Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Popular Struggle and Doctrinal Battles

The TV news coverage of the Labour Party Conference has been so clumsily antagonistic that I momentarily wondered on Monday if it wasn't a plot by "sleeper pinkos" to force a reverse-ferret through the power of irony. It's more likely that 20 years of Blairite conditioning has left them incapable of asking probing questions of an interviewee who, for once, is willing to open-up rather than close-down a debate. For all their bleats about politicians' spin, the reality is that TV's political "heavyweights" are now far more comfortable with the cosmetic than the substantive, including the comedy turns of Michael Crick, showing how much the incestuous relations of the "caste" have coarsened democracy. Laura "sneer" Kuenssberg of the BBC asking John McDonnell why he isn't overthrowing capitalism might be dismissed as a lack of imagination, but Jon "skunk" Snow of Channel 4 demanding to know what he would do on "day one" (i.e. a Friday in late May 2020) is no more evidence of intelligent life than Martian brine-stains.

In contrast, it looks like the neoliberal fightback has begun in earnest in the print media, and this is nowhere more evident than in the New Statesman. Peter Kellner's warning that Corbyn's opponents (that's "modernisers" not Tories, obvs) are "running out of road" is the centrepiece. Having already produced some comical propaganda via his YouGov opinion-formation machine (I did a fisk here), he attempts to divorce the new party leader from the history of social democracy, continuing a theme launched last week by Martin Kettle in the Guardian. For Kellner, the "Corbyn insurgency" has "opened up a doctrinal chasm on the left" between those who think "the best way to build a good society is for workers and elected politicians, not company shareholders, to take the big decisions in the business world" and the vast bulk of Labour MPs who are pro-capitalism: "They like its dynamism. They regard it as the best way to invent, develop and supply most goods and services. They have no wish to replace it, even as a long-term objective". This "proper spheres of influence" cartoon (which has nothing to say about business people interfering in education or politics, natch) suggests that the neoliberal revanche currently lacks intellectual subtlety.

In amongst the tosh, including a lament that Clause IV was replaced with pabulum rather than a full-throated commitment to capitalism, Kellner makes the valuable point that Labour's original constitution advocated common ownership (a capacious term that covers everything from a workers' collective to the BBC), not nationalisation specifically. For him this is evidence of the pragmatic ambiguity of a Fabian-managed party that "owes more to Merthodism than Marxism" (as an aside, more party members will have read the Communist Manifesto than Wesley's Sermons, and the cultural impact of Catholicism has been just as great - the phrase survives because of alliteration, not insight). The Attlee administration is damned with faint praise (a Blairite trope): "True, his government nationalised the mines and the railways; but given how badly these had been run before the war, one could make a perfectly pragmatic, non-ideological case for taking them over". It seems to escape Kellner that Corbyn is making a similarly pragmatic case in respect of railways, energy companies and banks today. John McDonnell's insistence that Labour are not deficit-deniers, that they will pursue balanced budgets, and that "People's QE" is a tactic for abnormal times all point to the pragmatic basis of the emerging Corbyn programme, and thus its social democratic credentials.

This tour through Labour's history serves to tee up Kellner's central argument about the consequences of pragmatism and creative ambiguity: "Thinking with the wisdom of hindsight, we should not be surprised that the anti-capitalist left has revived. The hard truth is that it was never defeated because it was never properly engaged. It was simply thrust to the margins, where it bided its time ... Could things have worked out differently? Could Labour have done more than hold the left at bay: could it have won a head-on doctrinal battle?" (You'll notice that this "left" is, by definition, alien to Labour). It might appear odd that a man who earns a living by offering supposedly neutral and empirically-based opinion polling should be such a determined idealist, but this simply reveals the Manichean basis of much neoliberal thinking, particularly in its Blairite incarnation. While Corbyn preaches a plurality of opinion and respect for nonconformism, Kellner insists on the one true church, and a church militant at that (I could make some laboured jokes here about apostolic succession and the Inquisition, but I think you get the point).

