At the very end of this BBC report on youth unemployment, we get this astonishing quote (the bold is mine):
Liam Byrne, the shadow work and pensions secretary, said David Cameron’s government had “comprehensively failed young people”.
“The Work Programme has missed every single one of its performance targets. The Youth Contract is on course to miss its targets by 92%.
“Ministers need to act now to introduce a Compulsory Jobs Guarantee to get any young person out of work for more than a year into a paying job – one they would be required to take.”
So let me get this straight. In a “free-market” capitalism, in a supposedly “liberal” democracy, people who’ve had no blame for their condition as long-term unemployed should be obliged to take on a job – with the only condition that it might be paid. And paid, minimally one assumes, by that very layer of society which has brought us close to the financial ruin currently afflicting us.
First, what a notable colleague of yours, Tom Watson, has just said in separately distinctive declarations:
The more important part is what Watson says about the economy:
“There was huge market failure in the finance and banking sector – everyone knows that – and we’ve not robustly said so. The truth is that in government we didn’t sufficiently map out the contours of the mixed economy and put stakes in the ground about where the market can’t go. We were frightened of dealing with some of those so-called great Thatcherite legacies, like liberalisation of the City, so we let the City grow out of control. And I don’t know why we don’t just say that. Why don’t we just say that?” Might it be to do with protecting Ed Balls’ reputation? “I don’t know,” he says, but doesn’t sound entirely convincing. “I didn’t do the economy, I was the coordinator.”
Watson fears Labour’s unwillingness to admit they let the financial markets get out of control has cost them their economic credibility. “If we don’t explain that properly, how can we argue that it’s the reason the crisis took place in 2008? Our problem is that, in the absence of that explanation, people blame the 2008 crash on our profligate spending.”
Once Labour has admitted the reason for the crash, it could then offer a “distinctive economic programme” of investment to create jobs. “It’s all about jobs. Not taking risks is not an option.” Does Labour’s current economic policy takes too few risks? “Yes, definitely. The country is in a crisis. If Labour’s not going to give the bold solution, then who is?”
So basically what we’re talking about here is a Labour Party which, at least according to Watson’s assessment, is still unable to see itself re-regulating anything at least a shade close to the real reasons for our socioeconomic misery.
Rewind time, I think. A Labour Party, then, unable to see itself re-regulating anything significant – except the labour market our dear Liam Byrne is responsible for shadowing; that labour market where jobs must be accepted by the youth of our nation on pain of state excommunication.
By a youth which has played absolutely no part in the economic trials and tribulations our financial-services whizz-kids have been allowed to impose on us.
Whatever happened to liberal democracy, Liam? Whatever happened to justifying capitalism’s imperfections through the imperfect but honourable effort of reasonably free men and women? Whatever happened to those reasonably free men and women being reasonably equal before the law of the land?
As I tweeted just now:
Why must voters submit themselves to Compulsory Jobs Guarantees, whilst politicos & biz leaders can move their money & influence whenever?
And as I concluded minutes later:
We’re no longer equals before the law because the law is twisted by those who would prefer to be more equal. Now, the law brays cruelly.
I would like to know, though, what happened to this grand idea of liberal democracy. You know, the free market of capital and labour, where people – at the very least – were able to aspire to ideals of choice and liberty.
If Labour wants to sort itself out in the real world, it has to learn how to be even-handed with everyone. To remind us how it was fashioned in an environment of justice for all. To make us recall its nicer side; its kinder side; its more efficient and simultaneously humane side.
Alternatively, if it wants to continue down Byrne’s nasty road of compulsion, it’s got a helluva lot of explaining to do in order to convince the rest of us why compulsion can only be used on the young. Why compulsion is fine on the poor, disadvantaged and sick – but not on the wealthy who’ve brought us to the edge of this incoherent abyss. Why compulsion is correct and sensible for those who suffer – but not for those who continue to privilege themselves infamously.
Because I tell you one thing: if capitalism no longer offers even minimally even-handed freedoms of liberal democracy as an upside, and not even our Labour Party is there to even-handedly defend them, there’s bloody little else convincing me to stay on the path of the figurative straight and narrow.