Yesterday, I argued:
The Welfare State is the way to make our society less inhumane. It’s in our grasp – but it is a choice. We can spend considerable resource on allowing the fortunate to further concentrate their good fortune – or we can deliberately decide to give the less fortunate the consideration, charity and kindness most belief systems have tended to argue should be made forthcoming.
But what we have to accept is that, either way, it’s a choice. If we choose to fashion a world where we must walk on the other side of the road from that homeless man who dies at the doorstep of a bungalow, we can. We will do so, I am sure, in order that ambitious alpha men and women can – amongst the disasters they also commit – achieve what they undoubtedly do. And this is clearly an act of socioeconomic decision-making at the highest level, committed by coherent men and women. It is a freely-taken decision. It is an unforced decision to let some people live better at the expense of others. It is a statistical calculation of risks that approves of achievement at the very top, even as it judges society will not rise up in arms and disintegrate as a result of the anonymous homeless dying distastefully in the streets.
If, on the other hand, we opt to help such homeless people – if our goal is to create a socioeconomic environment where this kind of action is prioritised over other, more aggressively innovative, behaviours – we may create, again entirely consciously and deliberately, a society where survival is ameliorated for a far greater number of our souls here on earth, even as achievement measured objectively loses its bleeding edges.
I repeat these words today, because – on further consideration – I believe we on the Left must accept there are upsides on both sides of the argument.
Of course, the game all politicians end up playing is TINA. It makes the absurd seem acceptable. It makes the ridiculous seem reasonable. Occasionally, it voices a truth of sorts. But only very occasionally.
The truth in our days – so where does it lie? “Lie” as in “located” – or “lie” as in “untruth”? Sometimes, it’s difficult to tell which process takes precedence. If something is partially hidden from view, it may appear to be quite something else – without anyone actually saying it is. Politicians aren’t really professional communicators. More exactly, they are professional obfuscators. And what’s rankly unfair is when they say we have the politicians we deserve. We don’t. We – the ordinary people – have busy lives to live. We have relied on the supposed integrity of those who made it their (uncertificated and untitled) profession to run our stately affairs correctly. We were mistaken. We now pay the consequences for our mistakes. But we are not deserving – in any way – of such individuals. We are simply the very sorry victims.
There is no alternative? Don’t believe anyone who ever says this. There’s always an alternative – even as obfuscation and clever smoke-and-mirror tactics confuse the partially attendant voters. The alternative today is as it stands in my quoted paragraphs above. We can proceed with ever-greater concentrations of wealth, so that there are magnificent pockets of technological prowess in some lucky parts of the planet. Or we can take a different fork in the path, where technological prowess has its place but where – also – people’s finite natures, which is to say their existences as perishable goods, count for something significant when we prioritise our politics and our economies. It’s not even a fork in the path. It’s maybe just a deliberate slowing-down of pace. The path will be the same – it’s just the number of people you take with you that changes. And if we leave behind us the sick, disabled and elderly as flesh-and-blood flotsam to die in solitary pain? We will be no better than the ants.
Which is not to say being like the ants doesn’t have its upside.
This, this very point, is what the Left, what Labour in the UK, must begin to get its head round and accept. The Right are charging on with the corporate capitalist way – and we are reacting as if there is no need to choose at all. We can have full-throated corporates at the same time as a Welfare State. We can launch a rocket to Mars next year and save the young children living in mould-infested social housing. We can continue to devise evermore clever mobile phones and make the homeless a hot lunch for Christmas.
If truth be told, however, we cannot do it all. And we have to be honest with our voting public about this: we have to be honest if we want the circles to square. Under the Left, you won’t get everything which comes with massive concentrations of wealth. Consultative models of organisation cost more, take longer and need more training to put into practice. A top-down CEO-dominated hierarchy can (though not always) take key decisions remarkably quickly. And we on the Left have to be honest about the implications.
If you vote for the Right, those of you who are fortunate to benefit will get better phones, more brand-new gadgets, cooler cars and technological wonders which will serve to turn your heads. If you vote for the Right, you’ll get all this and more. Holidays will be wilder; sex will be safer; lives will be longer; music will be cheaper.
The downsides? The homeless will continue to die on the steps of bungalows. The mould will continue to contaminate the lungs of hundreds of thousands of children. Some people will suffer the consequences of entire lifetimes of poorly-paid work. Some people will never know a holiday.
But that’s the choice.
And if you vote for the Left? What will you get? I’m not entirely sure how to answer that one. I’m not entirely sure it’s been entirely tried. But where it was tried most notably – at least in England – was under Tony Blair’s New Labour. Yes. Top-down impatience ruined its trajectory. The Iraq War intervened and saved the Tories from imminent extinction. And we all know and remember how we felt about certain policies – especially as the implications and consequences of public-private partnerships, and, in general, New Labour’s pick-and-mix way of engineering ideology, have now led us logically to the summary privatisation of so many good and sensible British socialist institutions.
If you vote for the Left – a certain kind of Left (perhaps a Left which could learn from the errors Blair refused to cast aside) – you might not get an iPhone as snazzy as under the Right; you might not get a car as gloriously unsustainable as full-blown and unabashed corporate capitalism might aim to provide you with; you might not even get a lifestyle as chic and as generous as your supposedly libertarian ideals of hedonistic freedoms would lead you to expect.
But what you would get, at the very least, is a Left that tried to save the homeless; that aimed to free the enslaved; that fought to give finite lives the recompense almost all belief systems believe is their right; that, in essence, chose to take not that fork in the path they’re trying to frighten us away with but – rather – that kindness which gives the seat on the train of grace-saving thoughts to as many human beings as possible.
Before they die.
That’s the Left I’m looking at, from down here in the dirty dirty. That’s the Left I’m looking at, from a position of relative disadvantage. That’s the Left I’m looking at – when I’m looking at the Left I want to see.
The Left which honestly recognises the upsides and downsides on both sides of the argument – and, in doing so, is able to deliberately, openly, sincerely and directly put the choice to that public whose final say will always be sovereign.
No fork on the path of progress – not this time.
Just a humane gathering-together of those whom the Right has – equally artfully – chosen in its wisdom to discard.