To elaborate his thesis, Kellner turns to the history of the German SPD and specifically the pivot in 1959 towards support for the social market economy. For Kellner, this process was the continuation of an older project: "In a way, the SPD in the 1950s applied the tenets of the Enlightenment to itself. It approached its problems empirically. It pondered the evidence and concluded that Marxist socialism did not work, while properly regulated market capitalism did. Labour has never engaged in any such Enlightenment-style debate." Amusingly, Tuesday's Guardian carried a long piece by John Harris which indirectly confirmed that Marxism Today was the site of that debate, though it turned out to be an exchange in which neoliberalism successfully colonised and neutered a left that had become fascinated by the opportunities of post-Fordism and postmodernism (there was a Maoist masochism to the MT that led many of its leading lights to become state apparatchiks or propagandists in later life). The appeal to the Enlightenment serves to distract from the historic situation of the SPD during the Wirtschaftswunder years. The "pondering" of 1959 was not the result of some dispassionate search for knowledge but the need to adjust once the Marshall Plan and Allied political support for conservative politicians had neutralised the postwar economic critique of the SPD and embedded Ordoliberalism in German political culture.

The key passage on the economy that Kellner quotes from the SPD's Godesberg Program makes the Ordoliberal influence clear: "The autonomy of trade unions and employers' associations in collective bargaining is an important feature of a free society. Totalitarian control of the economy destroys freedom. The Social Democratic Party therefore favours a free market wherever free competition really exists. Where a market is dominated by individuals or groups, however, all manner of steps must be taken to protect freedom in the economic sphere. As much competition as possible – as much planning as necessary." The economic divergence of the two Germanys during the 50s, and the Federal Republic's integration into the nascent EEC, also undermined the policy of the SPD for reunification as a neutral state (the CDU/CSU were insistent on remaining in NATO, putting the kybosh on unification), which required it to flex its stance on international relations as much as on the economy. Oddly, Kellner passes up the opportunity to cast Ostpolitik, the policy championed by the later SPD administration under Willy Brandt of a rapprochement with the GDR combined with fealty to NATO and the EEC, as proto-triangulation.

Kellner is urging doctrinal struggle by the mass of MPs who "think Corbyn’s politics are bonkers", but ... "I fear that the quiet life will win the day, that Corbyn will become entrenched, and that a head-on doctrinal dispute will, as always, be avoided. For a century, fudging the issue has occasionally allowed Labour to build an election-winning, big-tent coalition of progressive voters. Today, that approach guarantees disaster. It will leave Corbyn free to promote his electorally toxic and economically destructive brand of left-wing politics. If that is what happens, Labour’s tent will become a lot smaller and the party will cease to be fit for purpose." The irony is that the Godesberg Program signalled the moment at which the SPD decided to turn away from doctrinal struggle and instead appeal to the electorate on an ethical basis, thereby cleaving to the more pragmatic tradition that Kellner bemoans in respect of Labour. The SPD also accepted the hegemony of Ordoliberalism, much as the self-aware Gramscians at Marxism Today ended up accepting neoliberalism's "liberation theology" as an antidote to the venom of Thatcherism.

In contrast to Kellner, Nick Pearce of the IPPR, writing about Labour's "valley of death", is intellectually honest enough to concede that Blairism is a busted flush, leaving the party "trapped between hollowed-out centrist technocracy and revanchist state socialism". However, he continues the project to put clear blue water between Corbyn and social democracy: "While his campaign tapped into discontent with the decrepit state of mainstream Labour politics, it did not give birth to a new social movement, rooted in popular struggle, like those that have sprung up in southern Europe. His improbable leadership of the Labour Party is another symptom of the crisis of social democracy, not the incubator of its future". In 2003 the "modernisers" ignored millions on the street; now they consider the absence of popular struggle as evidence of a lack of legitimacy. Hegemony is characterised not only by shameless contradiction (the emperor's new clothes) but by the sense of outrage when the impermissible (or "improbable") enters the public domain. This is emotionalism, not empiricism.

Unlike Kellner, Pearce is prepared to draw a line under the Blairite phase: "The last time the death notices of social democracy were written in the early 1990s, a wave of Third Way revisionism brought it back to life ... Today, it is clear that Third Way modernisation relied on historical circumstances that cannot be repeated now: principally a long wave of growth, in which a build-up of household debt and government transfers maintained living standards, despite rising asset inequality and the sundering of the link between productivity increases and wages". What he is less prepared to concede is that these economic trends, which were plain for all to see at the time, meant that Blairism was always doomed to fail once growth was interrupted and capital inequality had passed a point of no (easy) return. Far from being empirically-based or even ethically-grounded, Blairism was distinguished by nothing more than whistling to keep one's spirits up ("Things can only get better", indeed).

