Friday, 21 August 2015

What is 'aspiration'?

Everybody has heard of 'aspiration'. Its the word on all our politician's lips. Every political party in the UK must appeal to 'aspirational voters' otherwise it is doomed to permanent opposition. That is a fact - isn't it? At least it is what we are frequently told. The problem is that we first need to understand what aspiration is before we can determine how important it is as a measure of how people intend to vote.

For the political class who have swallowed the idea that appealing to aspiration is essential to win elections, aspiration means 'getting on' - or that is how my parents generation would have described it. It means you want to earn more, live in a bigger house in a more desirable area, have more foreign holidays, and generally get richer, and richer. In a conference speech in 2012 David Cameron sought to present himself  as the leader of the 'aspiration nation'. Here is a quote from the Guardian:
"In a sometimes defensive speech to his party conference in Birmingham, he sought to fend off the image of his party as a defender of the rich, saying: "We are the party of the want to be better off," and insisting his goal was to spread, not defend, privilege." [my italics].
David Cameron - has the wrong values
But there is a problem with all his.  For a start how many people don't want to be better off? Not many by my reckoning, and that applies across the spectrum of people in society from rich to poor. So you could argue that saying you are the party of people who want to be better off is stating the bleeding obvious, or not saying anything much at all. But this is politics and of course there is an agenda here. People who 'want to be better off' are a particular group - they are in Tory terms the 'strivers' and, as we know, in Tory Britain, if you are not a 'striver', you must be a 'skiver'. 

So the word 'aspiration' has become particular neoliberal framing of those who 'aspire'. It divides the nation into those who are worth something and those who are worthless. The 'hardworking families' on the one hand and the 'benefit scroungers' on the other. And 'hardworking families' are those that the share Tory values of 'getting on' even if it means trampling on others to be 'better off'. The poor, the low paid and the unemployed, public sector workers - who are of course just a bunch of jobsworths - can be written off. 

A perfect example of an 'aspirational' person trampling on others to 'get on' would be someone who took up the right-to-buy their council house. They get a public asset at a knock-down price and by doing so they deny the right to live in that house to others who need social housing. They can then go on to sell the house at a handsome profit and when they do it will almost certainly be bought by a landlord who rents out the property at an exorbitant rent. And that is exactly what has happened with many thousands of council houses sold as a result of this Tory policy, and the outcome is a housing crisis. So much for the 'aspirations' of these Tory voters.

Aspiration means a lot more to me, and many others in the UK, than simply 'getting on' and personal gain, because my aspiration is to live in a better society, one which has genuine equality and one in which we don't live beyond our means environmentally. A society in which everyone has access to decent housing, meaningful and rewarding work, and is able to live in a wholesome environment. That kind of society will make everyone better off, and that's what aspiration ought to be about, something which reflects the right values rather than the narrow, materialistic and selfish values of David Cameron, the Tory Party - and Blairite Labour. Its not the kind of society that can be built by making a few more people 'better off' by policies like right-to-buy. What's more its the kind of society that lots of people would like to vote for if they were given the chance. 

We need to reject the neoliberal framing of 'aspiration' and replace it with one which reflects the values of social, economic, and environmental justice. And if you aspire to these values like I do, you can help to realise them by voting for the Labour Party. 

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Corbyn's policies are moderate, sensible and can win an election for Labour

Today at 3pm the chance to vote in the Labour leadership election closed. Ballot papers go out on Friday and then the result is announced on 12 September. According to YouGov and the bookies Jeremy Corbyn is the favourite to win, and if he does it will bring about a seismic shift to the left in British politics.

To be honest I've found the whole contest 'compulsive viewing'. From the very early stages when it became clear that Corbyn was beginning to gather support and the attacks on him started, I've followed every twist and turn. Except so far there haven't been any twists and turns - support for him started as a trickle, then became a torrent and now appears to be a flood which means the veteran left-winger may win the contest outright. 

The attacks on Corbyn, from within and without the Labour Party, have ranged from the vicious to the hilarious, and as support for Corbyn has grown so has the hysteria amongst the media and the establishment who sense they are in danger of losing control - so damned inconvenient democracy isn't it? We've had Tony Blair and his 'heart transplant' comment and Alastair Campbell with his plea for 'anyone but Corbyn' but the more Corbyn is attacked the stronger he appears to become - it is almost like science fiction.

The reason for Corbyn's strength and success isn't difficult to work out - although it hides the fact he has played a blinder - he remains calm, sticks to his beliefs, refuses to engage in slanging matches with opponents, sets out clear and popular policies, and because of this, in contrast to his lacklustre opponents, he comes across as completely authentic. And the 'opponents', tainted by their embrace of the neoliberalism of New Labour, have had nothing to say for themselves, preferring to attack him and parrot out tired and vacuous soundbites. No wonder they are losing and Corbyn is packing halls all over England and Wales.

Many of the policies Jeremy Corbyn has unveiled so far are remarkably similar to the anti-austerity pro-public services policies you will find in the Green Party manifesto. These include support for a publicly delivered NHS, nationalisation of the railways and quantitative easing (QE) for investment in jobs and housing. On the latter point there are differences but the fact that QE is being proposed at all by Corbyn is very significant. All of these are common sense responses to the economic crisis we are in which are popular with the public and which could win Labour the next election if they united behind them.
"Jeremy Corbyn No More War crop" by Garry Knight 
The real significance of the 'Corbyn effect' is that it scares the pants off the neoliberal establishment - they know that Corbyn could win, that his ideas are popular, and that they are a genuine backlash, and threat to the the cosy 'free' market, tax dodging, asset stripping, stitch-up that has been established in the UK over the past 30 years or so. Of course that anti-austerity backlash had to happen, and indeed has been happening for several years. The Green Party, which occupies the space vacated by Labour, and UKIP, which is largely a working class protest against austerity aimed at the wrong target (immigrants and the EU) together garnered 5 million or so votes at the last election. But how much more threatening if the Labour Party could turned against austerity?

At this point its worth quoting Owen Jones on Alastair Heath - the Deputy Editor of the Daily Telegraph:
"A Jeremy Corbyn victory would have a “disastrous effect”, he [Heath] warned, because it “would become acceptable again to call for nationalising vast swathes of industry, for massively hiking tax and for demonising business. The centre-ground would move inexorably towards a more statist position”."
Although there are significant differences between the Green Party and Labour, which mean that labour hasn't got the wherewithal to deal with climate change and move to the no growth economy that we all need, like my Green Party colleague Derek Wall, I would welcome a Corbyn victory. This is because, as Derek says, it would benefit the entire left not just Labour. Will Corbyn win? I'm not so sure. The knives will be out. He may well be defeated on second preferences. Yvette Cooper as the 'stop Corbyn' candidate may just edge him out, but whatever the result, the genie is out of the bottle, the Labour Party will have changed for the better, and anti-austerity will be firmly on the agenda in England and Wales.