The below article by Denis MacShane MP appeared in the Tribune on November 2, 2012.
Denis MacShane finds fresh inspiration for progressive ideas in some unlikely corners
The Labour and left-wing circuit of speakers is fairly limited. The ever-young Polly Toynbee and Will Hutton are still around, with a little help from the more youthful Owen Jones and Penny Lane. Our professors know how to write a mean monograph but none knows how to make a case that draws audiences and attention to progressive causes. The modern left has plenty of values it wants to promote but no valued speakers and writers who know how to make a radical case with verve and impact.
Might the left look right to grandees and guardians of classic Toryism to find effective critics of this government of, by and for the rich that David Cameron and Nick Clegg incarnate? More and more books are written by the right – but to make the left case. Two new books join Ferdinand Mount’s The New Few as a demolition of the greedonomics promoted by our ruling elites. Mount is a scion of Margaret Thatcher-era Toryism now disgusted at the ever-widening inequalities of the modern era. He would have made a bigger and more dramatic speaker at the Labour Party conference in Manchester than the worthy American Professor Michael Sandel who has put into English Lionel Jospin’s 15-year-old aphorism, “Yes to the market economy: No to the market society.”
Alex Brummer, author of Britain for Sale: British Companies in Foreign Hands, the Hidden Threat to the Economy (Random House, £12.99), writes for the Daily Mail, the odiously divisive, offshore-owned, right-wing daily newspaper. The Mail specialises in destroying families and individuals with sensationalist and intrusive stories. It is clear that Lord Justice Leveson puts the Mail(s) in the same category as The Sun and News of the World.
The Mail group is owned by a man who notoriously pays no taxes in Britain. Yet Brummer now breaks faith with the canons of contemporary capitalism by saying that the relentless sale of British capitalism’s assets to overseas owners is very dangerous for our economy. He lists the firms and the sectors – Boots, Body Shop, Harrods, Harvey Nicks, Fortnum & Mason, ICI, electricity, water, airports and seaports, steel, cars, chocolate – that have passed into foreign ownership.
Brummer also breaks faith with the relentless Europhobia of his paper and says a German-style public interest criterion should be applied to foreign takeovers. Surely we should begin with our national media and insist that the newspapers that shape our national life are owned by people who live – and pay taxes – in Britain?
Robert Skidelsky, author with his son Edward of How Much is Enough: The Love of Money and the Case for the Good Life (Allen Lane, £20), is our greatest living Keynesian. He drifted rightwards in the 1980s at the sheer horror of Labour’s descent into mindless petty nationalism, support for sectional syndicalism, and the policies that produced the suicide note manifesto of 1983. Now he is closer to Ed Miliband’s modernised “One Nation” Labour Party than the Keynesphobes in the coalition. Their key message is: “Our way of life feeds insatiability and insatiability feeds our way of life” and is part of the modish anti-growth chatter which demands we save the planet by turning off central heating, wearing two sweaters, and exchanging the car for a bike, and the plane for a train. So much easier to indulge in if poverty is something you write about, rather than live.
They advocate more taxes on consumption and less on income. Good news for Primark and McDonalds but bad news for Jimmy Choo and Gordon Ramsay. Their heroine is Sarah Palin whose state government in Alaska enacted a basic income which saw the biggest levelling out of income inequalities in the history of the United States. Ah, equality. The old bugbear of progressive politics.
It cannot be delivered by the state via benefits. It cannot be delivered by trade unions unless they merge their forces and accept centralised wage bargaining to achieve effective “pre-distribution” as in Sweden. So who or what produces more equality? Any Tribune reader can propose some measures to take us there as do Skidelsky père et fils. But how to get the voters to elect a government and support effective social justice policies is the question. It is the biggest and best question in politics today – and worth thinking about and organising hard to find an answer.
As we organise our conferences, seminars and round tables on what is to be done we could, perhaps, learn as much if not more from writers on the right such as Ferdinand Mount, Alex Rummer, and Lord Skidelsky, as the more predictable members of The Guardian and New Statesman stables.
Denis MacShane is Labour MP for Rotherham