John Gray is not a neoliberal but a pessimistic conservative who considers Corbyn's optimism to be pernicious. As such he categorises it under "the delusions of progress" arsing from Enlightenment thinking, in pointed contrast to Kellner. What they (and Pearce) share is an expectation of catastrophe. Gray at least has some credentials in this department because he was one of those who spotted the direction of travel in the 80s and 90s (notably in False Dawn): "Looking back, it becomes clear that Corbyn is one of the by-products of a project of marketisation, begun in Britain by Thatcher and continued during the era of New Labour, which has been pursued in different forms in many countries. Corbyn is one of the unintended consequences of this project and its recurrent crises ... the social disruption that goes with the spread of the market has actually produced a plethora of illiberal and fundamentalist movements." Despite the Spenglerian hell-in-a-handcart vibe, Gray does have some sensible things to say and is a notably better reader of postwar German history than Kellner: "Ordoliberals have in common with neoliberals a commitment to placing economic policy beyond the reach of democratic politics ... The effect of imposing this German ideology on the eurozone has been to cede popular legitimacy to radical new movements".

But Gray's tendency to view the world through the grim prism of Schopenhauer means that his writings often spiral off into gloomy hyperbole: "The ruling ideology on the bien-pensant left was a version of what George Orwell in 1945 called catastrophic gradualism – the theory that nothing can be achieved in politics without bloodshed, tyranny, lies and injustice; the only way to a better future is by sacrificing the current generation of human beings. This was never the predominant view in the Labour Party, but for many years something like it permeated the left intelligentsia". From this Gray proceeds to accuse "sections of the left" of association with "groups that harbour active terrorists, homophobes and Holocaust deniers". From there it is a short walk to the conclusion that "For the first time in its history, a serious question must be asked as to whether Labour can be trusted to promote civilised values". And you thought Corbyn was just being criticised for not singing God Save the Queen. For the record, Nelson Mandela was an active terrorist, many current Tories are homophobes, and Corbyn is not a Holocaust denier.

To cap it all, "In its shift towards becoming an extra-parliamentary party, Labour may already have ceased to be a party of government. By electing Corbyn, Labour may have passed a point from which it will be unable to return". If an "extra-parliamentary" Labour party (the "social movement" that Nick Pearce claims does not exist) is now unelectable, does that mean the progressive cause in 2020 will be taken up by the reinvigorated Liberal Democrats or a post-referendum UKIP? Labour will still be the only realistic challenger to the Tories in 5 years time, and the party's chances of success will depend largely on Tory errors and the popular mood, rather than doctrinal matters, which is why Corbyn & co are emphasising dull reliability and common decency now. The modest reality of "new old Labour" was revealed by the makeup of its economic advisory committee. Accepting that this is perhaps as much gestural as practical, the names are hardly radical: Stiglitz, Piketty, Pettifor, Nesvetailova, Wren-Lewis, Mazzucato, Blanchflower. These are mainstream, Keynesian economists who only look unorthodox if you believe that "expansionary fiscal contraction" is common sense.

A paradox of media bias is that the near invisibility of Corbyn and McDonnell over the years means that the average voter is currently open-minded about them. The crude caricatures about wanting to abolish the army aren't meant to convince so much as fill a void. More sophisticated attacks will emerge, once developing policy can be spun as internally-divisive, irresponsible or an attack on our hallowed liberties. For the moment, the hysteria of the "quality press" reflects the lack of a substantive basis for a critique, obliging them to fall back on ad hominem attacks and lurid predictions of doctrinal terror. For all the efforts of Kettle, Kellner and Pearce, Corbyn and McDonnell are doing a better job of reclaiming social democracy than the Blairite remnants; and for all the media shouts of "chaos", they have done more to challenge popular perceptions about the Labour Party in two weeks than Ed Miliband managed over 5 years.


  1. Herbie Destroys the Environment30 September 2015 at 18:56

    I think Corbyn’s ascendancy to be leader of Labour can be attributed not only to the destructive nature of neo liberal policies promoted by New Labour and the Tories but also to a prolonged period of struggle after the imposition of austerity. We have had numerous TUC marches attracting hundreds of thousands; we have had local action groups protesting at hospital, school, and nursery closures, we have had numerous protests by tenants associations. (relevant also here is a study that shows that not only has wages as a % of GDP been declining during the neo liberal period but also that the bottom 60% of earners have been hardest hit, while the top 20% have seen their share rise!)

