Tuesday, 14 August 2012

The Left must create an alternative political narrative

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.


eartheart said...

I very much agree with you - it is largely about narrative, a vision and saying it. I've been a Green party member since 1987 and am most disappointed that the right have managed to outsmart us. Thatcher and Reagan's rhetoric was clearly powerful and appealed to the short term and those who saw a need met then- get a little rich quick, cash in your building society shares and get a payout - sod the inevitable banking collapse later, buy your house now, sod the utter turmoil in the social and private housing situation to come, use as many resources as possible now and sod the rest of bio-diversity and future generations, go all out for growth to create jobs and sod terms and conditions for employees and the externalities of that, go for free trade and IMF and WTO and scrap protection regardless of the future state of our industrial base and sovereignty. I think the future generations argument does at least extend the time frame we think in.

Sadly the left have largely been pathetic as well - the unions have totally failed to argue a broad range of concerns about environment, military investment, housing quality, or co-operative structures. Labour were pretty dire in imposing stifling bureaucracy and deregulating the market an setting the bank of England free to set monetary policy. To a large degree the left have held back any real radical change - as we see now they are far more interested in just about making life difficult enough to get Labour elected in 2015 but in the process of doing that stop any real movements for progressive public movements now or radically changing the narrative to a people and planet or Commons one.

I agree with the narrative you use in your blog - we need to see the icon of the Earth photo from the Moon as our guide and inspiration in an internationalist approach rather than getting caught in a diminishing localism argument. (not that re-locating bio-regional economies is not a vital ingredient of relational, ecological future). We do have to continue to say that the Economy is a sub-set of the Earth and that a co-operative world makes for more diversity and security

I am a big Monetary Reform fan, I think this is the single key issue we must take on board. At present, with the whole money system run as a banking profit making commodity system rather than as supporting a simple means of exchange, tax rises and service cuts are only ever going to be the way forward as the overall debt burden rises. With the current crazy system of money loaned into existence there is the inevitable necessity for more growth to pay back the interest to feed the wealthy lenders with the inevitable consequence of debts mounting for nearly every other person, council, businesses, government etc as the money transfers to the lenders and owners. We do have a serious simple fundamental problem that we as Greens don't talk about here - it is no wonder people do not believe in any government when they see this ever increasing set of tax takes particularly when, as you say tax, is also seen as only a cost n and not a service.
I hope that at the tenth attempt the monetary reform motion gets passed at conference this year - however just to complicate things again the motion that we have proposed (sustainable economics group) we called Banking reform. Another motion that is called Monetary reform has been proposed that while it might appear good to the left in that it keeps bank public actually does not change anything about the way money is created by banks as a commodity within the constant boom and bust cycle. It is most frustrating to me that year on year at conference that most on the left and now young greens vote down this simple way to bring an economy and society back to common sense. The idea of growth in future always obscures the need to redistribute the pie now. it is like chickens voting for Christmas. Until we address this issue we will always being labouring to fit the rest of our policies into the present system - something that often bizarrely even seems to be beyond Marxists

Peter Allen said...

Lets try turning this into an A5 leaflet !

Howard Thorp said...

Hi I agree that banking reform is essential and we need to bring the creation of money under democratic control. Its hard to explain the importance of that to people because the whole system of money creation is opaque.