In a comment on a progressive blog I lamented the fact that the left seems more hung up on holding or increasing current spending levels than it is concerned about service levels and value for money. One response to my comment ran that 'yes, but few here are really more concerned about spending levels per se'.
I know that the left is not obsessed simply with spending levels : but that too often is how it seems. It appears to me that much of progressive opinion seems embattled and defensive, and in its moment of seige it is unwilling to concede anything: even the truth. The mentality is that the wagons are closely circled, and all will be defended. This must explain how the broader left can defend the scandal of social partnership.
If there has been criticism from within, it certainly has been muted. The McLoones, Beggs, and O'Conors, co-opted by the Ahern governments, and complicit to one extent or another in its disastrous economic governance, remain unscathed. Similarly no one on the left pointed to the grotesque spectacle of Higher Civil and Public Servants (among the highest paid public servants in the world in a bankrupt country) inviting those in all jobs and in none to join them in the march on PS pay. As another commenter pointed out, the same applies to calling underperforming service providers. And I am decrying the same uncritical approach to spending: the mantra is always for more spending, regardless of the evidence of chronic mispending of moneys currently allocated. The fear of course is that scrutinizing spending will lead to questions on pay, work practices and conditions.
In all of these cases the public sees a defence of the indefensible, and turns way in despair.
I don't understand why the left needs to be so defensive, especially now. True, at a time when the neoliberal dogma of the self-correcting, free market, arrogantly bruised aside skeptics with swagger and media-pumped bluster, it was understandable that the retreating left took defensive positions.
But now, with free market ideology badly shaken, it is time for progressives to go on the offensive. And in my opinon the only way to do that is to admit present and past shortcomings and to campaign with honesty and with a view to persuading the neutral ground. The time for pandering to its own constituency for the sake of survival is over. The imperative for the left to re-invent itself couldn't be more urgent because if it fails now to refresh its ideas and to bring them into force, the crisis in the current capitalist model will be an interlude not a watershed.
In Ireland the left seems to me to be represented by entrenched, self-serving, and mostly public service unions on the one hand and an opportunistic, wavering, and power hungry labour party on the other. (then there is the fringe, from Joe Higgins to SF, the People before Profit, all of whom, I hope, remain nothing more than a fringe).
We cannot be surprised that PS unions are self serving - in essence that is their purpose. Nor can we be surprised that the Labour party is power hungry - politics is about power after all. Still, I would have hoped that the Labour party could have by now worked out a viable and coherent narrative not about what kind of society it strives to achieve - we all know the mantra about fairness and equity - but how it can be brought about and in particular what kind of role the state should play in achieving social and economic objectives.
The right succeeded admirably in crafting a narrative about the virtues of the market: the market always allocates resources more efficiently, the market gives choice to the individual, the market requires but also copperfastens freedom, the market drives innovation. Why can the left not similarly frame its ideas in cogent arguments which can be made to look no less self evident?