Does the Left actually want to win?

There is an old maxim, served as a warning to foreigners intending to drive in Germany, that it is always worth remembering that a German “would rather be in the right and dead, than in the wrong and alive”.

Watching the crazed dash of people on the “Left” to the populist extremes, I am left to wonder something similar. Would they rather just feel morally justified at the expense of having no real power or influence, over actually having even limited power to do something?

After all, the Left in Britain has a new darling now who used to heap praise on Hugo Chávez, whose left-wing government was so successful that his country ran out of toilet roll and chocolate, that airlines refused to fly to it so that even its own nationals were effectively locked out, and it became a diplomatic joke. He got some things right, mind – the great socialist was sure to leave such an inheritance to his own daughter that she is now estimated to be the richest woman in the country. But, sure, at least he had morals, eh?

We do not need to go so far to demonstrate such folly. Greece’s Syriza thought it moral just to spend wildly while not caring about its creditors, until it found itself simply unable to borrow to spend wildly because no one was willing to lend it money knowing there was no chance of repayment. France’s Socialists thought it moral to hammer the rich with a 75% tax, until they found no one willing to pay it (and comfortably able, in a global economy, to out therpir wealth where they would not have to pay it) and had to abandon it. Italy’s Democrats thought it moral to borrow without reforming crazy public sector salaries and perks, until it found economic growth had stalled at the sixth worst in the world (the five worse included the likes of Zimbabwe and Somalia) while whole areas of public services had been taken over by the Mafia.

It is not as if right-leaning governments are all sweetness and light, but left-leaders do tend to base their theories not on supporting what is good, but on opposing what is bad. Syriza thought austerity was bad – but financial responsibility is good. French Socialists thought excessive wealth was bad – but being globally competitive in rewarding risk takers and hard workers is good. Italian Democrats thought threats to public servants’ standards of living were bad – but delivering efficient public services is good.

Given that government in a financial crisis is tough, it does seem to me that those inclined to oppose rather than support enjoy simply identifying terrible things and siding with anyone who agrees they are terrible. That they are unable to come up with practical, workable solutions to these terrible problems is neither here nor there – they are right morally in theory, so who cares if they are wrong electorally or governmentally in practice?

Not that such moral guardians any more moral than the rest of us. In taking sides against one tyrant, they will support another (often worse) one. In defending one minority, they will offend another. Attacks on colleagues are deemed “personal” even when they are political, but they are themselves allowed to resort to personal attacks and petty labels (so that anyone at all who does not sign up to their exclusive brand of Leftist rebellion is deemed “Tory”). The Labour Leadership election is but one obvious example. The outcome is that the energy and resources of the Left are devoted to crazed factional infighting rather than making a proper, reasoned appeal to an increasingly bewildered public.

Government is tough. It requires compromise, including with vested interests; it requires patience, including with political opponents; it requires practical solutions, working with the prevailing culture rather than blank-page theory. So the real question to the Left in Britain and elsewhere is: is this all just a spiritually uplifting but practically pointless moral crusade, or do you really want to govern?

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2 thoughts on “Does the Left actually want to win?

  1. Oh the Left does not want to govern. They collectively made that decision some time ago. But lest one think I’m smug, the Liberal Democrats have also made the same decision. “Ow, governing in coalition was hard; let’s go back to moralistic opposition!”

  2. Scots Anorak says:

    You support the — on the face of it, persuasive — Blairite view that it is pointless to be in the right and lose. However, you also seem to be assuming that the “modernisers” such as Liz Kendall, who is about to come in fourth out of four in the Labour leadership election, are actually of the “Left” (judging by the above, your definition of “Left” seems to stretch from Trotskyite hard-left to centre-right). Rather than invoking swivel-eyed bogeymen from abroad, it would be more elucidating for you to tell us which policies, in a realistic UK context, you think are dangerously left-wing and which you support. If you are worried about offshore tax evasion on income, for example, would you support a mansion tax on immovable assets as an alternative to some benefits cuts?

    It’s also pointless knowingly to be in the wrong and win. Labour spending decisions were a very, very minor element in the explosion in UK national debt since 2007. The key factor was a failure to regulate the financial markets, and it happened because Labour moved too far to the right. The same left-right scenario was true of the decision to invade Iraq, which was taken not in any noble but unrealistic defence of human rights but simply in deference to the Americans.

    However, if you are right that a Labour Party recognisable as such cannot form a Government because it can’t win the south-east of England, there is a simple solution — albeit only in Scotland. That solution is likely to have a markedly destabilising knock-on effect on Northern Ireland.

    Syriza, by the way, was, as I understand it, not the party responsible for building up the vast bulk of Greek debt, but rather the party that recognised (or seemed to at the time) that Greek debt was unsustainable and that austerity was having a negative effect on economic growth and thus on ability to pay.

    I think we need to be very careful of treating countries as if they were persons. Apart from my mortgage I have literally no debt, and if a person had built up a level of debt that Greece did, I really wouldn’t think much of him. Even if he had to make huge monthly payments after consolidating that debt, I wouldn’t have much sympathy. But Greece is not a person, and even if it were, the mere recognition of past bad decisions does not of itself render the debt capable of being paid. Regardless of whether Greece ultimately leaves the single currency, I confidently predict that there will be debt relief. For the same, hard-headed, practical reasons there was debt relief for Germany after WWII — despite a far larger degree of collective guilt and for far worse crimes. At the moment, much of the discussion of Greece is only nominally about the debt and actually about the sustainability of the euro.

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