Giles Fraser in The Guardian
Listening to Marine Le Pen attack Emmanuel Macron for being a creature of global finance is a reminder of a disturbing feature of modern political life: the extent to which the attack upon capitalism has migrated from the left to the right.
There was a time, not so very long ago, when it was widely accepted that the job of the left was to explain how free-market capitalism is bad for the poor and bad for social cohesion more generally. The left was supposed to show that in free markets, wealth doesn’t trickle down, it bubbles up. That trusting the invisible hand to spread wealth all round is like trusting bankers to share their bonuses with their neighbours. And, moreover, that inequalities of wealth created by the free-market system creates a society profoundly ill at ease with itself. This is why socialists have always believed in the public ownership of the means of production and of the major public services. Markets and money should exist to serve people, not the other way round. The importance of democratic socialism is that it uses the power of the ballot box to assert the will of people over the will of capital.
The EU debate, now breaking out all over Europe, has flushed out the extent to which the so-called left, now overrun by liberalism, has largely abandoned this historical position. In this country, the liberal left now believes that support for the single market and economic free trade is the very thing that distinguishes them from a so-called hard Tory Brexit. This is an astonishing change of position. It used to be obvious to democratic socialists that the terms of international trade should be set not by the market alone but also by democratically elected governments subject to the will of their electorates. But the liberal left, perhaps not trusting how ordinary people (as opposed to more enlightened economic “experts”) might vote, thinks that trade should be free of the irritating interventions of democratic accountability. They want it to be frictionless – an irritating euphemism that ultimately means: not subject to will of the people.
Jeremy Corbyn aside, one of the tragedies of the leftwing abandonment of its traditional suspicion of capitalism is that the far right has now filled the vacuum. It understands that the bubbling resentment of rundown estates and forgotten seaside towns can be harnessed and turned against foreigners and Islam as well as the liberal capitalist establishment. This, of course, only serves to secure in the minds of the liberal left how dangerous it was in the first place to challenge the basic premise of capitalism: the freedom of money to go where it will, unimpeded, untaxed, unbothered. What a topsy-turvy political world we now inhabit. Squint your eyes and it almost looks as though the left has become the right, and the right has become the left.
Perhaps a word about terminology is helpful, because liberalism is a slippery idea. Liberals are distinguished above all by their belief in freedom – the freedom to be who you want to be (social liberalism) and the freedom to make and keep as much money as you want (economic liberalism) existing on the same continuum. As much as possible, the state should not stand in the way of, or make any sort of judgment about, the wants and desires of free individuals. But what liberals don’t see, or don’t want to see, is that their little individual freedoms are also collectively responsible for the boarded-up shops of Walsall and the disintegration of communities such as mine in south London.
Even if you disagree with my take on liberalism, you might accept that this broad analysis leaves the Labour party in serious trouble, its traditional alliance between socialists and social liberals at an unhappy end. Like many failed marriages, it struggles on because each side fears the other will get control of the house. But for the good of the country, we need a party that represents the anger at what the City has done and freely continues to do to this country. Otherwise that anger will look for other places to express itself. And then, heaven help us, we will have our own Ms Le Pen.