Tuesday, 3 March 2015

It's the economy stupid

Economic performance makes or breaks a re-election campaign. In the absence of a scandal (and sometimes in spite of one) strong economic performance will guarantee a government’s re-election. The poor economic situation allowed Bill Clinton to beat incumbent George H. W. Bush in 1992, and then 4 years later the buoyant economic circumstances allowed Clinton to overcome the Monica Lewinski scandal to be re-elected. Economic performance allowed Blair to win three elections and Brown to win zero. Now with a general election almost upon us, the economy is centre stage again.

Economic "leadership" is seen as a winning trait in a perspective Prime minister and with inequality up, wages down, homes too expensive for most people to afford, trouble in the Euro-zone and another financial crash on the horizon there has never been more need for economic leadership.

However, economic leadership is not what we are being offered. Cameron offers more of the same from a future Tory government, more protection for big business, more cuts to public services, more blaming of the poor for all our economic problems. I doubt a future Tory government will raise wages, living standards or reduce inequality. This is mainly because they refuse to legislate to achieve these aims; Cameron prefers to ask business leaders nicely to do these things, so that they can easily ignore their social responsibilities.

Defining economic success is half of the election battle. Cameron would prefer it to be economic growth figures, as GDP is up and the economy is larger now than it was before the crash. Labour are viewed as weak on growth, mainly as a hangover from the 2010 general election, when Cameron was able to blame complex global macro-economic problems on the simple fact that Labour overspent. Labour would prefer economic success to be defined as growth in wages and living standards, which have remained flat since the Tories took office.

In terms of policy, Labour offer some economic leadership. Miliband's plan is to promote responsible capitalism, which is neo-liberalism with government intervention to prevent the worst inequalities and abuses. However, this is not leadership or putting forward an alternative to the dominant economic narrative of neo-liberalism. This is a slightly different variant on the narrative Thatcher established in the 1980s and has essentially remained unchallenged since.

Labour's plan is to exploit peoples’ fear. Fear that things will get worse, fear that wages will not rise, fear that ordinary people will not feel the recovery, fear that your children will be worse off than you are. This is a bad move as Labour achieved large landslides when they captured a spirit of optimism. This was the case in 1945 with the welfare state, in 1966 with the “white heat of technology” and in 1997 with New Labour. Appealing to our aspirations works better for Labour, not our fears.

Politicians from the main parties are appealing to our fears instead of our aspirations; this has led to voters being frightened about the future and unsure who offers hope. UKIP aims to exploit voters’ fear that immigration and the EU will drag our economy under, Lib Dems that the two main parties will unleash widespread suffering without them as a coalition partner, Greens that our economy will be wrecked by environmental disasters, the SNP that a collapsing English economy will sink Scotland as well.

If all economic indicators were improving then the government would be doing better in opinion polls. Let us not forgot that the Tories led us into a double-dip, almost triple-dip, recession. The economy is growing but people who are not already very wealthy are not feeling better off, this is a failure of economic policy.

If Labour were offering an alternative narrative then they would be doing better in the polls as well. By playing along to the Tory's narrative of austerity, instead of offering one of their own, they are playing a losing game. 2010 was not long ago and fighting the debates from that election again will not bring about a Labour victory. The lack of a counter narrative is playing into the hands of the Tories.

No one offers any vision or leadership on the economy, only fear. Economic fear has gripped us as a nation despite the return of growth. We are frightened about unemployment, uncertainty, anti-business agendas, rabid capitalism, wages, inflation, deflation, the cost of the NHS, the lack of an NHS, the cost of immigration, too many pensioners, house prices falling, houses being too expensive, anti-EU rhetoric, pro-EU rhetoric and our shadows.

The climate of fear and uncertainty that surrounds our economic future is a product of the lack of leadership from politicians on the economy. Politician of all stripes would rather let the market and unaccountable large companies control our economic future, and the result has been inequality, economic instability and a public who worries that control of the economy is out of their hands. This has led to a view that ordinary's people's concerns are not taken into account when economic decisions are made and now most people are frightened about their future.

In the 1970s economic uncertainty, fear about the future and belief that the economy was out of our control led to strong leadership from Margret Thatcher and a radical new vision for our economy. Now those views have been allowed to run to their logical conclusion and people are concerned about the state of the economy. Again we need bold leadership from politicians and a new economic narrative to change direction and regain people's faith in the economy and their own futures.

