Thursday 8 July 2010

Aspirational Socialism

When was the last time you heard a mainstream Labour politician talk about socialism positively? It's got to be since before the 1992 general election, and definitely not while the Blair-Brown axis dominated the party. So leadership contender Andy Burnham deserves half a kudos point for daring to utter the 's word' publicly, but that's the only praise he'll be getting from me.

Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, this renewed socialism or, as Andy likes to call it, 'Aspirational Socialism' is little more than a soundbite. The phrase is clearly designed to appeal to that significant section of the population who've never been embarrassed to label themselves as socialists, while flattering and seducing the swing voters with the promise of (upward) social mobility.

As Andy puts it:
I make no apology for it, rehabilitating the S word, it’s on our party card, it’s what I think we all are, but we haven’t felt able to say it for 16 years. It is about everybody looking after each other, in its simplest expression. It’s not about levelling down, but people coming together to let people get on and make something of themselves. Those kids without connections, the older people who have worked for everything and who want to keep it. It’s a combination of new and old Labour, and that would be the philosophy that captures what I’m about.

The ‘aspirational’ is probably the most important word of these two words, because socialism should be about aspiration from my point of view.

In this country it’s still the postcode of the bed you are born in that determines pretty much where you will end up in life, and we must be about redistributing aspiration.
This has to be the most spacious and empty definition of socialism I have ever encountered. What, pray tell, is the difference between this and the great Third Way wheeze of New Labour? Indeed, is Andy's understanding of socialism in anyway incompatible with the Tories' 'Big Society' guff?

Apparently Aspirational Socialism is going to be the ideological engine driving bold, new socialist policies Andy will unveil over the coming weeks. I can hardly wait.


CharlieMcMenamin said...

Well, yeah.

But perhaps there is a way into a different debate if people like Burnham are going to use this word coupling of 'aspirational socialism'?

Rather than, as he does, use it to mean some kind of 'let's all work together to keep up with the Jones' we might ask: aspire to what exactly ?

Because the idea of socialism implicitly contains its aspirations: it's an aspiration for community solidarity and mutual support, for ordinary people controlling more of their own lives and for us all to be protected from the baleful affects of the unrestricted rule of Capital. Ultimately, it's an aspiration for human brotherhood and sisterhood.

I know all this sound terribly Utopian and many hard line Marxists might quietly sneer at such naive expressions. But, really, it is rather more inspiring than thinking about how we can all get to the perfect nirvana of having two cars in the carport and live in dinky Wimpy estates and shop at Waitrose don't you think?

Brother S said...

Shades of 'One Nation Toryism'?

GrateEdBallsFire said...

"Aspirational Socialism? I'll show you Aspirational Socialism" - Everyone's favourite South American dictator

Anonymous said...

look on the bright side you have four other candidates to choose from , sadly three are no better than ab and the fourth is an 'aspirational ' socialist of the worst sort, when its her family that is!

Phil said...

Definitely not, Charlie. Socialism is all about working class aspirations - it's just that Andy can't see beyond aspiration defined by consumerism.

Unknown said...

Actually, the last time I heard a Labour politician speak favourably of socialism it was none other than Hazel Blears, a couple of years ago...

I spoke to Andy after the Newcastle hustings. A young comrade expressed suprised at his radicalism. He explained this in terms of cabinet government, etc.

If you recall, Andy Burnham was very much in favour of Supporters' Direct - the federation of supporters' trusts which seek to help fans gain a stake in the football teams they support. Now, that's clearly a different kind of aspiration that one would expect of New Labour.

Anonymous said...

Tony Blair wrote a pamphlet for the Fabians in 1994 entitled 'Socialism'.

johnpaul said...

What anonymous said