There’s this thing on Twitter where you post a picture that says, “one like = one unpopular opinion”, and then begin posting your opinions. Most people tend to talk about pop culture, sports, relationship views but, like a lot of political nerds, I kind of oriented mine around political views.
I found myself surprised by the results of my own beliefs. I believe in a top rate tax of 60%, in publicly owning water, gas, electricity, in banning private schools. I believe in cutting taxes for small businesses to help them pay their workers fair wages, in ensuring there are worker representatives on company boards, in capping executive pay.
I would like to see companies encouraged to redirect their profits into investing into their services and training their workforces rather than lining up the bulging pockets of their shareholders. I believe society is structurally racist and painfully blind to it.
After realising this, I concluded that the term “Labour moderate” was possibly the stupidest thing ever coined by anyone in hopes of usurping Jeremy Corbyn. I hadn’t ditched my left-wing principles, but instead I wore the mantle of watered-down passivity against the injustices and inequalities of capitalism.
What am I moderating? Why should I be a moderate? In accepting this term as a packaging of who we are ideologically, we, the “moderates”, lost all claim to being angry about injustice, because we lacked the fire and radicalism to tackle it.
It was never going to work with pitching to young people. Youth is the time for passionate, idealistic politics that hasn’t yet been exposed to whatever people think eventually makes everyone a cynical realist. It’s patronising, but it is somewhat true that you tend to be more idealistic at a younger age.
But the trick here missed by the Labourites outside the Momentum faction is that we have allowed our tag as moderates to be seen as indications of our beliefs rather than our political strategies. Our pragmatism comes in electoral politics, in deciding how to communicate cleverly to stay ahead in polls. And it has largely worked.
The soft-left idea of talking left-wing politics in a sensible fashion isn’t entirely wrong. We were so annoyed this week by Young Labour for their NATO talks because it felt like the old times rolling over us like dark clouds. Because Labour were finally doing well, because Jeremy Corbyn and his allies had got close to victory and now realised we were right.
They had mostly stopped talking about Trident, about sympathising with terrorists. The performances in the polls improved because Labour were focusing on the issues that mattered to people. No-one cares about whether it’s unethical or not to kill a terrorist instead of bringing them in until you start talking about how unethical it is.
The moderation really comes in there, in being selective in demonstrating the idealism. It should never come in your politics. The ideas that are bold and radical have the capacity to draw huge attention and support. Granted, they need to be fiscally possible, and rational and logical, but we shouldn’t fear radicalism essentially.
For example, on education I’m sceptical as to the benefits of abolishing tuition fees. It feels like a subsidy for the middle class and I am more interested in early years education as well as restoring EMA and maintenance grants.
There is nothing less radical in that, but how “moderates” have accepted this narrative has crucially affected our control of the party. It’s also made genuinely good, vote-winning policies become seen as limited in their ambition, as to not going far enough.
The hard-left understand this so well. Even the name “Momentum” implies some sort of uninhibited, uncontrolled energy coursing through politics. They have energised politics in a genuinely staggering manner and, as much as we can sit here and fume, we got played.
From day one, the hard-left have understood the direction society is going towards and the need to look and sound radical. They have not shied away from it. In a time when social classes are increasingly becoming blurred between the lines, the hard-left have understood that economic anxiety is not confined to exclusively what we perceive as the traditional working class.
This is not to say that the rest of us have been class-blind fools, nor that we are wrong to talk about the “left behind” generation. But we have seemingly resented the lower middle-class students for wanting more than their current lot. For wanting to own homes, for wanting to be free of extortionate landlords, to have some sense of economic security.
That’s the inherent disadvantage of accepting yourself as being “centre-left” or a “moderate.” You are accepting the premise that you merely want to shake the status quo, give it a gentle nudge in the right direction, rather than absolutely transform it.
The rhetoric matters immensely, contrary to what I used to think, where it was about disguising your radicalism as being sensible politics. Except, it never really worked with Ed Miliband and just how radically different was his manifesto to the one produced by Jeremy Corbyn? In most instances, Ed Miliband found himself being seen as too moderate and cautious over issues.
We shouldn’t fear being angry at capitalism for producing chronic poverty and inequality. We should be incensed at how it ruins communities by making people rely on food banks, by moving entire towns of low-paid families so the rich can live there. We should be enraged that at a time when the welfare system is being cruelly and unfairly slashed to ribbons, corporate fraud in tax avoidance and more goes unhindered.
Moderate was the term we gave to ourselves because we decided to call Jeremy Corbyn and Momentum a bunch of extremists. Except, they largely are not. Many Momentum members are ordinary people fed up with economic insecurity, won over by new ideas. Captured by the refreshing, engaging radicalism of it all. Moderate politics just doesn’t carry that feel of drastic change. And we live in times that demand that.