We need a new economic narrative to replace the neo-liberal mantra, which has led us to this place of fear and confusion. We need a narrative that makes us optimistic about our future and feel in control our own economic wellbeing, not at the whim of free-market forces or governments that looks after the financial futures of large companies instead of its own citizens.

The fact that both main parties have the same economic narrative is the reason for the political deadlock. As the economy is the most important issue to most voters, presenting a new popular economic narrative would be a huge vote winner for a party that did so. It was an adviser of Clinton's who coined the phrase "it's the economy, stupid" to describe how election campaigns turn on this issue. Both main parties should bear this in mind when they are considering repeating the tired economic clich├ęs voters are disillusioned with, or showing some leadership on this issue and presenting a new narrative.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

The case for voting Green

Earlier this week I posted the case, from a left-wing point of view, for voting Labour in this year’s general election. Until recently I only considered the possibility of voting Labour. I have been a Labour Party member for over ten years and have campaigned for them on two separate occasions. However I have been completely underwhelmed by Miliband's leadership despite voting for him to be party leader, because I believed he was the most left-wing candidate on the ballot.

It is not his lack of charisma or inability to eat a bacon sandwich which puts me off voting Labour. It’s the party’s complete failure at being actually left-wing. Despite the fact that the right-wing press will paint Miliband as a socialist, he still cannot find it in himself to put forward a genuine alternative to the Tories’ neo-liberalism and austerity. However, recently the Green Party has been doing a pretty good job of putting forward this alternative, and I am considering voting for them. So on that note:

The case for voting Green:

I am one of a growing number of people who believe we need radical change to our society to avoid sleepwalking into a resurgent class system and growing civil unrest. The wealth of the rich is exploding compared to the wealth of everyone else. Government austerity is eroding the welfare state and destroying the services the poorest rely on. The great social levellers - free universal healthcare, free education, a minimum standard of housing - are being removed. The poor are being blamed for being poor and the disabled are blamed for being disabled. Through private schools and unpaid internships, society is gamed for the children of the rich and, if this goes unchecked, we will return to a class based society where your prospects in life are determined by your birth. The left needs to send a powerful signal that we want to change society, and this signal is voting Green.

I support their policy on a minimum national income to fight poverty, as well as their energy and tuition fees polices. I also strongly support not renewing Trident. In terms of radical changes to our society, I believe the Greens are right to propose cutting back the army, partly to stop us getting involved in another disastrous war in the Middle East. Changing the focus in employment to work that matters/is of social benefit would not only be good for the environment, but would also help to end the money and status obsession which is slowing killing everything that is good about our society.

From a socialist point of view they plan to tax the rich and help the poor, which will lead to an end of the culture of blaming the poor for being poor and then punishing them with austerity. Speaking of which, the Greens are the only party with a clear opposition to neo-liberalism and austerity. These policies created our economic problems and then pushed the burden of solving them onto the poorest members of society. On top of all this, a vote for the Greens would be a push back against the dominant right-wing narratives on immigration and benefits.

The Greens are the only party I trust on the environment. Labour are too pragmatic to do something as idealistic as protecting the natural world. They are also the only party I trust to be sensible on crime and drugs. They are the only party I trust to look at the causes of crime and not simply rely on harsher sentences. The drugs reforms that the Greens suggest seem common sense to me, and are supported by the medical community - at least in terms of marijuana.

Every other party is so terrified of right-wing hysteria that they refuse even to concede the point. The continual cycle of successive governments burying their own drug reports which refuse to tow the right-wing line shows how reluctant they are to consider any form of liberalisation. Instead, the drug problem gets worse and the right-wing pundits blow more steam out of their ears and jump up and down on their hats whenever liberalisation is suggested.

The drugs issue shows how timid the mainstream parties are and how little changes regardless of which one is in power. It is this narrowing of debate which has contributed to the climate of cynicism that surrounds politics. By voting Green we can counter this cynicism with a real alternative to the big three - an alternative which is not UKIP, as UKIP is just more cynicism but of a different kind. Voting Green will show politicians that we do want something different from the narrow range of policies that are presented to us.

