On a recent RSA “Polarised” podcast Chris Clarke (former Labour press officer) proposes three myths of the “populist left” which prevent us from achieving power and improving the world. They are:
- The Dark Knight myth – we are virtuous: they are evil. Tories are not misguided or incompetent, they are morally reprehensible. Since no proper leftist can be friends with a Tory, we must not cooperate with people outside our own bubble, whose votes we would need to win power. Because we are claiming the moral high ground, we are held to higher standards than other parties. This makes us vulnerable to attacks on issues like antisemitism within the party.
- The Puppet Master myth – we live in a hidden dictatorship. The world is ruled by a rich elite and media barons. Their power is so great that we could only ever win by unacceptable compromise (“Tony Blair was Rupert Murdoch’s puppet”)
- The Golden Age myth – we must get back to the glorious years of real Labour (whenever that was). Since then the history of the left has been one of constant betrayal (Attlee gave us the welfare state, but was derided as a “mealy mouthed moderate”). This makes us vulnerable to claims that we are trying to recreate the 1970s (or some similar distant past, remembered mainly for its problems)
Versions of all three can be regularly found in left leaning Facebook groups. The narrative which they feed is one of heroic defeat. We will always lose, because the forces against us are too strong, clever and evil, and we are betrayed by sneering traitors. Since winning means abandoning virtue and joining the wicked elite, deep down we have given up before we begin.
I find it a persuasive argument (listen to the podcast below), and I think we should resist all three. The world is a complex and untidy place. Most people are not inherently malign, but they disagree legitimately about what is good, and how to pursue it. They also disagree about what should be prioritised when. Institutions which can help or obstruct progress need continual review and reform. Governments have to respond to events. Progress happens slowly, faster in some areas than others.
And remember, revolutions always punish the poorest first and most.