The Left sees narrative construction as amoral. It either doesn’t get that you don’t have to say what you think and intend to do or it’s decided that omission is wrong. And thus that politics for a millennia is and has been wrong.
Take Ed Miliband. I think -and the election, of course, backs me up- that his narrative was a bad one. Namely, he didn’t challenge the overspending myth early on and found himself in a spiral of trying to out-Tory the Tories. But this didn’t, believe it or not, actually make him a Tory. The Left continuously took what he said at face value. When he talked about fiscal responsibility, we gasped at his betrayal. Journalists on the English Left were appalled. The Frankie Boyles and George Monbiots lazily wrote about how Labour were only offering austerity Lite. Look! Ed Miliband talked about the Thing! Let’s pounce on the Thing!
But what was really going on here is that the Left has a monumental, gaping problem; it cannot distinguish, in politics, between what is said and what is done. Or, at least, it refuses to. It sees it as amoral. It accuses the electorate of stupidity and then takes what politicians say at face value. Actually scrap that. It doesn’t take what rightwing politicians say at face value. It recognises that Osborne’s narrative about ‘Labour’s mess’ and ‘maxing out the credit card’ is illiterate rubbish. And it attacks him for it instead of grasping how excellent a mind Crosby is and how absolutely crap we are in comparison (and I’ll get on to that).
But politicians of the left? Well! in 2015, Balls and Miliband were austerian, small state Thatcherites, because of what they SAID. ‘We’ll have to make tough choices’, Ed would say clearly begrudgingly, out of a necessity of the leadership’s own creation because, yes, he didn’t challenge the Tory lines well enough. It was a bad rhetorical direction. But it didn’t actually mean he was a bloody austerian. On the contrary, Labour were planning more in spending than the SNP, who were actually planning the same if not more cuts, and £32bn less cuts than the Tories, with their own cuts that could have stopped within a year. That would be next June. If that’s just a ‘lite’ version of this awful, devastating government that has me waking up in cold sweats in the morning when I realise IDS is still an influential figure, then I can only presume you’re privileged enough not to be a single mum, disabled, a benefit claimant, or a renter.
But activists and journalists on the left became reactionaries. Not in the ‘oh please for the Love of God, be brave enough to justify your spending!’ way that they should have been, preferably before 2011, but reactionary in the way they actually believed Miliband was rightwing, for saying words that wouldn’t have literally matched his actions. Even though the Left could have seen quite clearly what he had planned just by a bit of ‘lite’ research. It was intentional laziness and faux outrage to suit their own narratives.
I’ll call this the Monbiot Hegemony; an era in which leftwing online commentators saw a pragmatically (but in this case ill-) considered difference between words and planned action to be beyond its moral justification, or refused to even acknowledge it at all. It decided it was morally superior to engage in the art of subtlety, and it attacked subtlety at face value. And in doing so the Monbiots of the world were intellectually, infuriatingly, lazy, reactionaries.
2015 was a bad case of conflicting narratives for the Leadership. We talked in microwaves and technocracy, and we were too scared to defend ourselves. But that sin is different to the sins of the wider Left. 2015 was a case of the Left scoffing at a leftwing politician (yes, really! If we on the English Left are to believe Sturgeon is leftwing then Miliband most certainly sings The Red Flag with gusto) speaking conservative (small ‘c’, just in case I had to actually put that out there for clarification) but planning considerably more radical legislation. Cetainly more radical than the SNP’s budget it May. And that right there is the problem.
We have decided we are morally superior to a media strategy. We speak our minds and we scoff at the idea of talking in anything less than revolutionary or radical language. It doesn’t get that we should be talking personal wallets before talking ideology. But then acting ideology. We have became reactionary to the idea that there should be any difference in what we say versus what we plan. It’s as though we think Thatcher talked about ‘neoliberalism’ in the campaign of 79′.
It doesn’t get that this is exactly what Osborne is doing. He talks openly from the centre and then bulldozes our communities. It scoffs at him instead, which many can afford to do, while he rolls back the state without anyone actually knowing. Osborne is the exact idol we should have. Yes, really! He is a determined, ruthlessly radical ideologue, and few realise. It’s the dream. He is a rhetorical conservative but a radical practitioner. As all successful politicians have been.
The Left needs to get off its high horse and engage with politics as it always has been and always will be: storytelling. Non-ideological storytelling.