Do you think that a future Labour government will tax the rich and ban zero hour contracts? I do not think they will, but they might do in a coalition with the Greens, which is another great reason to vote for them.

The main reason not to vote Green is also one of the main reasons to vote Green, which is their energy policy. Their total opposition to nuclear power is unfounded. France is invested heavily in nuclear power and has one of the lowest levels of greenhouse gas emissions in Europe as well as some of the cheapest electricity. As much as I love wind farms, and hate how the landed Tories moan about them, the technology is not ready for Britain to become fully dependant upon them in the short term. Nuclear power must be used as in the medium term as we wean ourselves off non-renewables. A Green/Labour coalition would probably have the best combination of optimism and realism on energy policy.

There is also the Green's support for alternative medicine, which has no place within the NHS. However, aside from these few differences, I am struggling to find proposed Green Party policies that I disagree with. My only concern is that it is easy for a fridge party to promise a lot of radical policies, but with no experience of national government, I am worried about how much of this they will deliver. After being seduced by the Lib Dems in 2010, I am weary about a seemingly left-wing alternative that turns out to be a Tory footstool.

Despite this I strongly believe you should vote for the policies which best represent your vision of what you want the country to be. Worry about the bean counting and paperwork later. If were too preoccupied with these things then we would not have a welfare state - and it is this attitude which is partly responsible for the eroding of the welfare state.

I, like a lot of radical lefties, think that our society needs real change to advert economic and social disaster. Change which cannot be offered by the Labour Party. The only way send a signal to politicians that we want radical change to our society is to vote for the only party which is offering radical change, which is the Green Party.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

The case for voting Labour

The first wave of our general election coverage tackles the most fundamental election question: who should I vote for? It will be no surprise to our readers that voting Tory or UKIP is out of the question, and I feel so let down by the Lib Dems that they are no longer an option either. However, the growing Labour vs Green debate is very interesting so I thought I would start the coverage by evaluating these parties.

Full disclosure: I am a Labour Party member, generally vote Labour in most elections, and I have campaigned for Labour in the past. However, being on the left of the party, I am tempted to vote Green. One of my reasons for writing these posts is to figure out for myself how I want to vote in May. So without further ado:

The case for voting Labour:

Under Miliband, Labour has been more radical than it has been in a long time. Some the policies of market intervention he is putting forward would have been unthinkable under Blair or Brown. There’s lots of genuinely left-wing policies to like in Labour's current offering and I feel we should encourage the Labour Party while it is being radical by voting for it. If we do not, and Labour is defeated, then we will get ‘Blue Labour’ and more towing the centralist line on spending, on immigration, on welfare. If Labour puts forward left-wing policies and lefties do not vote for them then we can hardly complain when Labour does not put forward left wing policies in the future.

Miliband may lack charisma but he does have a vision for what Britain should be like, backed up by theory and experience of government. He believes that now is a time for political change, when the status quo can alter, as in 1945 or 1979. His ideas of responsible capitalism, and government intervention in the market to prevent the worst inequalities and protect the poorest people, would have been considered dangerously radical under Blair.

In terms of policies I support there is the reintroduction of the 50p income tax bracket, a mansion tax with the funding to support the NHS, the roll-back of NHS privatization and protecting our EU membership. On top of that there is a mooted young peoples’ manifesto, to encourage young, disenfranchised voters to participate in politics as well as a possible University tuition fee reduction and ending charity status for private schools.

Above all, there is the NHS. Labour will protect the NHS and prevent another top down reorganisation. Labour will also protect the NHS from alternative medicine, which is supported by the Green party. On the economy, a Labour government will protect economic growth, rising living standards and move some wealth from the top of society to the bottom.

Labour is proposing to cut £7bn from the budget, which is something I am opposed to. However it would be simplistic to say this policy is no different from the Tories who plan to cut 4 times this figure. Under Labour the government can continue to function, under the Tories it will be changed forever. It is also worth pointing out that Labour will protect local council budgets which the Tories will decimate if re-elected.

