope of ending austerity and neo-liberalism is to build a majority consensus around a practical set of policies, regardless of the partisan and ideological labels.

I don’t know exactly what these policy proposals would look like, but I do have some initial ideas. One sensible policy might be to eliminate zero hours contracts, which do much to trap people in a cycle of low-pay and no-pay, and make people financially precarious and vulnerable to debt and homelessness. Another might be to rise the minimum wage to the level of a living wage, in conjunction with an active industrial policy that uses the powers of a nationalised Public Investment and Development Bank to promote a policy of full employment. One of the things I’d like to see most is a commitment to genuine social security, which I’ve written about elsewhere. There are also some very sensible ideas in Anthony Atkinson’s book on Inequality, which is an excellent contribution to this practical debate.