The following section of this article was written during the Labour Party leadership election.
All my life I have had a belief about the proper boundary between the public and private sectors in an economy. Those areas of the economy where a genuine market can function should operate commercially. Social ownership (of one form or another – there are several forms) should take over where a genuine market is impossible, for example because of natural monopoly, or because the service should be equally available to all, or because of externalities which cannot easily be adjusted for. In my youth when nationalisation had gone too far, and was in danger of going further, this belief led me to join the Conservative Party. Today, when privatisation has gone too far, it points to a vote for Jeremy Corbyn. This is an entirely consistent position. If you are driving from Doncaster to London it is a mistake to set off going north; it is a mistake to turn north at Peterborough; if you make an error somewhere round about the M25 and you find yourself at Tunbridge Wells, it is a mistake to press on to Brighton because you tried north once and it didn’t work.
All my life I have wanted the individual’s control of their own destiny to be defended against the power of large organisations – “overmighty barons” as the One Nation tradition describes them. In my youth the overmighty barons seemed to be the institutions of the state so I joined the Conservative Party. There was at the time a Conservative MP, Christopher Tugendhat, who warned that perhaps the multinationals were growing into overmighty barons. Today multinational corporations overwhelm small businesses with unfair competition rooted in tax avoidance, threaten professionals by asserting the pre-eminence of corporate ideology over the tradition of service, lobby to erode the hard won rights of consumers, communities and workers, and use their financial power to frighten regulatory agencies, even Governments. Christopher Tugendhat has been proved right. So today, for the same reasons as led me to join the Conservative Party in my youth, I must vote for Jeremy Corbyn to challenge the overmighty barons.
It is odd that my first two reasons for voting for the most left wing candidate in the Labour leadership election should be the same reasons that led me to join the Conservative Party in my youth. The realisation that this is the case led me to understand something about my country and something about myself. It led me to realise how far to the right my country has moved. It also led me to realise that an important part of my self-image has been wrong. Until I heard Jeremy Corbyn being interviewed on the Andrew Marr show, I thought that as I grew older I had moved steadily to the left, as experience led me to perceive more clearly the injustices of our society. In fact I haven’t moved to the left at all – the politics of my country has moved to the right and has passed me. The reason I perceive more clearly the injustices of our society is that there are more of them and they are more obvious.
This is my third reason for voting for Jeremy Corbyn. The three civilised traditions of British politics are One Nation, libertarian democratic socialism, and dissenting liberalism. They once dominated our politics, shaping each other in their contention. Today all three cower in a corner whilst the twin impostors of Thatcherism and Blairism dominate the stage. I want us to take our country back from the ideology that has stolen it from us
The Conservative Party that I joined in my youth believed in Keynesian economics. It saw the simple common sense of the Keynesian multiplier – that if you take somebody who would otherwise be poor and employ them on socially useful work then you gain the benefit of the work, you save on welfare benefits and you receive taxes. When they spend their wages they help create employment which also saves benefits and earns taxes. It is a simple common sense concept. I left the Conservative Party when it ceased to believe in it. When the Labour Party also ceased to believe in it, I wondered if my second party was being stolen from me as my first had been. Indeed I have a friend who left the Conservative Party because it had been stolen from her by Thatcher and joined the Labour Party, which she left when it was stolen from her by Blair, to join the Liberal Democrats. She died recently thinking her third party had been stolen from her by Nick Clegg and wondering where to go next. My fourth reason for voting for Jeremy Corbyn is that he is the only Keynesian in the race. I do not want my party to be led by somebody who does not believe in this concept. Nor do I want it to be led by somebody who does understand it but considers themselves too inarticulate to explain it to the people. That is my fourth reason for voting for Jeremy.