The Labour party is different to all the other political parties in that since it began it has always been a confederation of different groups and different options. The Labour party is best adapted to accommodating the differences on the left and balance the competing demands of environmentalists, socialists, trade unionists and liberals. There are a lot of key debates about what the left should look like in the 21st Century and it is best that these debates take place within the Labour party and not between different parties. Partly because the Labour party is best set up to balance these different views within one cohesive movement, but also so as not to split the left wing vote, which is what the Tories want. I am very concerned about the future if too many lefties vote Bennett and get Cameron, or worse get Farage.

The case against voting for the Labour Party is that they are so rubbish at being left wing in practice. Their leadership lack any passion for left-wing views or values. The idea that the Labour Party should be calling out businesses which run zero hour contracts or politicians endlessly blaming the poor for our economic problems is completely alien to the party's leadership. They seem to be terrified of being accused of being of actually left-wing.

The sad thing is that the right-wing press will accuse Miliband of being a dangerous Communist no matter what he does, so why does he not take this opportunity to he even a little bit socialist? The Labour Party is always bowing to the right's advances on immigration, on benefits, on the EU, and never takes the initiative. The more they do this the more they let the right define these issues and thus take the electoral advantage.

The Labour Party has failed to set out an alternative to austerity and Neo-liberalism. Their case for voting for them is that they will do the same as the Tories but be a little nicer and little bit less harsh on the poor. The subtext of this is that a Labour government will still be nasty and still push most of the burden of society's problems onto the poor. The alternative would be to put out a real ideological alternative to austerity and neo-liberalism and, as the Labour Party has ceded any debate on these issues to the right, this will not happen. I agree with the political ideology of Miliband, but it is the beginning of an alternative to the neo-liberal hegemony and not an alternative in itself. The Labour Party is going in the right direction but has not gone far enough.

The main point against voting Labour is that they are completely uninspiring. They are not offering alternative views on the current debates and are still wrestling with the Tories over a political centre of dullards and bean counters. This will not inspire popular support and contributes to the climate of cynicism and apathy that dominates the electorate.

If we are going to get more of the same from the next government then I would prefer it to be Labour's slightly nicer and slightly more equal more of the same. However I want a real alternative to the political narrative laid out by the right. More of the same will not end this culture of political cynicism, only a real alternative to the status quo will do. A radical shake up will come at some point, I just hope it is from within the Labour party.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

General Election Coverage

It is that time again, a general election. A time when the parties throw mud at each other, try to influence the debates onto subjects they poll better on and generally bicker while trying to look majestic, dynamic or forward thinking. It is one of those times when we all end up thinking: "Wouldn't it be easier if we all lived in a Soviet style one-party system?" No? Well maybe that is just me.

In truth, I love a general election, it is a time to debate our future and review our past. A time to think about the kind of society we want to live in and what we want to escape from.

This general election promises to be more interesting than any since 1992 because the outcome is so uncertain. Labour/Lib Dem coalition, Tory/Lib Dem, Labour/SNP, Labour/SNP/Green (hopefully), Tory/UKIP (heaven forbid), any of these outcomes is possible. The polls are close and both major parties are struggling to get thirty-five percent. Smaller parties are surging and being talked about in a way they have never been before - i.e. not as a wasted vote. By mid-May, the make up and priorities of the government could be radically different from what it is now. It is all very exciting.

In the run up to the election, we will be providing our own unique coverage. It will be similar to what you have read before, fiercely left-wing, but entirely focused on the election. Polls, leader debates, manifestos, we will be covering it. Watch here for future developments. It promises to be interesting.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

The nuclear option: no one wants Fukushima in their back yard

Energy policy, like many other political issues, divides the left. Some left-wingers are pro-nuclear energy and point to countries like France which produces three quarters of its energy from nuclear power. It is a convincing argument as France has one of lowest greenhouse gas emissions in Europe and the lowest energy prices. Opponents to nuclear energy point out that uranium is still a finite resource, like coal. They also point towards nuclear power’s history of catastrophes from Chernobyl to Three Mile Island.

Most political parties agree that there are problems with the energy policy of the past. Coal, oil and gas are rising in price about as fast as our collective understanding of the damage they do to the environment. Oil and gas also increase our reliance on countries we would rather not be dependent upon. When choosing supplies, we have the politically unstable and violent Middle East or the stable and violent Russian Federation. Politicians of every banner can see the value in disengaging from both of these oil and gas rich regions.

