January 28, 2020 - 7:00am

John Harris’s latest column in the Guardian is about the future of the Labour Party. It contains more of interest than we’ve heard from all the leadership candidates put together.

Here’s his central argument:

“Back in 1937, George Orwell pointed out that ‘to many people calling themselves socialists, revolution does not mean a movement of the masses with which they hope to associate themselves; it means a set of reforms which ‘we’, the clever ones, are going to impose on ‘them’, the lower orders’.

“There is a modern version of this problem, bound up with a combination of old-fashioned statism, Labour’s increasingly middle-class makeup, and the way the left’s focus on the politics of attitudes and behaviour sometimes teeters into shrill intolerance, not least online. By comparison, Conservatism’s eternal promise is that its supporters will be left alone.”

- John Harris, The Guardian

It’s a contrast that isn’t exactly working out for Labour. Remember, that aside from the anomalous Blair years, the party hasn’t won a working majority since Harold Wilson’s 1966 victory.

What Labour needs now, says Harris, is a long-overdue “shift in consciousness”:

“Trade unionism will have to be completely reinvented: people are not just workers, but parents, carers, volunteers and consumers. Socialists will have to become determinedly localist, and Labour will have to put the people who run towns, cities, counties and boroughs at the forefront of its campaigning, learning from what they do.”
- John Harris, The Guardian

The irony is that this kind of radically decentralised, community-based, somewhat anarchic socialism has always existed in some form — but that at every crunch point in the history of the Labour movement it has always, but always, lost out to the top-down, micromanaging, centralised Left.

Power-hoarding is an all-too-human instinct to which no party or government is immune. But while all politicians desire political power for it’s own sake, conservatives are more likely to see it as a drug — an addiction to be guarded against or, at least, to make grubby excuses for. But when the Left gets anywhere close to power, there’s a sense that it is something that is deserved, that has returned to its rightful possessor and thus must be held on to — “we are the masters now.”

They have made a virtue out of a vice, and it is killing them.

Peter Franklin is Associate Editor of UnHerd. He was previously a policy advisor and speechwriter on environmental and social issues.