US liberals and leftists who won’t vote for Clinton, even though that decision will help Trump, who is even worse, are an interesting case study. It reveals a deep difference, not between liberals and conservatives, but between “principlists” and “consequentialists”.
Consequentialists do what they have to do to get the best available outcome, even if the means – and the end – fall short of their ideal.
Principlists feel an inherent wrongness in doing anything against principle, even if the result is an outcome even further from their ideal.
They’re two totally opposed mindsets – ways of thinking about how to choose action – with little scope for persuasion between them.
Recently I’ve been pondering why, despite a deep resentment of austerity and extreme wealth inequality, the UK doesn’t yet have populist leftist movements like Greece’s Syriza and Spain’s Podemos. The answer of course is that things aren’t as bad here as they are in those countries. But there are signs of a resurgence of populist, anti-establishment movements in the UK: the SNP landslide in Scotland, 3.9 million votes for UKIP, 1.1 million votes for the Green Party, and now Jeremy Corbyn’s performance in the Labour leadership race.
I also wrote about the recent history of the contemporary Labour party, and how Blair’s 1997 landslide victory was the worst thing that ever happened to it. Many Labour supporters, and most of the parliamentary party, confused correlation for causation and became convinced that Blairism was the reason Labour was elected. They forget that a) anyone could have led Labour to a victory against Major’s hated minority government in 1997, and b) Blair would have lost had he still been party leader in 2010 (which is exactly why, with characteristic savviness, he wasn’t). They remain convinced of this fallacy today, and are now in a panic that the grassroots party might choose a leader who isn’t from the approved list of “new” Labour robots.
Meanwhile, old lefties, young idealists, the unions, and anyone who prefers sincerity and principle to weaselly poll-chasing, are putting their hopes on Jeremy Corbyn. But rather than a victory for the left of the party, a Corbyn win could actually mean the final victory of Blairism and the end of Labour as the leading organisation of the left.
Labour is currently undergoing an ideological crisis, similar to the one the Conservative party went through between its overwhelming defeat in 1997, and the election of David Cameron as leader at the end of 2005. It has no idea what it stands for or how to persuade people to vote for it. It is haemorrhaging its core working class voters to apathy, UKIP or worse. Its leader, Ed Miliband, is a catastrophe: vilified as a union puppet by right-wing commentators, but simultaneously, completely incapable of speaking for working people or earning their trust and confidence. The fact that Labour sympathisers now wistfully imagine how much better things would have been if David Miliband had won the leadership – even though the criticisms of Ed (out-of-touch, middle-class, London, Oxbridge, career politician / policy wonk with unfortunate ties to the Blair/Brown years) apply equally well to David – shows how poor and uninspiring the potential Labour leadership pool is.
The existential plight Labour now finds itself in is a direct result of its long period of electoral failure in the ’80s, followed by its resurgence under Tony Blair in the ’90s. Continue reading →
In the 1960s, Harvard sociologist Daniel Bell declared the ‘end of ideology’. The nineteenth and early twentieth centuries had been a time of big, competing ideas about how to organise human society, but these were exhausted; centrist free-market democracy had won.
The concept took a few decades to come to fruition. The world was still divided by the Cold War, a real and dangerous instantiation of competing ideologies. Even within UK politics, ideology was still alive in the 1980s, when Thatcherite free-market economics faced off against a diverse but identifiable left wing, comprising a mixture of militant Trotskyists, restless unions and mainstream social democrats.
In the 1990s, Bell’s prediction was proven correct by global events, with the USSR swept away and replaced by free market democracy. It was further vindicated within British politics later in the decade, with Tony Blair’s reform of the Labour party. By dropping Clause IV from the party’s constitution, its commitment to an ideology of nationalisation was removed, and the party was rebranded as ‘New Labour’, a centrist free-market party occupying roughly the same political territory as moderate Conservatives.