    It is interesting that the Blairites think Corbnyn’s as yet unveiled policies are destructive while ignoring totally how destructive their own policies have been! It seems they have already forgotten the great crash of 2007! What was that crash about? For me it was a crisis of neo liberalism, where society became an orgy of ripping off the masses. Lending to individuals exploded because they could charge individuals 19% interest for example, so everyone got in on that rip off orgy. New Labour was happy to only see the benefits of the great rip off and ignore its medium term consequences. Even when those consequences became apparent they had no other answer than neo liberal palliatives.

    The Blairites can’t see or hear all the economic alarm bells.

    The Blairites have also defined what destructive is. Massive increase in food banks, not destructive, huge asset bubbles, not destructive, private banks misusing (often illegally) a social fund, not destructive, massive wealth gaps, not destructive, house prices totally out of step with household income, not destructive. Affordable house building, destructive, tackling private landlords, destructive, reducing inequality, destructive, increasing wages as a % of GDP, destructive.

    Incidentally nationalisation of the railways had nothing to do with how badly they had been run, it was more of a structural question in that private ownership inevitably led to a lack of coordination in an industry where coordination was essential. This criticism of neo liberalism still holds today.

    An example would be the banking sector, possibly the crucial section of the economy. Did banks take a command and control view of what was good for the British economy or did they simply follow the short term bottom line? Their decision was just about greedy bankers but about structural imperatives. Never has nationalisation of the banks been a more relevant debate.

    Do the rich take a view of the impact of avoiding tax on the British economy, no they take the neo liberal, what is best for me approach.

    We need a communal spirit, we need a social outlook. We need a Corbyn victory.

    If we don’t get that the next financial crash will be the biggest yet, and the great rip off will come to end by spontaneous means.

    When the next crash hits it won’t just be the disabled who are crying.

    1. You're spot on about the railways. Not only did the market deliver a financial bubble in the mid-19th century and poor coordination thereafter, but during the era of fat profits it also produced over-capacity. Once profit margins declined in the face of competition from lorries in the 20th century, this could only be tackled through nationalisation.

      What people like Kellner cannot concede is that a market is merely a mechanism and that there are some areas of the economy where markets just don't work, whether because of natural monopolies or systemic vulnerability (e.g. banks). He is also unable to see that the vast majority of decisions taken in the business world are small, not big (this is an example of a vulgar neoliberal who doesn't even understand Hayek), and thus more amenable to the insight of workers than shareholders.

  2. Despite the differing hyperbole and intellectual pretensions of Kellner and Gray, they both share a preference for an SDP-style politics comprising a technocratic elite that will smooth out the worst excesses of capitalism. This is largely because they fear ideological 'zealots' and the 'ignorant' masses.

    Kellner's obsession with ideological coups and ruptures like the SPD's Bad Godesberg moment is largely due to the fact that they help to disguise the essentially tedious nature of the politics within. Any half-knowledgeable observer of German history will have realised that the SPD was effectively moderate and pragmatic throughout the Weimar Republic, and the ghosts of Luxemburg and Liebknecht will confirm how closely they held to their Marxist principles. As you point out, the Bad Godesberg exercise was essentially sending out a message that the party had adjusted to the geopolitical realities of the Cold War.

    I think I detected a shift in the BBC's coverage of Corbyn with his conference speech yesterday. They have realised that portraying him as a Stalinist anti-semite is increasingly unconvincing, so they have switched to the idea that Britain 'can't afford to be nice', a message they seemed to hammer home effectively in the 1980s after Kinnock had clamped down on the left and that became less of a issue. Kuuensburg is so bad that it almost makes me nostalgic for Nick Robinson.

    1. To give him his due, Gray is sceptical about the virtues of a technocratic elite, because he fears the progressive teleology bequeathed by the Englightenment leads inescapably to totalitarianism and ecocide. The problem is that his pessimism, which is influenced by Eastern philosophy (notably Taoism) as much as Schopenhauer, is ultimately a quietist cop-out.

      That said, I think you're right that he veers towards a mushy centrist politics in practice, but this is largely on the basis that it's an imperfect world and classical liberalism (as defined by Isaiah Berlin) is the least dangerous option because of its emphasis on plurality and unknowability. It is the world as seen from an Oxford quad. When it's raining.

      Kellner, on the other hand, is an intellectual poseur who recycles the opinions of others without fully understanding their implications, both in his polemical forays and the day job.

