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How the Left went bad

By Tim Montgomerie
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If I had to name half-a-dozen moral failures of the Labour years my choices would be...

  1. Borrowing during the good years so that the cupboard was bare when the rainy years arrived and leaving huge debts for the next generation;
  2. Creating a complex, demotivating welfare system that trapped people on benefits and discriminated against the two parent family;
  3. Allowing uncontrolled immigration that didn't discriminate between the skills of migrants so depressing the wages and opportunities of Britain's working class communities;
  4. A grade inflation in schools and a neglect of vocational education that means many young people are under-equipped to prosper in a competitive world;
  5. Creating new inequities between the private and public sectors - loading taxes on the private sector to pay for government employees to enjoy higher wages, better pensions, more job security and shorter hours than their private sector equivalents;
  6. Mishandling the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Labour wasn't all bad, of course and most on the Left are well-motivated. As a whole, however, the Labour Party has drifted away from its early moral clarity and has become chained to vested interests, dangerous ideologies, short-termism and materialism:
  • Vested interests: There are a range of very powerful groups that have grown up to administer the welfare state including teacher unions who strive to defend their monopolies and public sector unions generally who oppose measures to deliver fairness between the private and state sectors in employment conditions.
  • Political ideology: On much of the Left there is an opposition to traditional family life and religion that leads to bad public policy. The two parent family may be the best poverty-fighting organisation ever invented but the Left do nothing to support it. Faith-based charities and schools may be incredibly effective but Left-wing politicians are often attempting to limit them.
  • Short-termism: The real extremists in the debt debate are not those, like America's Tea Party, who want a country to live within its means but those who think we can continue to borrow without consequence for our competitiveness or the balance of world power. What do we think the Chinese and Middle Eastern nations will do with those ever-increasing interest payments? The allies of our essential public services aren't those who advocate more and more borrowing but those who don't want to spend money that we don't have.
  • Materialism: The Left cannot see a social problem without reaching for the taxpayers' chequebook but many social problems reflect a lack of social rather than economic capital. They reflect bad parenting, inadequate schooling and a culture of dependency.

The last generation of Labour politicians squandered a decade of economic prosperity to leave Britain ill-prepared for a very challenging world. In today's Times (£) I argue that the generation of Labour politicians who presided over these moral failings should be in political exile. The idea of them returning to office without serious repentance should be laughable. Yet Ed Balls, Ed Miliband, Douglas Alexander and Yvette Cooper - all key players in the Brown/Blair years - are at the top of a party scoring 43% in some opinion polls. In The Times I offer an explanation. I argue that they’ve bounced back because Labour possesses a morally powerful brand. Left-of-centre governments may mess up economies but their incompetence is supposedly forgivable because their hearts are in the right place. Labour are relentless at presenting themselves as the party of the working class, minorities and the little guy. They are also relentless at demonising us as politics' bad guys. Labour politicians instinctively get up every morning and are deadly serious about protecting their brand and contaminating ours.

I end my article with these words:

"I don’t blame the Left for their attempts to monopolise the moral high ground; I blame the Right for allowing it. It’s time for the Centre-Right to attack systematically the Left’s claims to moral superiority and to sustain that attack for a culture-shaping generation. It’s time for conservatives to get off our knees and argue that sound finances, strong families, school choice and unshackled job creators provide a much superior approach to social justice than that favoured by the big-union, big-government Left. We must start advancing our own vision of the good society or we’ll suffocate in the moral vacuum."

If we compete with the Left for the moral high ground we're not just targeting their achilles heel, we're striking at their whole raison d'etre.