What does a ‘left wing’ agenda look like?

The criticisms of UK social policy I have just reviewed raise further questions about the way we identify political issues.  It’s remarkable that while problems of hereditary privilege and persistent social exclusion have been nodded to by a Conservative Prime Minister, the political ‘left wing’ does not seem to see problems of poverty, inequality and public action as major issues.   An article in the Independent last month identified public support for eight “left wing” policies proposed by supporters of Jeremy Corbyn:

  • Rent controls
  • Increased taxation of very high earners
  • Renationalising the railways
  • The minimum wage
  • Banning nuclear weapons
  • Cutting tuition fees for students
  • Opposing the Iraq War
  • Not bombing Syria

It’s possible to read bits of this as opposing the free-market principles of the political right, but it’s a long way from a radical agenda.  There is nothing intrinsically left wing about pacifism or environmentalism; people can and do hold positions which support privilege or condemn the poor at the same time as they argue for military restraint.  While I have plenty of reservations about Britain’s recent military adventures, I’m deeply unimpressed by Momentum’s attempt to use Corbyn’s record on the Iraq War as a touchstone of his socialist principles.  (I seem to remember that the principal political opposition at the time came from the Liberal Democrats.)

Socialism used to be thought of as standing for liberty, equality and collective action.  Whatever happened to them?  There may be a few issues knocking about that might reasonably be thought to have some claim for consideration by a supposedly left-wing party:

  • rights in insecure employment
  • security out of work (most obviously threatened by ‘conditionality’ and sanctions)
  • access to urgent health care
  • affordable and decent housing
  • child care
  • places in schools where people live
  • the rights of the dispossessed
  • promoting public employment, and
  • collective action to deal with public squalor.

It’s been noteworthy, and disappointing, that neither of the principal candidates for leadership of the Labour Party has shown much inclination to engage with that agenda.


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