Thursday, July 30, 2015

Labour's Lost Love

Apparently the Labour Party plans on winning the next election with the support of Ashbourne Annie. Good luck with that. While I'm sure there's more than a few voters out there who would appreciate help with their childcare costs, it's hard to see it being a big vote winner for Labour. And if it does looks like one then expect it to figure in more than a few manifestos.

But Labour's decline in Ireland has little to do with childcare costs or the Ashbourne Annies of this world. It goes a lot deeper than that. Recent analyses of Labour's performance in the UK shed some light on the decline. The problem for Labour in Ireland as in the UK is that it has lost its soul. Here's Luke Bretherton on the topic:
But if any meaningful language and vision of change is to emerge within the Labour Party, it needs to develop a way of talking about love and sin. To do this it needs to focus more on organizing and less on policy and procedure. It needs to be more populist and less progressive. To romance the electorate it must learn again to speak in the idioms of ordinary people. Rather than impose on them brittle schemes of social engineering, it needs to draw on the traditions and customary practices of the people it wants to represent in order to discover ways of forging a common life - a life that cares for the heart and soul, not just the market and the state. 
Admittedly that's not the sort of insight you'll get from a focus group in Ashbourne, or anywhere else for that matter. Modern political parties - on the left and on the right - are entirely managerialist in nature and simply offer to be better bureaucrats than the opposition. No wonder people are disengaged from politics.

Ironically, the left, including Labour, is a victim of its own success. The left replaced the politics of class identity and solidarity with the politics of cultural Marxism. The result was the destruction of much of the social capital and networks that had existed outside of the state and the market and had sustained the historical labour movement in the past. As Bruce Charlton observes:
What we have seen instead has been the near complete destruction of civil society in the West - and the process has bee all but un-remarked and un-noted as a general phenomenon. Almost all forms of human association have been brought under control of the state, most are irrelevant, participation in civil society is very low and feeble, many churches, professions social hobby groups been severely weakened or become extinct. 
Funnily enough, some on the left are beginning to notice that they've taken a wrong turn. John Milbank argues that Labour needs to differentiate between being 'market friendly' vs 'business friendly', recognising that the market economy - with its crafts and guilds which gave rise to the labour movement - predates the capitalist economy. While Chris Dillow thinks Labour needs to lose the blinkered view that only the State or the Market can solve all our problems: again, there are lots of social and economic alternatives that could restore the civil society that used to exist.

Indeed, such a project of restoration might unleash youthful energies that go far beyond the humdrum of politics. The always quotable Camille Paglia has this to say about today's young:
We have a whole generation of young people who are clinging to politics and to politicized visions of sexuality for their belief system.  They see nothing but politics, but politics is tiny.  Politics applies only to society. There is a huge metaphysical realm out there that involves the eternal principles of life and death. The great tragic texts, including the plays of Aeschylus and Sophocles, no longer have the central status they once had in education, because we have steadily moved away from the heritage of western civilization. 
It might be a hard sell to Ashbourne Annie, but it might just strike a chord with a lot of people who used to support Labour, until they realised that Labour no longer supported them.


  1. I suspect that the modelling of society as a collection of rational self interested elements results in strategies that actually encourage us to view ourselves as rational self interested elements. This leads to solipsism and, frankly, bad manners. New labour might have been an interesting experiment in the focus group/market driven policy development, but trying to emulate it here when it has been shown to have so many flaws is a bit daft.

    Bring on a party that believes in small government, please.

  2. So, thoughts on Corbyn?


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