Owen Jones wants to understand what went wrong with the great Jezza Project, to bring real and existing socialism to Britain and it’ll work this time, honest. He went and talked to lots of people and he’s written a book about it – presumably one that he’ll accept low tax rates on the income from and, as in that video with Douglas Carswell, won’t pay the additional tax he insists he should.
But let us turn away from mere partisan bickering, fun though it is, and examine the actual mistake Jones is making. He’s believing his own rhetoric.
For some on the left, the electoral rout of December 2019 was the product of a scorched-earth policy adopted by Jeremy Corbyn’s internal opponents, a remorseless onslaught from a near-uniformly hostile media and nothing else. That leads to a fatalistic conclusion: that any political project promising transformative change is inherently doomed. The reason I have spent the last six months interviewing dozens of Labour figures about the past five years for my book This Land is to provide a nuanced understanding of an often-traumatic half-decade to help chart the party’s future course.
Corbynism wasn’t an accidental glitch in the matrix. The battery of cuts that followed the financial crash – and Labour’s failure to offer an inspiring or coherent alternative to it – forged a large, disaffected constituency who felt unrepresented by mainstream politics. It was they who latched on to an implausible candidate for leader.
There haven’t been any cuts. Sure, there’s been all sorts of screaming about them. Largely led by such as Jones. But an important point in politics is not to believe your own rhetoric. Shouting whatever in order to pull votes is the point of the game. But you do have to know and recognise reality rather than actually believe whatever lies are being spouted to gain those votes.
UK government spending is up in cash terms:
Tax as a percentage of GDP is up:
There have been no cuts overall. Sure, we can argue about Keynesian economics and all that so the boom in spending (in GDP terms) in the depths of the recession and all that. But the end result is that we now spend more of everything through government than we did before. There haven’t been any cuts.
Re-allocations, sure, there have been those. The Brown Terror included the idea that lots and lots of the uniform business rate should be taken off richer, Tory voting, districts and shires and be sent off as a gift wrapped present to poorer, Labour voting districts and urban hellholes. An incoming Tory government decided to reverse this Labour bribe to its own voters. That’s rather how politics works.
Which is the problem that Jones faces. He’s trying to work out what happened without first grounding himself in reality. He’s believing his own rhetoric about those cuts instead of starting from the true point that there haven’t been any. A useful guide to reality being that if you start from the wrong assumptions you’re never going to understand that reality you’re trying to explore.
Still, another book, another royalty stream Jones’ll not have to pay supertax upon. And won’t that be an interesting clash of rhetoric and reality?