    2. I think with Gray it is probably technocracy in a pessimistic sense- not to bring about a new world but to try and fill in the cracks in the world we have. In days past he would have supported a paternalist aristocratic polity, but he is too realistic to hold to that view now. Then again, given that he despised Blair and New Labour back in the day and hates Corbyn now, it is hard to see which political group he would actually like to see in charge.

  3. Any chance of something on Footy or Arsenal.

    I don't see the collapse of neoliberalism or Compo and Clegg taking over the Labour Party having much effect on the premier league this season or probably next.

    1. The season's been somewhat confused to date (Manure are top, for heaven's sake), and there wasn't really much to chew over in the summer (big money, small names), so I was planning to wait until after this weekend when the international break provides a natural review point.

      I disagree that Labour Party politics are irrelevant. Corbyn is a Gooner and there's a chance that his promotion of domestic over foreign direct investment might just prompt Wenger to splash the cash in January. There's also the small matter of our policy on Europe: should we try and reform it from within by deliberately dropping into the Europa League this season?

    2. The way they're going in looks like a complete Arsxit.

  4. @Igor Interesting what you say about the BBC. Kuenssberg seems to be trying hard to become an Important Person, which mandates asking Important Questions, which are, of course, nothing like that. On the other hand, Evan Davis had a remarkably civilised discussion with McDonnell on Newsnight. It will be interesting to see which way this one swings.

    On another tack, does anybody have a take on Janan Ganesh and his "the Corbyn phenomenon is just comfortable middle class masturbation" piece?

    1. Ganesh is indulging in a classic conservative critique. Explicitly, it suggests that middle-class progressives are hijacking a working-class movement, and for a range of motives.

      Some will be accused of misguided sentimentality ("do-gooders"); others of being disingenuous and decadent, and thus toying with the lives of others ("dilletantes"); while yet others will be accused of venal ambition ("careerists"). The power of this argument is that there is some truth to it, though that in turn merely reflects human nature.

      Implicitly, the critique suggests that the lower orders are incapable of representing themselves, which leads to the vacuum being filled by middle-class agitators who are in turn traitors to their own class: either "self-hating" hypocrites or turncoats working for a foreign power.

      Ganesh deploys "decadent" in his first sentence and then goes on to talk of "a class of people who can afford to treat politics as a source of gaiety and affirmation". For him, the "Jeremaniacs" imputed claim to be "following in the lineage of the Jarrow marchers" reveals their "shimmering brass necks". He ends by noting of Corbyn that "capitalism is exactly what keeps him in business" - i.e. he is a class hypocrite.

      What this suggests is that the Tory critique has given up on the do-gooder vector for now and has moved onto the traitor angle. Re Trident, Cameron could have dismissed Corbyn's self-denying ordinance as evidence of naivety and unworldliness, but he chose instead to claim that Labour cannot be trusted with Britain's national security.

    2. For me the worst part is that the article displays a denial that the working class have any agency, but complains about the middle classes hijacking working class movements.

    3. Coincidentally, Suzanne Moore took a similar line: "The left often speaks on behalf of the average person, secure in the knowledge that it knows more and just is better than the average person. In fact, the average person, the workers, the proles, are often strangely disappointing and regarded as empty vessels that just need to be given guidance".
      Absent "proles", those are words that Michael Gove might have written for the Daily Mail (and probably has at some point). It is fascinating to see the uananimity of opinion forming across "the spectrum", even down to Moore getting all Leninist like a good little Blairite: "Authority and strength are necessary, or this is all an exercise in narcissism".

      One of the many ways in which Marxism Today (where Moore used to work) normalised neoliberal critiques of the left was in questioning the reality of false consciousness; dismissing it as middle-class patronisation of working-class people who were perfectly capable of making rational decisions to maximise their personal utility. The end result is to treat anyone who claims to speak for the working class, whether Corbyn or McCluskey, as illegitimate.

    4. Herbie Destroys the Environment1 October 2015 at 17:04

      It should be noted that Corbyn's supporters are mainly drawn from the besieged working classes and that the 3 stooges of neo liberalism (Burnham, Cooper and Kendall) drew their support from the Middle classes. See this article:

      Corbyn's support is a genuine reflection of the suffering that New Labour and Tory neo liberalism has imposed.

      It is a movement of the working class, which is why the comfortable middle classes hate it. They hate it because for them the idea of the working class having a voice is itself a lunatic idea (I always think of the scene in the carriage in Leone's Once upon a Revolution to understand the Middle Class mentality)

      This scene just after the carriage scene sums up Middle Class fear:

      And of course the comfortably off wonder what all the fuss is about with this austerity thing!

