Friday, June 11, 2010

The left isn't ready to start answering the big questions yet

Via Nick Cohen, I see that Bryan Appleyard has picked up on the survey of lefty great-and-goods from the daily journal of the Birkenstock Traitors. With it's emphasis on the need to legitimise speed cameras, Bryan concludes that the left doesn't have an economic narrative. He concludes that the if the left doesn't have this, it doesn't have anything.

It seems to me that the real difference between the left and the right is that we prefer collective action while the right are generally against it except when it is done by firms.

For this reason, it's a bit previous to expect us to have a convincing position on macro-economic questions. We have other fish to fry first. I agree with Appleyard that a defence of speed cameras can't be the key issue, but I would say that a democratic socialist would argue for a move towards improving the quality of democracy - the precondition to arguing for collective action - as the single most important question facing us.

If you have a means of decision-making that results in more optimal policy outcomes while at the same time providing the highest level of inclusion – you are likely to legitimise collective action more. This means we have to ask how we can ensure that everybody's interests are served by democratic decision-making and not just those of the already enfranchised and the nearly-enfranchised. It also means that we need to start addressing how co-ops and mutuals can be reformed and promoted (I blogged on this a good while ago and don't have much to add to it), and how collective action can start to impact upon the way that shareholders control companies. (Tom's triffic blog deals with this question daily)

I have the slightly idiosyncratic belief that a return towards the values of representative democracy and a resistance to the slide towards more direct forms is the key here.

If we can get that right, then the economic questions start to take care of themselves. So our current position is actually more perilous than Mr Appleyard thinks it is. We haven't really started asking the questions that we need to answer in order to address the economic question.

This is all quite bad, isn't it?


james said...

Totally agree re: economic policy. Employee-owned firms, co-ops and mutuals should all be promoted by Labour.

But I don't think that representative and direct forms of democratic decision-making are opposed. Maybe I have misunderstood you, there.

On the subject of the big questions, I've always been of the opinion that politics isn't about ideas but interests.

Paulie said...


Two out of three things to agree on isn't bad. I do think that representative and direct forms of democratic decision-making are opposed, but for reasons that I've gone into in some detail on this blog.

It's a long argument. For avoidance of doubt, I am very keen on participatory elements working with elected representatives. But direct democracy? No.