Monday 11 May 2015

What's hapened to altruism?

The first phase of the Labour party's inquest on their election defeat  has unearthed the view that their campaign concentrated too much on those at the bottom of the pile - the unemployed, social security recipients, those on zero-hours contracts - and neglected to appeal to  "middle England" - the aspirational middle classes.  In the words of Chuka Umunna, already the bookies' 2 to1 favourite in the race for the Labour leadership:

"Our vision as a party must start with the aspirations of voters: to get on and up in the world, to see their children and grandchildren do better than they did, to get that better job, to move from renting to owning, to take the family on holiday, to move from that flat to a house with a garden."*

Well, apart from he mention of holidays that vision of society doesn't do much to inspire me, and the emphasis on going "up in the world" and "children and grandchildren [doing] better than they did" envisages a hierarchical society which has little to do with socialism and is the very antithesis of liberalism.

Surely the comfortable middle classes, of which I am one, are not totally devoid of altruism, decency, "doing unto others as you would they would do unto you"  (however you like to put it).   I want to live in a society which cares for those who, for one reason or another (and often through no fault of their own, as with the disabled) need help.

Or, as the preamble to the Liberal Democrat constitution puts it, a society: "in which no one is enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity."

For what it's worth, here or my views on the reasons for the failure of the Labour campaign:

  • they failed criminally even to try to defend their record of reasonable economic competence in government, allowing the Tories to get away with placing the cause of the world economic crash on Labour, whilst making a risible claim to their own economic competence:
  • they were unable either  in opposition or the campaign to challenge effectively most of the errors of the Tories because Labour itself had introduced the neo-liberal and authoritarian policies against which they should have been campaigning (privatisation of the NHS, PFIs, 42 days detention  without charge etc. - see previous post).  New Labour was and is a hindrance to a truly progressive society, not a pattern to be followed.
A fundamental problem is that both Tories and Labour are parties whose philosophy and existence are based on the economic relationship: they will act primarily in the interests of capital and the comfortable (the Tories) or in the interests of those whom the economic system,  given the chance,  will exploit.  Given this dichotomy on interests, neither of these two parties can create a society in which  we are genuinely "all in it together."

When I began the formal study of politics way back in the 1950s my first lecturer, a Mr Chekanovski (I may have spelt that wrongly) actually included "the British  sense of fair play" as one of the unwritten aspects of our constitution.  I doubt if anyone would make that claim today.

What Britain lacks is a party that can combine competence with fairness.  That is the gap which, out of our own introspections, the Liberal Democrats must try to fill.

* quoted from today's Guardian

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