Thoughts for building shelter for the politically homeless
Why am I so wilfully politically homeless? Why aren’t I knocking on the door of the Corbyn Inn? Because I’m not a Labour MP, looking to my career. The reasons I didn’t support him before the election remain. And there are new reasons too. But this is not going to be a critique of Corbyn’s Labour Party. This is intended to be more positive. What do we, the politically homeless, actually want?
That’s a many and varied thing. I’m going to avoid all reference to the centre ground, because that’s a meaningless phrase, which has no definition except to say it is neither one thing nor another thing. I’m also going to avoid direct reference to the EU for now. Instead I’m going to try to start with some ideas which perhaps might contribute towards building a core of beliefs. If we are to build a new home we need ideas around which we can coalesce.
Here’s a short summary of why I’m homeless, just to get us to the next step:
I’m angry with the Tories because they are arrogant and stupid. They believe they are entitled to be in charge of the rest of us because they are somehow the grown-ups, when in fact they treat Westminster like an extension of the playground. They inflicted the referendum on us because the Eton squabbles between Cameron and Johnson were still playing out. They had no plan for what they would do if “leave” won, and 4 months after they set the 2 year A50 clock ticking, they still have no plan. I don’t want another referendum – at least not any time soon – but I sure as hell wish they hadn’t called an “in out” referendum without knowing what “out” would look like. No doubt there’s a lot wrong with the EU, but if you take a wrecking ball to something you need to know what you’re going to build on the rubble.
And they invited that shit in the Whitehouse here on a state visit, and they still haven’t withdrawn the invite.
And they wanted to cut funds for schools and pretend they hadn’t. And they are underfunding the NHS. And social care. And justice. And infrastructure. And and and. There’s so much more, but I’ll move on.
The smaller parties don’t do it for me. The Liberal Democrats have sunk themselves by being in coalition and then by having Tim Farron as leader at just the wrong time. The Greens need to change their name if they want mass support. It suggests they’re still a single-issue party. Nationalists are by definition only for their nations. I won’t bother to say why the excrescence of UKIP has no appeal – that should speak for itself.
But for someone from my background, the main question is why do I reject Corbyn’s Labour? We all love jobs, homes, equality, peace – don’t we? Well yes, of course we do. But we like promises that can be kept. And Corbyn’s can’t. They are based on backward and inward looking ideas, when we are living in a time that is compulsively forward and outward looking. And I like it when politics is grown-up. That means acknowledging that someone can have a different opinion without assuming they are evil, or a traitor. I don’t like the word purge. It is a word to describe what happens in totalitarian states, and what happens to ethnic minorities when Nazis are in power. It makes my skin crawl when Corbyn supporters say the Labour Party should be purged. I was attracted to Corbyn’s original pitch to change the Westminster style, stop the absurd jeering in PMQs, and talk to one another like grown-ups. But I was disappointed when he was the only one in his camp to adopt that style, and when people he supports or his supporters do not follow his own respectful style, he never condemns them without saying there was fault on both sides. I don’t like him returning no verdict when it’s clear someone in his camp is guilty as charged. I am also dismayed by his growing vanity and enjoyment of his new status, but that’s somewhat beside the point.
So there we are, that’s the easy bit. We can all enjoy having a rant about what we are against. But what do I want instead?
Government structures that enable us to cope with and create change, rather than politicians and civil servants that seek to control and rule. Change is the only constant, and the world is getting smaller and more mechanised, so I want to find ways to build responsive, flexible communities. We need to make sure we are prepared and educated for whatever the future brings. We need to be creating the future. We may need to redefine “work” and how we are paid for it, so that more people can be financially rewarded for the quintessentially human activities, whether creative, sporting, therapeutic, caring or academic. If people have opportunities to live fulfilled, active lives, increasing machine capability and intelligence can be embraced rather than feared. There’s no job satisfaction in spending hours doing something a robot can do just as well or better. It’s for these reasons that the Labour Party obsession with greater unionisation and state ownership is so backward looking and hopeless. That ship has sailed, and I’m not sure it was a particularly beautiful ship in the first place.
