April 3, 2014


The Tories own the future - the left is trapped in the past (John Harris, 4/02/14, The Guardian)

Let's face it: increasingly it feels as if the Tories will win the next election, possibly outright. Yes, there remain serious obstacles to Conservative success. But look at recent polls. History apparently suggests that even a five-point deficit for any Tory government will translate into a seven-point lead by the time an election campaign reaches its climax - and with the political dividend from economic recovery, not to mention the fact that coalition government has worked surprisingly well, they look like a wise bet.

Such stuff is probably best left to the psephologists. What underlines the sense that Tories are on an upswing is the fact that they, and the right more widely, have come up with a solid vision of the future, and may yet persuade a sufficient share of the public to buy in. [...]

And the left? Another lesson of history is that Labour wins when it does a good impression of owning the future - witness 1945, 1964 and 1997. On a bad day, though, it can feel like many of the people at the top of the party want to return to some mushy, statist version of social democracy redolent of 1993. Others seem to wish it was still 2006. And too much of the wider left is still rattling out the battles of the 1980s. The academic and Lib Dem peer Ralf Dahrendorf famously said that the SDP wanted "a better yesterday": the same is true of 90% of the left, not just here, but all over Europe, and beyond.

What Marx and Engels would call the mode of production has long since changed. But have enough people on the left actually noticed? A little more than 25 years ago, some of its brighter minds alighted on the idea of post-Fordism, and bundled it up in the notion of New Times: a conceptualisation of societies moving away from organised capitalism into "disorganised capitalism", and the end of the left's home comforts.

They wondered what a more plural, fragmented reality would mean for progressive politics: some eventually embraced the dead end that was New Labour, while others resisted, and carried on asking their questions. Two decades on there is still too much truth to the contention made in the "New Times" issue of Marxism Today, published in October 1988: "It is the right that now appears modern, radical, innovative ... It is the left that seems backward-looking, conservative, bereft of new ideas and out of time."

Posted by at April 3, 2014 6:51 PM

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