James Purnell ties himself in a knot….

How many times do we hear the proclamation that the ‘old left’ is dead and a ‘new left is needed? If we had a pound for every time, as the saying goes, we would all be rich indeed. James Purnell prides himself as a pioneer of a ‘new left’ but he does so without really understanding the old. In the latest issue of Prospect (which, sadly, you have to pay for) he makes some shocking howlers.

He claims the ‘victory of social democracy’ is so complete that:

“the right accepts the role of government in protecting people, the debate now is about how best to do that”.

Have we warped to an alternate dimension where this government, with its viscous attack on precisely that isn’t happening? Indeed, is Purnell’s memory so short that has forgotten his own time spent chipping away at the very foundations of the welfare state? This shows how out of touch with reality Purnell is as does this gem:

“the recent credit crunch was not a crisis of capitalism; it was a crisis of western financial markets. Capitalism is doing perfectly fine in China, India, Brazil and Germany”.

So, now we are expected to believe that western financial markets are not capitalistic. Such mistaken perspectives lead you to conclsions that are mere words and contradictory ones at that. Purnell thinks that:

“The left needs to find a way to be in favour of markets, while recognising the pain and fear they can create”.

So, comrades we all up for signing up in favour of things that cause by their own proponents admission ‘pain and fear’? It’s like motherhood and apple pie in reverse. Purnell seems to want a nationalistic solution at times (which is very old school comrade) because he complains about “global capitalism” trampling over the hopes and dreams of people. Hang-on. Step-back. Wasn’t capitalism in other parts of the globe a jolly good thing a moment ago? Now its a big bad monster trampling on peoples hopes and dreams.

Purnell may however be onto something when he blames the financial crisis on a lack of democracy. However, he sees ‘lack of democracy’ in such a narrow way and refuses to see the lack of democracy inherent of all forms of capitalism (not just those that operate under totalitarian governments) and in the social injustice it creates. He refuses to see the fact that it is this that caused the debt to pile up and the banks to carry on speculating without fear of the consequences.

It is here that we begin to find the grains of a new left which rather than existing in a state of contradiction with itself and paralysis can begin to move on to a higher place. Democratic theory (and practice) must be reintegrated into a critique of a socially wasteful and destructive system. Fighting against that can only be seen as a truly democratic imperative which demands a constant expansion of its own horizons to constantly renew itself and the society it seeks to change.

This is not about building a ‘new’ left from the ashes of the old but renewing the one we have with the best of its past married to a hopeful vision of a better future.


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About darrellgoodliffe


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