What should the strategy be for the great majority of Labour MPs who did not vote for Jeremy Corbyn (ABC=anyone but Corbyn)? They can continue to expound their misery to receptive political journalists. They can continue to stand aghast at the dislike that some now in power hold for their predecessors. But for a group that has lost two crucial elections within the space of a few months, they really need a more positive focus.
Tony Payne, director of SPERI at Sheffield University, has a suggestion which I think has a great deal of merit. They should “come to terms fully, properly and honestly with Labour’s record in government under Blair and Brown between 1997 and 2010”. This is not in some kind of masochistic, ‘what we got wrong’ kind of exercise, but rather to recognise what that Labour government got right.
I was part of a group of academics that looked at economic policy under Labour, and the sense I got was that there were an awful lot of positives to note. But in looking at the negatives, one point that should be recognised is that these (e.g. Iraq, not enough banking regulation, perhaps not enough local support for inward migration) did not come from any tendency to be too populist. Instead rather the opposite.
Let me take my own subject as an example, partly because austerity is also central to much else. In the end what quite a few of the ABCs wanted to do was to junk the complex and perhaps awkward truths of how to run a sensible fiscal policy in favour of the populist politics of talking about the nation’s credit card. Osborne’s fiscal charter is not supported by a single economist I know, but many of the ABC’s have advocated supporting it. In this case what those ABCs have been doing is adopting – or at least flirting with – populist politics, but the popular politics of the right rather than the left.
The dominant mantra of the ABCs… is that only they are serious about trying to win elections. That is why, we are told, they have to adopt the populist policies of the other side, because only that way can they win. Notice first how different this is from the noble Weberian concept of the centre that Tony Payne puts forward. Notice second that these populist policies seem to come from the right rather than the left: whenever there is a populist policy from the left (like renationalising rail), then it becomes time to cast aside populism and be ‘sensible’.
I said that the ABCs would do well to follow Tony Payne’s advice and focus on what the Labour government did right. One of those things was the regime of tax credits, which cut poverty and made it easier for people to work. They might then reflect on the reasoning, forces and processes that led so many of them this July to abstain on the bill that cut those credits.
Please read the full article: mainly macro: What are ABC to do?
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