The Left’s Elusive Message: Old hats are still old, the Anglo-American case (part II)

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  • 12 September 2017

The phrase ‘old hat’, as one would expect, means something that is tediously familiar or outdated. Yet, walking through Shoreditch or Brooklyn, old hats seem stylish. What the owners of such hats probably aren’t willing to admit is that they paid around five times what the original owner did. This could be a metaphor for the political climate in the US and UK today.

Last week I wrote about who the left in British and American politics isn’t talking to. Short answer, white people, long answer, the majority of their constituents. This week it’s worth looking closer at what they are and aren’t saying. Now, I’m not suggesting that neither country caters to white people enough. However, the Brexiteers pulled off a neat trick and so did Trump. They made white people feel like a minority and not included. As such, the Democrats and Remain side couldn’t get their message through. Even Theresa May learned the horrible lesson of not having a message. ‘At least we’re not crazy terrorist sympathisers’ didn’t work.

What are the Democrats besides the ‘party of not Trump’? Labour are anti any Tory policy, but what are they for? The Liberal Democrats and Greens have a similar problem, too. Nobody knows what the Liberal Democrats’are apart from ‘not Brexit’. Asides from saying nothing about themselves to voters, it does quell their biggest fears and concerns.

The fact is, attacking Trump and May is much easier than actually taking a position. Ask the Republicans how after eight years of opposing everything Obama did is going now they have the majority of political legislatures across America. Labour in the past three weeks alone has made three changes to its Brexit stance. The Democrats before the summer launched their new economic programme ‘A Better Deal’, only to come back from vacation and strike a deal with Trump. Besides, ‘A Better Deal’ does little else but reaffirms the party’s traditional positions.

I ended last week’s piece by saying that renationalisation isn’t a kitchen table issue, nor will it help anyone buy a house or put them into higher paying more meaningful employment. Labour moving to the left isn’t a bad thing, but old solutions in modern times don’t usually work. Listening works, and coming up with left leaning solutions to people’s concerns does. This is, after all, what the infamous Beveridge Report and New Deal were; modern (quasi-socialist) solutions to fundamental problems experienced by the majority.

A modern equivalent is needed, but resurrecting old ideas is a mistake because the problems of my grandparents are not those of this generation. On that note, when it comes to politics the younger generation is far too preoccupied with social issues and micro aggressions to do anything about their own economic inferiority and exploitation. That has to change and be addressed in the progressive message.

In the UK, there have been stories of nurses going to food banks[1] and families with two parents staying on welfare because finding a brings in less money. Meanwhile CEO pay is up 50% since 2008. Across the pond it’s arguably worse: one in four Americans make less than $10 an hour, about half don’t earn enough to make basic ends meet, meanwhile college tuition debt is in the trillions and 42% of Americans in their 20s still live at home with their parents. Certain restaurants and shops are struggling because wages in real terms have gone down, and Deliveroo, eBay, and Amazon have a solid ally in lazy people. Lower end supermarkets like Aldi, Walmart and Lidl are doing much better because people have less money to spend on their weekly shop.

The left were once the parties who rescued people from a hole and gave them a safety net. Nowadays the progressive left has gone from the parties who protect people to the parties who protect feelings. Something that is extremely off putting for swing voters.

The reason Democrats’ focus on the ‘middle class’ instead of the ‘working class’ is not just because it’s shrinking, it’s the forgotten American Dream. Working hard to get to the top of society, not an apartment block at age 30. The Brits too dream of buying a house, moving to the suburbs, building a conservatory and having their friends over for BBQs. You can’t do that in a London box room at age 28.

Labour and the Democrats need a platform aimed at lifting people out of a hole and into the middle class. In the modern era, the route there is no longer so straight forward; a university degree no longer guarantees decent paying employment, and many trades are set to disappear with technological advances. Lifting the public sector pay cap or raising the minimum wage is necessary and a nice gesture. Butthis is more of a cushion than a safety net.

The ‘little guy’ in Appalachia, the North Dakota farmer and fruit machine blokes in little England need to hear that maybe their lives don’t have to suck, nor should they worry so much about what tomorrow will bring. ‘A Better Deal’ from the Democrats and Old Labour’s[2] resurrection doesn’t give people this impression. Old Hats look nice, but there are reasons we don’t wear them anymore.

[1] Food banks are a place where stocks of food, typically basic provisions and non-perishable items, are supplied free of charge to people in need in the UK.

[2] ‘Old Labour’ refers to the Labour Party before Tony Blair became its leader in 1994. In 1995, he ditched the ‘Clause 4’ which committed Labour to traditional socialism through the ‘common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange’.

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