In his excellent 2007 book The Conscience Of A Liberal, Paul Krugman describes the need for a new liberal politics in the USA in a number of ways, but primarily in terms of developing an alternative to the growth of Movement Conservatism in that country:
A small movement then known as the “new Conservatism” was, in part, a backlash against the decision of Dwight Eisenhower and other Republican leaders to make their peace with FDR’s legacy…Over the years, this small movement grew into a powerful political force…
We now know that it is the intention of Jeremy Corbyn and of his supporters in Momentum to turn the Labour Party into a social movement.
In its way it can be seen as a mirror image that has grown out of a backlash against the decisions of the Labour Party to make their peace with capitalism in the long term (and with Thatcherism in the medium term and most recently with globalisation.)
So a small movement based on radical far left groups has coalesced around the Corbyn cause and grown to oppose that accommodation and to supplant it with a socialist alternative. So what could possibly go wrong? And why are so many longstanding Labour Party members so opposed to Movement Socialism, and why does this include 80% of Labour MPs?
The answer for this longstanding member (since 1977) is that it is not the commitment to socialism that is the problem, although I have spent most of a lifetime discussing what we mean by that and how it can be best applied for practical uses. It the use of movement politics to achieve our ends.
There are three main objections which I have to Corbyn’s Movement Socialism: in ascending order these are: its rhetoric, its mythology and above all its political stupidity.
The rhetoric of MS is immediately obnoxious: all opponents are traitors and careerists. They care only for their own position in power and their own incomes and privileges, especially if they are MPs.
There is no consideration that an MP is a fellow Labour Party member, signed up to the same objectives as every new member, who devotes seven day weeks to their constituents, and who confronts their problems every day. Nor, for that matter, is there any consideration that such people might deserve more respect than scorn for having secured the votes of tens of thousands of real people in hard fought elections. For Movement Socialists, the rhetoric of treachery beats any such reality.
And in its mythology, those who defend the work of the Labour Party in government from 1997 to 2010 are likely to be even be still worse, indeed they likely to be “Blairites.”
To the Movement Socialist, Tony Blair was not a socialist of any kind. Indeed, he and his Labour governments were Thatcher’s Fifth Column, which deliberately and wilfully privatised the NHS, created widespread poverty and inequality, encouraged the Muslim world to attack us and invaded to Iraq to murder millions.
It is of course impossible to argue that the Blair governments (and that of Gordon Brown) did not make mistakes – for example Tony Blair’s over-estimation of his influence over George W. Bush and his White House, and his under-estimation of the pent-up loathing of the west and between sectarian factions which would lead to the bloodbath in Iraq after the invasion.
But what Movement Socialists will do is to fail to take a balanced and rational view of the record of Labour in power.
So in the case of Iraq, those who supported the invasion and welcomed the overthrow of a genocidal fascist dictator, such as the Kurds and many incredibly brave democrats and socialists risking their lives for those causes, will be ignored. The balanced view is to take both into account.
In the case of inequality, the fact that the UK became more equal in 1997-2010 if the growth of the ultra-rich is discounted will be swept aside, as will the growth in the real incomes of every part of society especially the least well off. Movement Socialists will also ignore that Tony Blair inserted the word “socialist” in the Party’s constitution for the first time, saved the NHS by doubling and tripling its budgets and that the purchase of private provision for NHS patients eliminated many waiting times for operations.
Again, a Labour member or supporter will take all sides into account and give credit for the achievements while learning from the failures. The stupidity of Movement Socialism means that it must dismiss all of the achievements while damning Labour governments for their irredeemable failures and cowardly compromises. It also extends to historical ignorance and prejudice, as witnessed by Corbyn supporters groaning at the mention of Nye Bevan’s name and heckling his multilateralism.
However, such historic myopia is not the biggest problem: that will be the implications for future policy.
Again, we can look to the American experience. Movement Conservatism used the rhetoric and mythologies of betrayal to develop its momentum but then ran up against the realities of electoral and constitutional politics. It response was not to retreat but to redouble, breeding first the Tea Party, then the monster amongst its followers that has resulted in the Republican Candidature of Donald Trump.
Closer to home, we can see that the SNP has is now the party of Movement Nationalism, and that it now also suffers from its inherent stupidity. For example, Nicola Sturgeon insists that Scotland needs stability in the wake of the Brexit vote, but cannot contribute to that aim by ruling out a further independence referendum: the Movement will not allow it.
For Labour, the danger of Movement stupidity is that our own dogmas will become entrenched in our policies.
The most obvious example is that of unilateral nuclear disarmament.
My own view is agnostic on the question, as I do not regard nuclear weapons as uniquely evil: conventional fire bombs killed about the same number Japanese citizens in Tokyo as each of the nuclear weapons at Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Likewise, it is hard to see how it is more moral or worthy to have turned the city of Cologne into a bonfire the height of Ben Lomond in 1942 than it is to have possessed nuclear weapons for 70 years without ever having used them. Like Bevan I am a multilateralist.
But for many Labour voters, the issue of nuclear disarmament is practical and for the Labour Party it is political. As we found in the 1983 General Election, it is hard to sway voters away from their devastatingly obvious conclusion that we should not give up our nukes while others keep theirs.
The question confronted by Neil Kinnock was whether it was worth keeping the policy of doing so, if it was going to contribute to keeping Labour out of power indefinitely. His answer was no: Labour should rather “face the challenges of power, rather than indulge in the indignation of defeat.” It is no surprise that Neil Kinnock features high in the mythology of treachery of the Movement Socialists. Nor will be any surprise when this decision is overturned, and Labour activists again feel good about themselves while rendering the party unelectable.
Similar steps away from public opinion to meet the requirements of the Movement are likely to be on energy security and nationalisation.
On the former, it is hard to see the Movement approving of either regulated fracking or new nuclear power: so Labour will support neither. We will then have to convince the public between the relative merits of being willing to either buy power from the likes of Putin’s Russia or to let the lights go out.
And on nationalisation, if rail is taken as the priority we will risk being seen to be espousing an outdated model as a matter of dogma, rather than on the rational grounds that public ownership and investment will lead to greater efficiency, economy, efficacy and equity (the 4 Es of public policy appraisal) – does it make it quicker, cheaper, better or fairer?
In short, the stupidity of Movement Socialism will make Labour unelectable, by ignoring the needs and the views of the voting public and eschewing rational approaches to policy making in favour of sloganising and herd mentality prejudices.
And when that happens, Labour becomes first irrelevant and then an indulgence. And meanwhile those who need a left of centre alternative will be at the mercy of the real Tories.
Jeremy will have his Movement Socialism, but at a high cost to many who cannot afford it.