Tory victory in 2015. Brexit and Trump elected in 2016. Things stink right now if you’re on the liberal-left, like me. And things stink even more, if like me, you don’t feel that either Jeremy Corbyn (aged 67) or Bernie Sanders (aged 75) are providing a vision that might show us a pathway towards some sort of recovery for the liberal-left. I don't draw attention to Corbyn or Sanders ages to invite ageist discrimination, but rather to underline the point, that I strongly feel they're looking backwards rather than forwards.
With apologies to an actor I know (I'm adapting his words) there's a backlash across the world against people like Corbyn and Sanders, against people like Blair and Clinton, against people like us. And we're not getting it. The soft left or liberal left has to many let down the working-classes and "ordinary people" by supporting the late capitalist project towards globalisation and free trade, which has taken their jobs and ripped apart their communities, as immigration supplying cheap labour sustains that economic and political project. The traditional left fares little better, as while the rhetoric (as opposed to policy - they're out of power) is sceptical about globalisation and provides comforting retro messages about restoring the welfare state and reviving traditional manufacturing industries; it doesn't seem to fit with the modern world of superfast change, increasing automation, and technology.
The puritanical tone of the left amplified again and again within the social media echo chamber and without by the 24 hour news media (though Blair's self-righteous piety was hardly better) grates. Many voters outside the cities and urban areas also don't like the focus of the traditional left on issues they don't feel concern them or are (as they perceive them) against their interests (sexuality and gender; perceived support for immigrants; anti-imperialist foreign policy and disarmament; internal schism within the left itself).
Adapting again my actor friend, most people have looked at all this over the last eight years and they've decided increasingly that they don't just not like what they see. They've decided they don't like us. They see us as the liberal left-ish elite. They think we look down on them, they think that we think they are crass, dumb, racist and misogynistic and that we know best. They believe that we believe that our world view is the only one that's true. They feel we all live in a cultural bubble of same-think and group-think.
The vast majority of the world thinks it's bollocks, and that we walk around with our noses in the air. And their response is that it isn't worth getting into an argument with us. They simply give us a metaphorical punch on the nose and walk away. And they keep walking away. And we keep losing votes. And it's going to get way worse in the next few years as we see the impact of all this in upcoming elections in France and Germany. They feel they just don't want the same things as us. Perhaps, rather than us just telling them that they're stupid and wrong we better start facing up to it.
But how do we face up to it in the UK? What are the policy offers that can come from the left that gain broad support and help to grow again a sense of social solidarity, that as result of war, gave birth to the post-war settlement, that we've seen painfully torn apart over the last 37 years. What gives everyone a sense of counting and belonging. I think the moves on the liberal-left towards a Universal Basic Income in the UK (an interest shared by both MP Jonathan Reynolds and Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell) and away from benefits may be one very popular and pragmatic way of supporting society's poorest and vulnerable and engendering social solidarity.
I'm not implying, by the way the left should abandon the fight for equality, for human dignity in all areas of society and human experience and a common sense defence and foreign policy (I think we'd be much better off spending money on our conventional armed forces given the unhappy relations with Putin's Russia, than on renewing Trident). But I suspect that a Universal Basic Income, building a million new homes and funding the NHS properly might be much more popular and provide security for the majority and "ordinary people" against the harsh winds of globalisation. The rampant right in Europe and across pond never provide that sense of security and they see little value in a sense of social solidarity beyond a nostalgic sense of nationalistic identity.
Reform of the electoral system to PR ought to be in the next Labour party manifesto too. Screw a further a referendum. Every vote needs to count going forwards. Let's all be included and accept that winner takes all elections emphasise division and conflict rather than the common good. In our superfast, super-connected world globalisation is here to stay. So is robotics, artificial intelligence and 3D printing. I'd recommend (if you can be bothered) "The Future of Work:Jobs and skills in 2030".
And in the areas of society I work in, in the arts and education, we must fight for the idea that we all grow and are enriched by learning and cultural experience, that is an end in itself rather than just as a means to an end. Let's rebel against the utilitarian thinking that exams, quantifiable outcomes, career arcs, cost benefit, and economic value are the only values that really matter. A life without a hinterland (of any kind, it might be sailing or supporting West Ham United FC) isn't much life at all, it's just an existence, in my view.
Being empowered to look at a painting and wonder about it, is as valuable as being able to write a CV. I want to avoid nostalgia and any retro thinking of my own and don't seek to turn away from the world as it is myself. But "Middlemarch" may be as rewarding as the complete "Breaking Bad". I love losing an hour or so playing FIFA17 on my PS4 but it's nothing like as rewarding as the shared experience of sitting in a theatre, even as some laugh and some cry at exactly the same moment. Perhaps we may even rediscover the idea that voicing and articulating your ideas over 1000 words may be more useful than a 140 character brain-burp on twitter.