Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Empty Centrism in Britain

Jack Shenker is irritated by the surge of new "centrist" political movements and proposals in Britain, where the elite is baffled by the parallel rise of the socialist left and the anti-immigrant right:
Take United for Change, a centrist political vehicle founded by the multimillionaire entrepreneur and former Labour donor Simon Franks. The nascent party is on a mission to “break the Westminster mould.” To this end, Mr. Franks has secured private investment of £50 million ($64 million) reportedly and put Mr. Blair’s son on its board of directors. The form this mold-breaking might take remains hazy: A brief (and now deleted) section on the party’s website setting out its political views included a promise to “address all the big questions which politicians have swept under the carpet for too long.” What those questions are or how they might be answered are concerns that can seemingly wait for another day. All that matters now is the noise and the lights, the razzmatazz that announces “I am here” and need say nothing more, because the assumption is that you want to be here too.

United for Change is entering a crowded marketplace. Since the Brexit referendum, we’ve seen the emergence of a host of abstract nouns masquerading as political parties: Radicals UK (floated by a journalist at The Economist), Democrats (the brainchild of James Chapman, a former adviser to the Tory chancellor George Osborne), Advance and Renew. There’s nary a fleshed-out policy platform to be found among them, just a deep and abiding ahistoricism with nothing to say about how yesterday’s Third Way ideology, which reduced politics to a mere epiphenomenon of market forces, might have contributed to today’s disarray.
Shenker thinks the real root of all the dissatisfaction is increasing inequality and the stagnation of wages for the masses, and I suspect he is right.

In the U.S. we have Trump, who has the style of a rebel but no ideas to speak of other than to reduce immigration by any means available and insult as many foreigners as possible. And we have a host of young leftists who call themselves "socialists" but seem not to know what that means; they hate the intense inequality of the current system but don't seem to have any interest in actual socialism, things like the government owning the banks or the factories. National health care is about the only big idea they embrace, and while that might be great it won't solve our more basic problems.

So far as I can tell, the great rise in inequality is the product of this phase of global capitalism, an ethos of intense individualism, and a vast determination by conservative forces to fight high taxes. I support many measures that are supposed to decrease inequality, like raising the minimum wage and improving health care for the poor, but I doubt that even taken altogether they would really reshape the current economic and social climate. To do that would require tax increases on a scale that I doubt any western state can pass.

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