We all agree there is a problem, but disagree on the solution. The current Tory government is enamoured with fracking, which is hardly a solution at all as it is still non-renewable energy, environmentally damaging and likely to produce earthquakes – although these are physical earthquakes unlike the political ones going on in the Middle East. The main reason for the Tories support of fracking is so that David Cameron can be pictured in a hard hat in front of a giant machine and appearing to be accomplishing something tangible for once. It also a cynical attempt to recapture the idea that the Tories are the party of the entrepreneur, an opinion which a decade of New Labour followed by a Tory government made up of, and run for, the benefit of the landed gentry has eroded. Personally, I do not see how fracking would help with this. Giant energy companies have little to do with aspirational working class people who want to improve their social and economic standing through setting up a business.

What giant energy companies certainly are not is socialist. They are the antithesis of everything Marxists of today and yesterday believe in. The Tory commitment to them is a continuation of the policy of doing nothing and hoping that the free market can sort this problem out. While the Tory government is waiting for Ayn Rand to solve problems of energy policy, the water levels are rising in poor countries. But we cannot seriously expect Tories to worry about that.

Meanwhile the left is failing to provide any seriously leadership on this issue due to the above mentioned divisions. The Green movement, which is against nuclear power and prefers a 100% renewable approach, point to countries like Germany which are migrating away from nuclear in favour of renewable energy. They also point to recent news that wind generated more electricity than nuclear power on the 21st of October (however the circumstances of this were dubious if you read into it in more detail)

As noble as this goal of renewable energy is, most people agree that this is a long term goal and something else would be needed to fill the gap while technology catches up to our ambitions. The same can be said of nuclear fusion power, or deep vent geothermal power, which have been perpetually ten years away since the 1970s.

The Greens are currently experiencing their own internal division between the ‘dark green’, ‘light green’ and ‘bright green’ environmentalists. The first of these has more in common with the socialists the Labour party are doing their best to ignore in that they believe that climate change is a consequence of our capitalist system and materialist culture. The light greens are apolitical or anti-political, and believe that changing our behaviour is the solution. Their plan is that we can save the world one community recycling centre at a time. Finally the bright green environmentalists rely on technological change to stop the rising tides; it this ideology which sits most comfortably with capitalism and was endorsed by a younger, more optimistic David Cameron before he was fully claimed by regressive little England Toryism.

Like the rest of the left I am divided on this issue myself. As much as I might agree with the dark green environmentalists that capitalism is the problem, I have no desire to live in a yurt in the New Forest. My socialism has as much to do with the liberating power of technology as it does with putting oil executives in the stocks. Harold Wilson’s “white heat of technology” will have a role to play in the saving of humanity, even if it is partly responsible for this mess in the first place. As for light green environmentalism, I am suspicious of anyone who believes that the problems of the world can be solved by a very insistent leafleting campaign and a few more allotments. The bright green environmentalists do offer the attractive prospect of believing the problem is completely out of my hands, but between my emotional mistrust of capitalism and the fact that most of the technology the bright greens rely on is still a few years away means I cannot endorse this ideology.

It is hard to know what you believe when no view occupies the moral high ground or is overwhelmingly popular. This is one of those tricky situations where it is necessary to have an opinion and back it up with evidence.

The current vogue for localism has some baring on this debate. The light greens may believe that the best way to tackle environmental issues is at the local level, this is not the case for power generation. This is one policy area that needs to be dealt with by central government - just like the creation of the national grid itself back in the 1920s. Any energy solution should be planned for long term benefit, which means we need a central government solution to this problem.

It may not be inspirational or transformative, but I find myself coming back to the advantages of nuclear power and France’s low carbon footprint and cheap energy. It is one of those unusual solutions which would benefit the poor and private businesses. Investment in nuclear will also create jobs, well-paying secure jobs, something which there is a definite shortage of. Wind and tide certainly have its place in this mix, so will our existing coal, gas and oil infrastructure as it is phased out. This would move us away from fossil fuels and our reliance on the Middle East and Russia.

However it does leave the tricky issues of where do we build these nuclear power stations. No one wants Fukushima going on in their back yard. No one wants a fracking induced earthquake in their backyard either, which will happen if we do not adopt what I am hesitant to call “the nuclear option”. This problem goes beyond keeping the lights on now - demand for electricity will increase if we are to wean ourselves off fossil fuels. If electric cars take off then we will need to rapidly increase our electricity production capacity as well.