    5. Marxism Today's line about "middle-class patronisation of working-class people who were perfectly capable of making rational decisions to maximise their personal utility" has of course been taken on by the Spiked continuation RCP group that does such sterling work on behalf of the right. First time as tragedy, second as farce, etc.....

    6. Herbie Destroys the Environment1 October 2015 at 20:20

      I think an example of the Middle class (comfortably off) mentality was shown by Evan Davis in his pathetically patronising and laughable interview with McDonnell. He put it to McDonnell that cheap labour in China etc delivered lower priced goods for Western consumers. And of course there maybe some truth in this. But it showed what the comfortably off see as the role of the lower orders in the economy, i.e. to serve their consumer needs. Nothing more and nothing less.

      Of course Davis was under the assumption that the price we pay in the shops reflects the actual cost of production in China etc. It seemed to have slipped his mind that it isn't the Western consumer who wins out with cheap goods from China but the Middle men of retail capitalism! If the true price reflected anywhere near the true cost we would see 80% discounts! In fact when the economy went into crisis the retailers were offering half price sales and even then we were still being ripped off by the Middle men. So the true beneficiaries of cheap labour in China are low paying capitalists like the Waltons of Wal-Mart.

      It would be interesting if all product labels didn't just include where the product was made but how much it cost to make in production!

      But seen as we live in an economy where companies can opt out of providing nutrition details to their customers on food labels, even while diabetes explodes, then I guess that will never happen!

      And we haven't even mentioned the enormous cost to the environment not included in the cost, which again our economics expert Evan seemed not to be aware of.

      The comfortably off are comfortably dumb and they have the qualifications to prove it!

    7. The Moore piece is weird. Rather like many pieces from the media bubble who don't seem to get it, and end up projecting all kinds of prejudices.

      We have "Politics is confrontation" - as though Corbyn, who has spent a lifetime on marches, doesn't realise this. This is, after all, a man who "talks to terrorists".

      We have "Contradiction, complexity and nuance get ignored" - as though Corbyn has not been amenable in allowing discussion in the party, promoting heterodox viewpoints, and recognising that the world is not Manichean.

      The most interesting thing about the Corbyn phenomenon has been the confusion that it has sown, and the way that certain commentators have reacted to it.

    8. I think the only thing that the political media really knew about Corbyn was his record of defying Blair's whips, and they expected that he would either come out as leader like Arthur Scargill, denouncing anything and everything, or as a kind of eccentric, unworldly figure similar to the elderly Tony Benn. The real problem is that so many of them lack knowledge of working-class politics and left-wing ideology, and see those things only in terms of ridiculous stereotypes.

    9. @Igor. Nice spot about Spiked as well.


      "And of course the comfortably off wonder what all the fuss is about with this austerity thing!"

      I probably wouldn't put it so dramatically, but there's no doubt that austerity is an abstract concept to the commentariat, and their opposition to it is largely rhetorical.

      And interesting points about the Davis interview. My previous comment was about the conduct of the interview - there was no Today programme what-about-the-deficit harangue. He at least engaged McDonnell in a reasoned conversation.

    10. Herbie Kills Children2 October 2015 at 17:21

      "He at least engaged McDonnell in a reasoned conversation"

      I couldn't disagree more!

      Davis was basically ridiculing McDonnell but using a conversational style. The thing is that Davis made himself look like a man trapped in a neo liberal straight-jacket. Except McDonnell didn't challenge his bullshit in strong enough terms.

      He should have used Davis's claptrap to bring up the whole issue of retail capitalism, and argued the time for transforming the retail sector had come.

      The role of the retail sector should be fundamental to the debate that Corbyn wants to kick off, especially as much of the benefits of cheap production costs are accruing to them, while at the same time they are the main culprits in paying well below a living wage.

      With modern technology the state should be able to offer a world class retail service and use the profits to invest strategically for the benefit of the many and not the few, instead of the private monopolies misusing the money for short term self interest.

      And retail is particularly vulnerable because the argument about capital financing won't really wash, as the recent overseas expansion attempts of some of the big retailers reveal.

    11. Haven't the big beneficiaries been not so much retailing businesses, but more precisely the owners of retailing sites, as many retailing businesses have been driven into the ground as a result of having to rent their shops at extortionate rates (sometimes from corporate raiders who acquired the shops in leveraged buyouts, then spun off the operational side of the business so they could just collect the rent)?

