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The Future of the Left - A New Narrative

12/05/2015 10:20 BST | Updated 11/05/2016 10:59 BST

The defining feature of the Tory campaign was its insistence that voting for the Labour party would be economically reckless, that the Labour party would overspend and doom the country. It seems that, at the last minute, part of the electorate found those arguments compelling, choosing to elect a Tory majority.

If this is true, then it paints a relatively clear picture of what the left needs to do to regain those who voted Conservative: it needs a new economic narrative. During the campaign, Labour did not counter the economic arguments thrown against it. Instead, Labour essentially adopted the Conservative and neoliberal assumptions that are currently dominating Europe. This meant that, instead of focusing on the good that Labour policies would have done, the opening pages of the manifesto promised a "Budget Responsibility Lock"--demonstrating Labour's economic "credibility."

This, however, played perfectly into Tory hands. For as long as Labour adopted their premises, they could repeat--again and again--the mantra that Labour could not be trusted on the economy and, if necessary, pull out the note that Liam Bryne, the former Labour Treasury minister, left as a joke, which jested "there is no money."

What is the left to do for the next election, then? Certainly, we do not want the Labour party to drift to the right. As has been repeatedly pointed out, there is already a party on the right, so those wanting a right-wing Labour have only to vote Tory, the real thing. Labour, then, must stay where Miliband positioned it, or swing further to the left. In either case, the economic narrative of the left must change, since it is futile to engage on neoliberal terms.

This new narrative should start by analysing the actual process of Treasury spending, giving the left evidence that government spending is not constrained by borrowing or taxation, directly refuting any argument made for austerity. This new narrative would also include an analysis of the nature and history of money, realising that "money... is credit and nothing but credit," to quote the British historian Alfred Mitchell-Innes. Furthermore, this narrative would realise that taxation drives money, as Adam Smith pointed out when he remarked that a ruler enacting a tax "might thereby give a certain value" to the currency. In other words, this new narrative needs to be chartalist.

From this position, the left would have had the necessary conceptual tools to show the British public that it was the Conservative economic arguments that were vacuous. The left could have more fiercely attacked Conservative plans for spending cuts and advocated, without shame, the necessary deficit spending required for this country. We could have insisted on building the houses we need, entirely cutting the tuition fee we do not want, as well as providing the adequate funding needed for all of our public services. Those in need would be provided for, the NHS would be safe, and the rich would be prevented from making astronomical gains on asset price inflation.

This will have to wait for the next election now. But before then, the left must explicitly reject the neoliberal assumptions at the heart of our politics and provide an alternative framework for the public. This framework must come from the chartalist perspective, which would provide hope not only the UK, but also for the rest of Europe, particularly Greece as it fights on the neoliberal terms of its creditors.