One of the most amazing things about the left is its ability to work against the interests of the people it claims to represent. Some of these are not without the best of intentions and are by no means confined to the left of the political spectrum.
For example, the minimum wage prices many employees out of the labour market, resulting in higher unemployment and the consequent heaping of further responsibility, often without financial recompense, on a smaller workforce. It essentially normalises, in a less acute form, the process businesses go through during recessions.
It is entirely possible, furthermore, that any positive effect is negated by a corresponding increase in the cost of goods and services. I’m by no means an economist but that seems to me one of the basic rules of inflation of any kind. We are seeing much the same process with university degrees – as we gallop ever further towards Tony Blair’s dream of 50% of young people entering university, the value of a degree to employers has steadily diminished.
This fault, however, is largely a result of miscalculation or, at worst, simply a failure to fully think through the consequences of what appears to be, on the surface, a perfectly rational, positive and productive policy. In a political context this is forgivable and, as mentioned earlier, it is by no means confined to the left – many ‘centrists’ and right-wingers defend the minimum wage and it had been well-established in the United States long before the idea caught on gained traction on these shores.
A less forgivable fault amongst the left, however, is its propensity to harm the interests of working people through wooly, abstract and ideological ideas. It has become fashionable in Labour circles lately to criticise the Conservatives for being rigidly ideological, particularly in its approach to the economy, which is about as ridiculous as Argentina calling Britain colonial while attempting to annex an island populated with Britons.
Conservatives of all stripes have always prided themselves on being pragmatists without ideology – the good of the country and its people, about as straight-forward as it gets – has been its primary goal throughout its history. It is for this reason you will never hear Conservatives oppose a tax cut for the poor on the basis that it would patronise and disenfranchise them, nor oppose the removal of child benefit and winter fuel allowance for millionaires on the basis that universal benefits knit society together and collectively insure ourselves as a community.
Imagine, if you will, a mass protest on the streets of London as the capital’s oppressed march on Trafalgar Square angrily waving banners and chanting ‘give our millionaires back their benefits – I’m feeling unravelled!’ Or perhaps an baying mob descending upon the Treasury armed with cheques for £10,000 worth of tax apiece to the chant of ‘NO REPRESENTATION WITHOUT TAXATION!’ The supreme irony, of course, is this clarion call – which is essentially what opposition to the £10,000 tax allowance amounts to – was coined by none other than comic ‘evil Tory’ Alan B’Stard.
Put simply, you would have to be a North London intellectual to even dream anything so absurd, let alone grotesque. I call it ‘head-up-your-arse syndrome’. This is the primary reason left-wing governments harm the interests of the low-paid and unemployed, locking them into cycles of dependency and poverty, and also the reason why, in Britain at least, they had been out of power for most of the twentieth century.
Margaret Thatcher won three consecutive general election, two of them landslides, because she understood what the man and woman on the street wanted. They wanted to keep more of their income, have greater choice in the services they used, have the security of a free and prosperous economy, an end to the disruption of endless strikes and to know their neighbourhoods as well as their shores were protected from aggression.
John Major, despite the resulting parliamentary arithmetic, won more votes than any prime minister in British history on much the same platform and New Labour’s first-ever three-term victory was in large part due to aping this programme. Politics is always and everywhere at its most successful when it taps into people’s basic and most deeply-felt desires: to be prosperous, to be independent, to be safe and to be free.
By contrast, any party which runs on a programme of abstract ideals and fantasies which equate to taxing the poor and paying millionaires is heading for a drubbing. This is why, despite their protestations of mass ‘false consciousness’, nobody but middle and upper class intellectuals will ever vote for the hard left and why The Guardian, despite its greatest hopes, will never be the voice of the people – and forever the klaxon of leafy, overeducated suburbia.