In the aftermath of Brexit, the US Election and the ensuing debate on how to connect with working-class voters, now must be the time to discuss renewing the centre-left, by offering practical and electable policies to end inequality. Without action this equality gap is only going to get bigger, influenced by a multitude of long-term trends and policies.
Large corporations continue to amass vast fortunes, seemingly without limit. This wealth can and is used to lobby and buy political influence. Regulators can be 'captured' by the industries they are supposed to be regulating and many politicians and regulators move away from their positions in government, into roles in the very industry they had oversight over.
The tax system favours capital and property at the expense of income from work, and the criminal justice system is biased against the working class, whilst ignoring massive white-collar crime. These, and many other contributing factors, have led to a general disillusionment with government.
Parities of the centre-left that should be benefiting from, and offering solutions to these problems, find themselves out of favour and divided. A fissure has opened in the membership between the traditional working-class base, socially-liberal intellectuals and their technocratic representatives. On policy, the centre-left offers up either 1970s socialism or 90s technocracy. Jeremy Corbyn and Hilary Clinton have shown that going down either path isn't an election winning formula.
Meanwhile, the Right continues to successfully push its agenda, with support from a compliant media and powerful oligarchs. False narratives and outright lies are used to incite a fearful public. Many media outlets are consciously poisoning our political discourse and must be challenged on substance and motive. Their dialogue legitimises dangerous far-right views and behaviours.
The urgent question now and for the foreseeable future is: how do we turn the voting public back to the centre-left whilst tackling inequality?
Firstly, corporations must be obliged to consider the needs of all stakeholders in society, rather than engaging in short-term profit maximisation, and their lobbying power must be curtailed. The tax system should be reformed to treat all income equally and the welfare system reformed to favour universal services over means-tested cash payments. Power must be taken away from the lobbyists and the party elites, so that citizens feel their voice is being heard. This is best achieved by a more proportional voting system and increased localism and devolution to regions, which will dilute the power of the executive.
Parties of the centre-left must be built on a large and committed membership. In the absence of this they come to rely on funding from trade unions, allowing themselves to be dragged politically to the left, or on money from large corporations and wealthy individuals, seeing them pushed to the right. The membership must have a large working-class presence to keep the focus of the party on economic inequality and away from single-issue identity politics.
The centre-left must also be interested in winning power to affect change - the fact that this must be said is depressing. This is not, however, advocacy for split-the-difference technocracy or for pandering to the electorate at any cost. Instead, when making policy decisions the centre-left must be able to answer positively the three following questions:
1. Does the policy reduce inequality?
2. Will the policy help the working-class and have their support?
3. Will the policy be politically acceptable as part of a wider platform?
Under this framework, many current policies of the centre-left, such as free university tuition and rail nationalisation, fail badly. Looking at the users and providers of these services we can see these policies are mostly a subsidy to the comfortably-off. The funds earmarked for these policies would be better directed, for example, towards early-years education, where the attainment gap between rich and poor has lifelong consequences.
This is an example of a policy shift that is neither technocratic nor traditionally socialist, that reduces inequality and will be popular with working-class voters. The fact that it will be an anathema to many on the left shows how ossified their thinking has become. Until the centre-left changes its thinking to better reflect working-class needs, they will become increasingly politically irrelevant, inequality will continue to increase, and working-class workers will turn to parties of the far-right who at least pretend to be listening to their concerns.