This is our truth, tell us yours
Helen Lewis, who is a reliable barometer of the thoughts of the chatterati, has written in the New Statesman about the idea that there is space beyond Labour for a mass party.
As you might expect from a writer who epitomizes the decline of the New Statesman from thoughtful journal to tabloid rag, her analysis has all the depth of a puddle. However, there’s a bit of learning thatcan be done from her failings.
Lewis explores the failure of the NHS Party to capture the mainstream, but in the process exposes her lack of understanding of the difference between policies and principles. The NHS party fails precisely because it only has one policy, to protect the NHS, and no analysis or principles to explain how or why that should be a good thing.
The same problem dogs the Greens, that no matter how sympathetic you might feel towards their policies, they will not nail their colours to the mast and tell us if they are an individualist or collectivist party. It’s not a new issue – it dogged Plaid Cymru for decades after it’s formation as a right wing nationalist party, and even now, when it is led by Leanne Wood, it has a rump who are far to the right of its leadership.
So if there is to be a party to the left of Labour, it will need to be founded on principles, not policies. Every one of the current groupuscules to the left of the Labour struggles to articulate a shopping list of policies, when they should be formulating a statement of where they stand, and why. The issue is not the NHS, but the universal human right, that no-one should go without health care because they can’t afford it. The same logic applies to the welfare state in general; what matters is not the institutions, but the principle, that no-one should be in poverty while others have more than they need.
Despite what tabloid journalists think, people can engage with principles much more easily than they can with tabloidized headlines and shallow, spin doctored stories about Red Ed, or Cameron’s holidays.The great journalists of the New Statesman’s past were capable of writing about the present day in a way that linked back directly to principles, and capable, also, of debating those principles in a way that was more than just a shallow commentary on the momentary events that will be forgotten before the next edition is published.