Its never easy to admit that you've been outsmarted, but that is what has happened to the left in the last 30 years or so. We can always find good excuses because our political enemies on the right have more money and therefore much greater resources than we do, and they do own the media, and so have a collection of very powerful propaganda tools at their disposal, which they use to great effect.
But the right haven't won political arguments in Western democracies just because they have more resources, they've done it by being clever and exploiting a series of simple straightforward 'policy positions' which appear to be credible and are persuasive to voters - they have succeeded in large part by building a convincing narrative. The right may be wrong but alas they're not (all) stupid. They know that they need a 'straightforward' story to sell to voters and that is something they have done very successfully. Contrast that with the left's love of complexity.
We all know what that narrative is because we hear it every day. It goes something like this:
"Capitalism is the only way to build a prosperous society. It is dynamic and much more efficient than any alternatives. It thrives through the mechanism of competition. But we have economic problems because wealth creation is being held back by stifling bureaucracy and red tape. To solve our economic problems we need to free-up entrepreneurs by slashing red tape, increasing incentives by reducing the tax burden, having a smaller state and privatising public services. If we do that we'll all be better off. Some may gain more, but hey it's worth it because we'll all benefit."
Note that I have underlined the keywords or phrases in this narrative.
Now I know, and you know, that this recipe doesn't work, the global crisis shows that, and I could demonstrate it by dissecting any one of those key words. In fact I have done that in many posts on this blog, but that is not the point of this post. The point is that the right has a narrative that works, and that is what the left is lacking. Its high time the left created an alternative coherent narrative to challenge the neoliberal paradigm. We not only have to create that narrative but we have to tell it over and over and over again just as the right have done. And we have a great opportunity to do it at a time that people are disillusioned by the failures of neoliberalism and the economic crash.
So what would that narrative be? Well, we can get some of it simply providing the opposites to the right's 'keywords'. For example, take 'competition' which has long been a totem of the right. The left believes in 'cooperation' and it's hardly difficult to demonstrate that 'cooperation' is far more necessary and productive in our society than 'competition' - the benefits of which are, in reality, marginal anyway. Instead of 'tax burden' we should perhaps be talking about 'tax investment' and 'tax insurance'. Its essential for us to use our own keywords frequently and in opposition to the keywords of the right. The narrative is about establishing our values in opposition to the inferior values of the political right.
Its not for me to decide what the left's narrative should be but it might go something like this: "Capitalism is failing us economically, environmentally and socially. We can make Britain a more prosperous and equal society through co-operation and economic democracy. We need to build a green steady state economy to create worthwhile jobs and deal with damaging climate change, with a vibrant wealth creating public sector built on the values of public service not private profit, and an enabling state with tax insurance for social security." Just like our political opponents we need to put across our narrative at every opportunity, whilst exposing the hollowness of neoliberal ideas. This narrative has to have a broad appeal without compromising our core principles. If we aren't able to do this we are never going to take the majority of people with us.