Friday, 26 April 2013

Learned helplessness is the way forward, insists Tony Blair

In the 1990s and the 2000s, right-wing parties were the enthusiasts of the market, pushing for the deregulation of banks, the privatisation of core state functions and the whittling away of social protections. All of these now look to have been very bad ideas. The economic crisis should really have discredited the right, not the left. So why is it the left that is paralysed? 
Asks Henry Farrell, suggesting a plausible explanation for why the dysfunctional status quo shows no sign of changing. Maybe he's right and there are inescapable structural reasons why nobody's yet been able to reverse some of those 'very bad ideas':
The problem that the centre-left now faces is not that it wants to make difficult or unpopular choices. It is that no real choices remain. It is lost in the maze, able neither to reach out to its traditional bases of support (which are largely dying or alienated from it anyway) nor to propose any grand new initiatives, the state no longer having the tools to implement them. When the important decisions are all made outside of democratic politics, the centre-left can only keep going through the ritualistic motions of democracy, all the while praying for intercession. 
I hope it ain't so, but at least not having the tools is an adequate excuse for not finishing the job. The Labour party's resident back seat driver, Tony Blair, sees the same paradox, but his own excuse for doing little more than rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic is about as convincing as 'the dog ate my homework':
The paradox of the financial crisis is that, despite being widely held to have been caused by under-regulated markets, it has not brought a decisive shift to the left. But what might happen is that the left believes such a shift has occurred and behaves accordingly.
The cataclysmic failure of a global economic and political consensus based on a distinct, explicit set of right-wing policies 'has not brought a decisive shift to the left', therefore Ed Miliband shouldn't even think about making any radical changes. We know it's broke, but we can't possibly fix it because Mondeo Man says no. The other lot can push the Overton Window as far to the right as they like, but woe betide Ed if he tries to push it back by a single inch.

It's one thing to recognise real obstacles to change, quite another to advocate learned helplessness as a political strategy. If this is the best Blair can come up with, he should stick to jetting around the world, offering his exclusive ego-massage service to the global elite, or enjoying drinks and nibbles with Toby Young and James Delingpole at the next meeting of the Michael Gove fan club.