mainly macro: Corbyn’s popularity and relativistic politics

Excellent commentary on the commentary on the Labour leadership contest from Prof Simon Wren-Lewis.

Perhaps the issue isn’t that Labour’s membership has moved to the left, but that the media commentators are all starting from the right?

The article also lends credibility to the claims of people – especially in Scotland – that they didn’t leave Labour; Labour left them. It still doesn’t excuse those Scots who then joined or supported the SNP, though!

This is just a short gripe about some of the commentary around the Labour leadership contest. So many who write about this express their puzzlement about how someone from the left of the party can suddenly appear to be so popular. This can only mean, they suggest, that the Labour party membership must have moved to the left. (For example this, from the FTs Jim Pickard.)

This mistake reflects something that Paul Krugman has remarked upon in the US: the tendency of commentators to define the centre as simply today’s mid-point between the two main parties. So as Labour moves towards the Conservatives, according to this way of looking at it the centre also moves to the right.
Now if that is how you want to define the centre, so be it. Such is relativistic view is very post-modern, I guess. But when that idea is then used to say that Labour party members must have moved to the left, its limitations become self-evident. In reality all that might be going on is that the views of Labour party members have not moved at all, but they have become left behind as Labour MPs and other prospective leaders have moved to the right. I think we have clear evidence that this is more likely to be what is happening. [1]
The most obvious example is the welfare bill, and Labour’s shameful decision to abstain on this. But another that is close to my heart is austerity. Talk to some, and being anti-austerity has become synonymous with being well to the left. Of course in reality it is just textbook macroeconomics, but if we stick to measuring everything on a left right axis, then remember that it was only as far back as 2009 that the need for fiscal stimulus rather than deficit reduction was the position advocated by a centre/left Labour party in the UK, and the Democrats in the US. It cannot be surprising, therefore, that among a relatively well informed electorate that is the Labour party membership an anti-austerity position is still seen as a sensible policy. With an extreme relativistic view you could say that by sticking to this position these people have moved to the left, but please don’t appear surprised that this has happened.
[1] It is equally fallacious to think that those who vote for Corbyn agree with every one of his policies. Some of his popularity may be a form of protest not just at the policies of his competitors, but also their style: see the clip in the middle of this typically amusing article by Mark Steel.

Source: mainly macro: Corbyn’s popularity and relativistic politics

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6 thoughts on “mainly macro: Corbyn’s popularity and relativistic politics

  1. Joan Edington

    “It still doesn’t excuse those Scots who then joined or supported the SNP, though”!
    And who should we have voted for then? The Tories or their LibDem pets?

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      If Labour was changing in a way that Labour supporters in Scotland didn’t like, why didn’t they get involved and change it back?
      Joining or supporting a completely different party with very different objectives seems counter-productive in the extreme.

  2. lambtonwyrm

    Labour moved to the right during the Thatcher period as the Tories luched right and 3 of the candidates represent varying positions on that right side of Labour. Jeremy Corbyn represents the left of the party. Not a return to the militant left but a left which offers alternatives to the selfishness of the Tory ideology.

  3. Aw

    As an aside,
    I watched 5 minutes of the Keiser Report today and he, Stacey and their guest mentioned Jeremy Corbyn. Max said something like, “Corbyn has a 1980’s political outlook”, or “out of date” mindset. Or words to that effect.

    I got the impression the money boys really don’t want Corbyn around if RT (Moscow) are rolling out negative soundbites through keiser.

  4. mrmarcpc

    Corbyn is what Labour use to and should be respresenting and standing for, that is why the right wing and the right wing Labour lot fear him, he will be a genuine threat to them if he is leader because he is the real thing and they are not, as it stands now, Labour is no threat to anyone, because of the right wing Labour party members – light blue Labour!

  5. hugosmum70

    i look at it this way. im not left or right there is both sides to me.(if you insist on labeling people)…….BUT.. what i really am is a person who throughout her life has worked to help those who were ill,disabled or elderly. i have always been on the side of the oppressed , those who were being bullied,stamped on, kept down. in later life i worked helping those who were jobless, ill ,disabled or had debt or other problems (involving pensions etc ..i.e. with the DWP. At no time back then did i ever think of myself as doing any of it cos i was left or right or because of some political standing. to me it has nothing to do with politics other than in most cases now its those in power causing most of this. only since the coalition got into power and now the conservatives on their own, have i thought of it in political terms. Why? because to me,if you are a decent person who thinks about and cares for your fellow man/woman or child, you will want to do something to help those who are having problems. today those problems are huge because the govt are making them so. unemployment, illness,stress, disability, homelessness and destitution are much much more prevalent now. and caused by politics.To me all this silly talk of whose left and whose right, left of centre, right of centre. makes no sense. who sets the levels? its simply who cares for others and who cares for themselves. and Jeremy Corbyn appears to feel the same way.and is not init for the money and prestige as the other 3 are. all the infighting just serves to shove people like me further over to his camp.(though i would probably be there anyway without all that).. it just shows me i am right to choose him. he is not in it for himself. the rest are and the fact they have resorted to slinging muck, and abuse at Jeremy proves to me they are no more than Tories cos thats exactly what they do. they are using playground tactics and therefore they need to grow up and smell the daisies not the hoss muck.

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