Why are unionists so keen on the idea that we should all have secure, steady jobs? The truth is that core ideal has seen unions behave in the most appalling way towards women, and towards outsiders of all kinds, because at heart it requires protectionism. Jobs are only secure if you control the source of newcomers, and you make sure newcomers do not offer the employer (and therefore probably their customers) a better deal. And in the modern age that attempt at protectionism will increasingly involve a hopeless attempt to stem the tide of machines replacing traditional jobs, while at the same time making it more and more likely that employers will want to turn to the easier and cheaper option of a mechanised workplace
Fundamentally unionism is based on dreams of a controlled world, rather than the dynamic world we live in. We need new ideas for regulating the excesses of the gig economy and big business. There are real abuses of course. For example black taxi drivers say that Uber is being subsidised by the taxpayer. Most of its drivers are claiming tax credits and housing benefit, because they don’t work enough or get paid enough to take them over the thresholds. To cover demand Uber simply allows more drivers to register with them, albeit maybe none of them are working enough hours, or being paid enough for the hours they do, to be able to fully pay their own way. Big employers of all kinds have actually been getting away with this for years. If they pay workers at a level which keeps them just below the thresholds for in-work benefits the workers are just about OK, and the company has bigger profits to distribute around the boardroom. I believe we need a structural rethink on employment regulation, with new aims, such as
- to put a premium on human skills, whether currently low paid such as caring, or high paid such as management
- to incentivise employers and workers to continue their education and training throughout their lives
- to empower local areas to develop strong local economies which big businesses will be welcomed into, but only if they play fair
- to ensure that national taxpayer subsidy to business is consciously given to those businesses which offer opportunity and fair reward
But that’s just one way in which we need to be more enabled and less controlled by Government. Above all, I want individuals to be empowered to be in charge of their own lives. We are at our best when we are responsible for ourselves and our dependents. I don’t want a state that looks after me. I want to be empowered to look after myself. Different people need greater or less support to be in charge of their own lives, and a small minority of people have extreme care needs and almost no capacity to self-determine, but my default position is people live up to the expectations placed on them. Give people a chance to make their lives rewarding for themselves and those around them, and they generally will.
Our main impediments in the U.K. seem to me to be:
- wealth is too bound up in property and inheritance
- we are fixated on social class
- the left is obsessed with security for workers instead of job satisfaction and productivity
- big businesses and banks are being subsidised by the tax payer, through tax credits and inadequate financial and boardroom regulation, while small businesses and the private non-profit sector receives little or no state support.
But perhaps this is to get ahead of myself. Policy ideas can come later – first of all, we the politically homeless must start with principles and ideas, and find that core we can coalesce around.
What would a new party stand for? These are my ideas:
First, we would stand for getting everyone in this nation playing on the same field. We might recognise that it won’t be level, not for many generations to come, but we would be aiming for that level playing field, and we would start by reminding ourselves again and again that we have more in common.
Second, we would stand for encouraging everyone to be their authentic, best selves, however unexpected that may be. While the educated middle classes continue to make many of their children miserable by forcing them through academic studies against all their natural proclivities, while white boys from working class backgrounds continue to flunk school and fail to find manual jobs thereafter, while capable women continue to play quiet second fiddle to their noisy male bosses who would be better placed elsewhere, we are all failing to make the most of our collective talents and proclivities as a national team.
Third we would stand for self-determination and devolved power as the norm, and top-down command and control as the exception. We would stand for making the most of being human: flexible, adaptive, creative. Pack animals maybe, but leaders earn their place and they have to keep earning it, and the rest of the pack guards it’s own domain fiercely from leadership encroachment.
There may be a forth, fifth or sixth plank to these principles. I hope so. I’m pleased that since the election there have been growing calls for a new political party. Not least because it has relieved me if my self-imposed burden. Before the 2017 election was called I started a small local one myself, just because no one else seemed to be taking on what seemed to me to be necessary. Now that more and more people are declaring themselves politically homeless, we need to start building our shelter. It’s no good hanging around outside the other houses, pissing on their front yards. Let’s build a better place to live.