The left need to get behind government backed nuclear power. The Tory’s free market solution may not solve the problem in time. If I was trapped in a room with rising water, I would find little comfort in the fact that I had created a powerful economic incentive to be saved. The Green movement has the right intentions but their sweeping changes to human nature or technological revolution may not arrive in time. For now, nuclear is our best choice for a divided left, hopefully this is something we can agree on.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Greens, UKIP and the politics of anti-politics

I have said it before and I will most likely say it again, politicians are at an all-time popularity low. People are cynical about all politicians but this cynicism is mainly directed at the three largest parties. UKIP has managed to gain prominence by riding a wave of anti-politics. Their pitch is that if you do not like the three dominant parties then vote UKIP. Strangely enough, as this anti-political feeling is present on both the left and the right, why isn’t there a left wing party taking advantage of this?

The Greens would be the obvious candidate, they have an MP and have been around longer but why are they not using anti-politics to attract disillusioned voters? Disillusion with Labour, Lib Dems and Tories then vote Green? Why is no one saying this? Why is their approach too polite, “excuse me, have you thought about voting Green? Oh no you haven’t. Well I want bother you anymore then”. It could reinvigorate the left and take some of the momentum out of UKIP. 

The Green Party are reluctant to aim UKIP-style vitriol at the current political establishment. This is partly because it could come across as hypocritical. The Green Party, being a middle class Guardian reading movement, is part of the establishment. UKIP, being mainly made up of rich white men, is also part of the establishment but pointing this out has not lessened their appeal. It is because of this that I feel that the Green Party’s concerns that this could backfire are misplaced.

The larger problem with tactics of the Green Party is that they are not acknowledging that the people who want to vote UKIP have valid complaints. It is easy to dismiss those who plan to vote UKIP as racists, Europhobes or just plain stupid. However, it cannot be overstated how angry the average voter is at the main three parties. People are tired of being angry at politicians and are tired of this anger being ignored and now they are going to send a message that cannot be ignored by voting UKIP.

It is hard to tell where this disillusionment with mainstream politics has come from. Was it Nick Clegg selling out on everything he promised? The expenses scandal? Tony Blair? Both parties moving towards the centre? Constant media scrutiny meaning only the blandest politicians can survive? The rising number of politicians from privileged backgrounds? The rising number of politicians who have never worked outside politics? It is difficult to say, all these factors and more have contributed to voter disillusionment. What is clear is that there is not an easy fix. The Green Party could build a campaign which focuses on giving people hope that a vote can change things for the better but that seems like a lot of hard work so the Green Party is not bothering.

There is a belief on the left that sunlight and scrutiny will destroy UKIP, that exposing their racist behaviour, their expense claiming and their cronyism will cause voters to turn against them. This has not happened because most voters do not care that UKIP are crooks. They see all politicians as crooks and UKIP as the only ones who are honest about it. The truth about UKIP will not encourage angry voters to go back to the establishment parties if the root cause of their voting UKIP has not been tackled.

The Green party’s reluctance to use anti-politics is partly because they want to appeal to voters for different reasons than “tired of all the above, then vote for us”. They do not want to take advantage of voters being angry about the political establishment, they want to take advantage of voters being angry about the environment.

It would be short sighted to take advantage of the current high popularity of anti-politics if your party is based around a specific idea (i.e. environmentalism) which could be popular in the future. Certainly with the global environmental outlook worsening, popular support could naturally swing towards the Green Party. However until there is a ground swell of support for environmental policies the Greens are currently missing out on the anti-politics bandwagon.

There are several valid reasons why the Green Party would not want to behave like UKIP and exploit the politics of anti-politics but, the biggest mistake the Green Party (and the left as a whole) is making is not acknowledge that people who vote UKIP have a valid grievance. Anti-politics maybe the flavour of the month but voter is disillusionment is a big problem which threatens our democracy.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

The left is dead and capitalism is broken

The Left is dead and the Right has won. It is easy to think this when we see the extent to which private companies have penetrated every aspect of our existence. People self-identify based on which brand of mobile phone they buy and queue for hours in sales. It’s easy to think of capitalism as a thriving ecosystem of consumer choice. Gone are the days when, under Mao, the Chinese government (allegedly) created one billion identical pairs of pajamas for the entire population. What we own has never been so varied, so well made and so cheap to purchase.

