The soft left seems to have been sidelined after the rise of Corbyn and Momentum. It’s time it found its voice.
David Cameron is not a centrist. He is not a moderate and he is certainly not a compassionate Conservative. If looking for proof of these outlandish claims, one shouldn’t need to look further than his attempts to strip working people of their tax credits and students from the poorest backgrounds in society of their maintenance grants. Despite the gaping holes in his slick and cordial media façade, many on the left question how his guise of centrism holds up in the eyes of the public.
The answer is more than just a consensus on capitalism and political ignorance that many accuse the general public of. The Beckett Report revealed that Ed Miliband’s leftist policies were not Labour’s downfall and it is well known that 66% of people support rail renationalisation, according to YouGov. The answer is how the public dislike the idea of an ideologically left-wing government.
Today, the term “Tory” is still seen as a dirty word. The Conservatives are still seen as the “nasty party,” despite their attempts to broaden their scope with liberal, green policies. The left also has this problem; one cannot mention the word socialism without having to go into a convoluted discussion over the true dynamics of the Soviet Union or contemporary China. That’s why the death of the soft left has had such an impact on modern politics. Seen as the social democratic wing of the party, the soft left adopts the populist elements of the socialist platform while trying to correct the innate flaws of the capitalism.
Across the world, candidates from socialist camps seem to be doing better and better. From Syriza to Podemos to Corbyn himself, left-wing hardliners have begun to systematically wipe out the retiring centre-left candidates. The true problem with this however is that while the political elite are spread out among the political spectrum, the general public are less so and those with social democratic views are then forced to split into those who would rather vote for socialism or a nastier brand of capitalism. The success of the American two party system is that its broad-church nature is always held together by a ballast of party centralists. Presidential candidates and house leadership always are from the centre of the party, meaning both sides are appeased. However, by dragging the leadership left, you’re only making the Conservatives seem closer to the economic centre ground.
People want capitalism. People like earning their own money and being responsible for their success. However, people also like the safety net. People want to feel like they’re going to get a fair shot and that there is hope of bettering their children’s fate. This is the ideology of the soft left, a poignant idea that even Liz Kendall picked up on during her leadership campaign. She said she was the real anti-austerity candidate – justifying it by saying how she was the one who could win back centrist voters and stop the ideological hacking away that Conservatives were doing at our public service.
The soft left has an important place in our society. It holds the balance between winning elections and staying true to Labour values. It holds the difference between representing members of the party but also the country. While the idea of offering larger and bolder choice under Corbyn is best, the most successful strategy will always be giving people what they want: a strong government, dedicated on fixing the system that everyone loves.