Yes, Prime Minister, the BBC sitcom, gave us many memorable lines but the one I am most frequently inclined to recall is Sir Humphrey’s “Things don’t just happen because Prime Ministers are keen on them! Chamberlain was keen on peace!”
Jeremy Corbyn is often defended on the basis, essentially, that he is “keen” on helping poor people.
It should be noted that even this is dubious. In fact, much of his career has been spent focusing on ideological struggles, often (although not always of course) in faraway lands and often involving the endorsement of some pretty shady characters intent on causing rather than resolving suffering.
Let us, for the sake of argument, give him the benefit of the doubt. If Jeremy Corbyn is keen on helping poor people, presumably he has a well thought out and practical plan to do so?
In fact, his highlight plan is to remove University tuition fees. Yet those tuition fees would have to be paid from somewhere, presumably from general taxation. This means the majority who do not go to University would end up subsidising the minority who do. Is Mr Corbyn not supposed to be helping “the many” versus “the few”? How on Earth does this policy accomplish that? In fact, it does the precise opposite. (It is popular with the Guardian-reading middle class, of course, and may indeed be responsible for a slight improvement in his polling numbers – but that was not supposed to be the point.)
Another one is free hospital parking. This is certainly theoretically more progressive, but in fact it is impractical. How does one then ensure that people using hospital car parks are there for the purposes of visiting the hospital? How does one manage (and/or enforce) the necessary turnover in parking spaces so that everyone who needs to can visit? And indeed, where is the money thus taken from the Health Service to cover the loss of revenue (and, presumably, cost of enforcement) returned from?
Then we get, of course, to the retirement age. Holding it where it is would only mean those earning would have to be squeezed still further. So much for helping the “squeezed middle”!
And so it goes on. There is in fact no coherent basic analysis underlying any of these policies of what it is that drives poverty, nor indeed even a specific definition of it. Does it mean inequality exclusively, or social exclusion, or something else? What in fact are the issues around education, health or even housing and transport which force people into poverty and then keep them there? In fact, we get nothing beyond vague and obvious notions that it is bad; but we are left with no ideas and no coherent plan to overcome it, just a set of populist policies that no one could disagree with if only money were no object.
Even really quite good policies, such as a focus on early intervention in schools, are thus overshadowed. This is because fundamentally the left everywhere in the Western World has no new ideas at all beyond some vague (and, as the generations go on, undeliverable) promises about spending more money.
Again, on the left as on the alt-right, we are faced with a populist intellectual laziness. This is not something we can afford.