Stumbling and Mumbling

Author: chris dillow   |   Latest post: Wed, 25 Apr 2018, 02:19 PM


The centrist crisis

Author:   |    Publish date:   |  >> Read article in Blog website

Alex Massie wonders when the Corbyn bubble will burst. Phil gives us a reason why it might not do so soon - because Labour's right "have no ideas, no clue, and no plan to respond to the situation we find ourselves in." Granted, many of us have under-estimated Corbyn, but this shouldn't detract from the fact that his popularity within the party owes a lot to the lack of alternatives - to the fact that centrism is in crisis.

This crisis has a material base. Centrists can't adequately answer Janet Jackson's question: what have you done for me lately? Ten years of falling real wages and productivity tell us that centrist policies and institutions have failed.

The fact is that centrist policies (of all parties) are now largely out-of-date. Trying to placate bond markets made sense when real yields were 4%, but isn't so important now they are minus 1%. Work was a route out of poverty when jobs were well-paid, rents were reasonable and in-work benefits decent - but this is less the case now. And "education, education, education" isn't so effective a strategy now that, as Sarah O'Connor says, "people do not feel middle-class any more" because younger, educated people lack "homes, security, prospects" (and, I'd add, job satisfaction and professional autonomy.)

What's more, the longstanding blindspot of centrists is now an insuperable handicap. I mean, of course, their failure to appreciate the importance of inequalities of power.

In the 90s, New Labour focused upon income inequality between the 90th and 10th percentiles. Today, though, the inequality that matters most is that between the 1% or even 0.1% and the rest of us. Parasitic managerialism caused the financial crisis, greatly contributed to the productivity slowdown and is now wreaking damage to universities. New Labour's fetishizing of "leadership" and targets helped to legitimate this.

As we saw in yesterday's Taylor review, centrists have no answer to this problem. (In fact, they don't even see the problem). Taylor's polite request to bosses to play nicely ignores what Ben calls "the extreme asymmetry of power between the worker and employer in the typical UK workplace." What centrists are missing is that elites have too much power and too little competence*.

I'm not sure that Corbynism is an adequate answer to this. But Corbynites at least see that there's an issue here. Until centrists catch up, they'll deserve to remain a marginal force both politically and intellectually.

* In this context, Lord Adonis's complaint that tuition fees have boosted Vice-Chancellors' pay more than teaching quality and Dominic Cummings' view that Brexit might turn out to be a mistake are similar examples of centrists' failures - an inability to see that if you entrust money and power to elites, they will be misused.

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