I am going to quote for the second time from an article by David Wearing in the Guardian yesterday supporting Jeremy Corbyn's leadership of the Labour Party. I did so yesterday to note that the touchstone for radicalism in Labour is, apparently, a policy I authored that Corbyn has not adopted. I now note that Wearing says:
Jeremy Corbyn’s support unites around clear basic principles: the need to break decisively with neoliberalism, in favour of a new egalitarian economic model, and to defend migrants, minority-ethnic people and those on social security from the rising tide of bigotry and the effects of spending cuts.
This is interesting because in each case I have to ask what this policy really means, and how it translates into electoral policy.
Let's do it in turn. First the claim that there is:
the need to break decisively with neoliberalism
This obviously requires a certain degree of understanding on what neoliberalism is. George Monbiot has written about it. It can be summarised as a logic that suggests that markets are the best determinants of all social outcomes and that anything that interferes with their operation is detrimental to well-being.
Now, of course, I think that neoliberalism is wrong. It very obviously is. And I have spent countless hours saying so. But, let's be clear, unless you are at the far left end of the spectrum which suggests that there is no role for the market at all then the decision on what part markets should play in an economy is not a binary one. The reality is that the UK has been a mixed economy since at least 1945 and that makes it like just about every other major economy in the world. The model does, essentially, work. The question asked in most cases is then where the line should be struck between the sectors.
In that case to say we should break decisively with neoliberalism is easy: we do not have a neoliberal economy as such. What we do have is one where, undoubtedly, the direction of travel has been towards a bigger role for markets, and New Labour did, beyond question, play a part in that trend.
What though does breaking with neoliberalism mean in that case? Does is mean ending markets? Or does it mean changing the direction of travel? And how will we know? And at what point aren't we neoliberal any more? I think these are fair questions to ask. I can offer my answers, of course, but right now i am not sure what the Corbyn answers might be.
I could pick some clear signals for change. Ending the NHS internal market and the trust process would be a start.
Ending school privatisation via the academy programme.
Renationalising rail as franchises end.
Limiting outsourcing from Westminster.
Ending PFI and repurchasing the debt.
Ending the student loan scheme.
Is this what a break from neoliberalism is?
Or does it extend to increased minimum wages, removing tax reliefs on high pay, or even a universal basic income whilst seeking to close tax havens and hold major companies to account via country-by-country reporting, all of which I have suggested and written about?
And if not that, what? I want to know, because I don't. And I do want to know what the role of the market is then. I think it has one. Is that right? Who is saying? And what is the electoral proposition and how will it be framed? Does anyone know?
Then we have:
a new egalitarian economic model
Where has this been written about? What does it mean? Is it even true? Is there such a plan? I really don't know. I think more detail is required. And again, how is this being framed for electoral purposes? Has anyone thought about that? Or whether it will be voted for? It's question that needs asking, surely?
And the policy on migration also needs elaboration. I, of course, believe passionately in defending all people's human rights in all their forms. I would hope everyone on the left and beyond does, but the UK population does not appear to be pro-migrant right now so what defending the rights of migrants means cannot be left hanging as a claim. It has instead to be very carefully explained with the implications made clear and how this results in changes to policy set out. But I have not seen that.
In fact the only claim here that I think is unambiguously understood is the claim that Corbyn is about defending those on social security from the rising tide of bigotry and the effects of spending cuts. This, I think is true and has been evidenced, and I welcome it. I also have set out to explain how it is possible.
But this exception apart the claim David Wearing makes is not clear, despite his claim that it is. The principles around which he says support is being secured have not been clarified. And their consequences have not been explained. In fact, what is really happening is that a wide range of opinion is being projected onto a campaign, just as it was last summer, with a mirror being set up to reflect it back but without evidence being supplied that the campaign has heard or understood, let alone acted upon what is being said to it.
And that is deeply worrying. I genuinely do not know that the clear principles David Wearing says exist do actually have any substance and have no idea what some critical ones mean. And that's my worry: this campaign, like that last summer, could be selling people very short by letting them believe what they want when there is no substance at all to the actual offer and no idea how to deliver whatever that real offer is. And that, when so many have invested so much energy in the idea rather than the reality of the Corbyn campaign is worrying.