The problem is not all is well in the land of the free market, despite the rosy picture painted by rising GDP figures. Capitalism has stopped functioning as it was supposed to. Rather than being a model to deliver as much choice to as many consumers at the lowest price, it has become a means by which wealth is transferred to those who already have a lot of it. What we now have is not an economic system which encourages small business and innovation, but instead the buying up of as many assets as possible by a few oligarchs.  Ordinary people are not seeing the benefits of hard work. The rich are just seeing the benefits of being rich.

A generation or two ago, in the post-war boom, it was eminently possible for working-class people to attain middle-class, home-owning prosperity as a result of working hard. Many thousands did. For young people today, social mobility is a cruel myth.

Now, your ultimate status is more likely to be determined by how wealthy your parents were. Everything from the school you will attend or how healthy a child you will be will is simply a matter of money now as the safety net of the welfare state is gradually dismantled. If you’re from a privileged background, you’ll get an easy pass into top flight universities, and then your parents can bankroll increasingly important unpaid internships before you can start earning for yourself. Even after that, they will have to keep supplementing your rent due to how low wages are and if you live in London they will need to buy you a house if there is to be any chance of you owning your own property. If your parents cannot afford any of this, you are doomed to life of uncertainty and low paid jobs. If they can, then you will become rich and you will be in a position to help your own children get a head start in life. If this process continues after a few generations we will not have a class divide but the economic equivalent of Apartheid.

All of this is a result of our obsession with using the free market to make the allocation of resources more efficient. Sometimes with good intensions - and sometimes with a pernicious hatred of the poor or anything that is free - governments have let the ideology of neoliberal capitalism invade social systems which are supposed to prevent excessive wealth transfer to the few. The belief that we will all be better off with more capitalism has simply moved wealth up the social pyramid into the hands of the rich where it stays.

This should worry those of us on the left. Tony Benn warned about the dangers of unelected power and no one is less accountable than the global uber-wealthy. However this should also worry the Right, as we now have a crisis in capitalism. In the 1980s the Conservatives were the party of the small business owner, the entrepreneur, the working class person who wanted to increase their economic standing. Now they are the party of the billionaire, the vested interest and the wealthy, elderly English country gentleman – or at least that is how it is perceived. People no longer see capitalism as game that rewards hard work and clever thinking but as a competition that is fixed from the beginning.

At the top of the pyramid will be the children of billionaires who will never have to work for a penny. They will enjoy a life beyond anything we can imagine while the rest of us work harder to attain the most basic comforts. It hardly seems fair that some people can have so much through so little work under an economic system which is supposed to reward hard work. This is what capitalism has become.  Meanwhile the environment suffers, equality suffers, social harmony suffers but no one is stirred into action to address the source of this problem.

The crisis in capitalism affects us all (I am assuming no oligarchs are reading this) and addressing this problem should be the centre of our politics. The fix to our broken capitalism is to dial it back. The answer is not a soviet-style centralised economy, but a balanced economy where some goods are allocated by the free market and some are evenly distributed. The basic starting position for the capitalist competition needs to be made fairer. This means an equal distribution of food, clothing and quality school places for children. It means controls on housing, healthcare and University places so that no-one is given an unfair advantage over anyone else. The place for the free market should be for non-essential consumer luxuries which allow us to express our individualism and avoid the grim uniformity of Maoism.

The fix to broken capitalism is to stop holding the free market on high as a perfectly functioning economic model that will always deliver the best outcome; the only other people who believed so strongly in the infallibility of their economics were the Soviets, and it led to their ruin. It begins with simple things like not encouraging unnecessarily competitive behavior in children, and listening to legitimate criticism of where capitalism does not work. It also means not appropriating the starkest warnings against the dangers of unbridled capitalism as arguments in favor of the free market – as Boris Johnson did.

Capitalism has dented the Left by invading every area of life. However, acknowledging that capitalism is broken and striving to correct this will breathe new life into the Left. It hasn’t won – in many ways it isn’t even working. Just as the crisis of capitalism is the root cause of society’s problems, it should be the basis for our politics too.