      Perhaps the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act is the biggest factor in the UK's post-WWII economic underperformance? I'm surprised that UKIP (being more willing to challenge environmentalist nostrums than the other 3 big parties -- for example with energy issues) hasn't adopted an anti-Green Belt policy in an attempt to win over young people.

      Or is the UK simply too densely populated for a free-market capitalist approach to housing to have any credibility? It is notable that when I've mentioned this to actual UKIP supporters they seem to say "what's the point of building more houses when immigrants will buy them", as if the solution is less people rather than more houses. Strange for an anti-environmentalist party to turn Malthusian at this point!

    12. One of UKIPs main sources of support is among the NIMBYs who live in suburban areas and don't want new housing built near them. One of the problems with the current conception of Green Belts is that they bear little resemblance to environmentalist priorities and a lot more to inflating the prices of many suburban houses.

      That said, I hardly think that some sort of US-style 'exurbanisation' is likely to benefit the country. Ultimately a mixture of improved public transport and getting used to living in flats is going to have to play a more important part in urban policy. A few blocks of council housing within expensive private estates would be just the ticket.

    13. Does that mean that there is no viable constituency at all for more affordable urban land in the UK -- that it is (to paraphrase Mirabeau) not a country with a rentier elite but a rentier elite with a country?

      Even if the Town and Country Planning Act was repealed we would never have the grotesquely low-density sprawl common in many US cities: not just because of our higher petrol taxes, but also because extremely low-density US sprawl is usually not driven by the free market either but by mandatory minimum plot sizes imposed by municipalities keen to exclude the poor (a lot of this is driven by racism and by the US practice of funding education out of local property taxes). It is more likely that our residential density would be roughly 3000 people per square km -- similar to Los Angeles or to many mainland European cities.

      "Getting used to living in flats" is hardly going to help affordability -- Hong Kong is both the world's densest city and the world's most unaffordable city. In a city whose outward expansion is constrained, land becomes a speculative commodity and there will never be enough building "up" either unless there is government intervention against the speculators. Most of Manhattan's skyscraper construction happened before New York became an expensive city (because its outward expansion collided with NIMBY-infested rural municipalities).

    14. I'm not a believer in the inviolability of Green Belts and would be at ease with some of the more environmentally worthless Green Belt land being used for development. On the other hand, however, there are practical difficulties with the expense and time-consuming nature of travel from housing that is further from city centres and working districts, and the lack of facilities in some of these type of developments. Increasing densities in many existing suburbs and improved, subsidised public transport are essential, or alternatively you can look to a 'next generation' new town programme.

      The examples you have given are 'global cities', of which only London fits the description in this country. More 'normal' cities have much different pressures and constraints, and policies that deal with the status and development of London are effectively of national concern rather than merely urban issues.

    15. Do Green Belts actually reduce travel times though, given that higher-density development leads to more traffic congestion, and also given that many commuters end up leapfrogging the Green Belt because they were priced out of the city itself?

      Public transport works great for travelling to or from city centres, but is very inefficient for suburb-to-suburb journeys -- this is why the only people who use public transport a lot (except for those too young, old, poor or disabled to drive) are those who work in city centres -- only about 1/6 of the total working population. While subsidized public transport is certainly needed for those for whom driving isn't an option, it doesn't actually compete directly with car travel very much.

      I wonder if excessive land prices are also a factor in the deindustrialization of Britain? Perhaps London's overweening dominance is because London's main economic activities (finance and government bureaucracy) require very little space compared to the kind of productive industry that creates wealth instead of just acquiring it.

      The United States is full of easily affordable cities where the median house price is no more than 3 times the median annual salary, while the equivalent multiple is over 10 for London and over 5 even in many run-down northern cities! And isn't office space in Manhattan (among the most expensive in the United States) still cheaper than in the vast majority of British cities?

      If we really must have high-density cities based on public transport for environmental reasons, shouldn't we follow the Japanese model with tower blocks concentrated around train stations, with strictly limited rents, and owned either by the government or by the train companies?

  5. These people are idiots. They do not know what social democracy means.

    A mixed economy, strong unions, progressive taxation, regulation of capitalism to serve the public interest - who stands for that? Oh right, Jeremy Corbyn!

    Their version of "social democracy" is no more than liberalism (albeit a pretty authoritarian version thereof).