Liz Kendall says that we must appeal to the people of England. By that she means the particular part of the people of England who often vote Conservative because they distrust politics and ideology, who often form the majority in rural and suburban constituencies, and of whom it is often said, usually truthfully, that they have not spoken yet. They are a cultured, civilised, enterprising and stoical people. We do indeed need to appeal to them and to point out to them that the time has come when their stoicism is detracting from their other values. I was pleased to hear Jeremy Corbyn engage Liz Truss on agricultural policy on Any Questions and win the debate even though it fell in her ministerial brief. I was pleased to see him gain an opinion poll approval rating on managing railways, for railways are a key part of suburban life in the South. I was pleased to see his “Better Business” policy which pointed out how multinational capitalism saps enterprise and undermines small business. This is the real southern strategy. I believe that the “people of England” will react very well to a leader who speaks to them in a quiet voice, with sensible arguments, saying the things they have always wished they had the courage to believe. He may even help them understand that their distrust of politics and ideology requires them to throw off the alien ideology which has stolen our country from us these 30 years. That is my fifth reason for voting for Jeremy.
Once before a major political party in this country had a leadership candidate who was seen as a stalking horse, who gathered unexpected momentum which the grandees of the party were unable to stop, who was believed by those grandees to be unelectable and who went on to lead the party into a general election. The election was 1979. The party was the Conservative Party. The “unelectable” leader was Margaret Thatcher. But there is a difference this time. When Jeremy wins in 2020 it will not be a disaster for the country. It will erase a disaster.
That was the article as I first wrote it. But almost as soon as I had written it, I began to have doubts. Was this optimism conditioned more by my years in the Labour Party than by anything prior to that? Can it really be the case that the people coming to Jeremy’s meetings are not some rolling up of a left that we have failed to motivate (or even find) for years, but rather the “people of England”, or at least the early adopters amongst them?
So to check this out I sent this article to three friends of mine who remain members of the Conservative Party. I wasn’t expecting agreement with it – these are three people whose personal identity is deeply tied up with the Conservative Party. I would have counted as positive merely an acknowledgment of the legitimacy of the argument. One of them has not replied – presumably trying to think of a tactful way to enquire about my mental health. Another sent the kind of response that I had been intending to regard as positive – describing my argument as compelling but saying that she wasn’t sure she agreed with my final conclusion although she might be proved wrong. The third expressed full agreement with what I had said, urged me to publish the article, said that he hoped it had an effect and expressed deep concern at the state of the Conservative Party.
There have been other indications over the months following the election that Middle England may indeed be open to left wing ideas, if they are expressed quietly as common sense and common decency, and if they are counterposed to a resurgent right wing portrayed as an ideological attack on the values of the country. At the moment they are scattered – the people you find at Jeremy’s meetings that you didn’t expect (like the grocer in Cardiff or the three young women with upper class accents and expensive clothes talking about horses as they waited in the queue at the People’s Post meeting in Manchester), the expressions of sympathy from sources that you didn’t expect (like the fighter pilot who wrote that the freedom not to kneel before the Queen if you didn’t want to was one of the freedoms he had fought for), and the scattered opinion poll findings that suggest he is being taken seriously (most notably perhaps the 82% of Daily Telegraph readers who support the statement that he wouldn’t push the nuclear button).
Can we build on this to create a settled quiet determination amongst the people of Middle England to make Jeremy Prime Minister? Or will this stunning victory be snatched from him. The party and its supporters are quite capable of snatching defeat from the jaws of a world-changing victory. There are many on the left of the party determined to continue to use extreme and ideological language. There are many on the right of the party convinced that only selfishness motivates the British people and that any idealism must be attacked as ideological. We will have to recognise that we will be damaged by understandable but nonetheless problematical excesses of the anger of the people like the unacceptable abuse and threats through which Conservatives had to enter their party conference – if I had faced that experience at the time that I was thinking of defection it might just possibly have persuaded me to stay.
But if we can recognise that the opposition to our ideas from the people of Middle England has never been a political opposition, but rather a distrust of ideology and politics, and if we can appeal to their decency, we can yet establish that there is a future still for service, stewardship and social harmony, and that it never was the right wing idea that we so long allowed it to be portrayed as.
Entrepreneurs want to make money by making the world a better place – why should they not belong in that political force which wants to make the world a better place? Professionalism is rooted in service – why should professionals be expected to vote for a party of greed and selfishness? The village has cooperation and social harmony at its heart – surely we should want to protect villages where they exist and create them where they do not? Why do we concede this territory to a party dominated by those who despise its values?
by John Miller
October 11, 2015