The private school and Cambridge-educated son of a peer has told Cambridge students that Labour is “in the shit” and that it is up to them—“the top 1%”—to take the mantle of leadership. How very egalitarian: this is exactly the kind of elitist born-to-rule stuff for which I rejoined the Labour Party.
Tristram Hunt—for it is he—claimed that Labour is becoming a sect because of “algorithmic politics” where “everyone shares the same views as you on social media.” Somewhat confusingly, however, he had previously said at Sheffield University (lowering himself to speak to the less-than-top 1%) that we must “move closer to the public” on a number of issues. Who would, presumably, then share the same views on social media. One wonders whether the necessary condition of popular opinion being sectarian is whether or not Hunt agrees with it. Hunt seems to object to consensus within the party, whilst avidly endorsing that the party abandon all principle to align itself with the wider public consensus.
Hunt has, in this, perfectly expressed what has bedevilled British politics since Tony Blair, and the reasons why I actually did rejoin Labour. He seems to feel that the job of a political party is to get its candidates elected, no matter what. That the primary purpose of standing for election is to gain power, and that the best way to achieve this is to “centralise” and to adjust most of one’s policies to fit current public opinion, whatever that may be. To me this is a ludicrous travesty of modern liberal democracy, which is (or should be) grounded in the discursive arena of civil society, and in which the job of the political party is primarily to represent the views of its members and to attempt, through discussion and persuasion, to convince the electorate to endorse them. To abjure that responsibility is to turn politics into nothing more than a beauty contest, with competing, unprincipled parties engaging in a cheap and unedifying race for votes.
If anything is algorithmic, it is the vision of policy-making as a brute mathematical function, taking inputs of public opinion, and generating an output of highest electability.
I rejoined Labour not because I agree with everything Jeremy Corbyn says or stands for, but because he, at last, was a leader who seemed to grasp this. I last voted Labour in 1997 and, since then, a whole generation have grown up who have never heard a mainstream politician articulate anything close to the social democratic—dare I even say socialist—principles which I support. Those of my generation who nominally support this position, yet insist that the Labour Party must be run by centralising ideology-free vote-whores such as Hunt, and believe that somehow, once the party has gained power by promoting these ciphers, they will suddenly turn socially responsible are fooling themselves.
An argument has to be won: the argument that there is an alternative route to prosperity and general well-being than that of laissez-faire, trickle-down, corporation-led, light-regulation monetarism. That argument won’t be won if it is not made, and it will not be made if the Hunts of this world have their way and keep Labour as a Tory Lite popularity-grasping machine. I believe that Corbyn has won that argument within the Labour Party—within their membership, who he recognises it is his primary responsibility to represent, though not the parliamentary party, who feel it is his primary responsibility to ensure they get re-elected. It is now time for the Labour Party to take that argument to the wider public and born-to-rule, top one-percenters who object to the consequent endangerment of their presumed privilege are welcome, as far as I am concerned, to jump ship to the other side, where I am sure they will feel quite at home.