Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Boutique Leftism

Porter: Questioned over antisemitism
In this article, we discuss the theory of Boutique Leftism in order to at least partly explain why it is that modern lefties are so irritatingly off the mark. From Ed Miliband to Aaron Porter, a seemingly disparate group of 'left wing intellectuals' seem to be stringing together incoherent lists of causes into some kind of unholy daisy chain of utterly unrelated and often entirely contradictory polices. The net result is that the right find it increasingly difficult to engage in any kind of meaningful policy debate with the leftists for two principal reasons. Firstly, that the daisy chain of issues do not in anyway form a coherent body of policy around which a counter argument can be formed. Secondly, that the left have seized the 'moral high ground' on all issues and defend this high ground behind false barricades of political correctness.

What is Boutique Leftism?

Just like shopping in a Boutique, this kind of leftism makes it is possible to buy into issues made and designed independently of one another, with no real correlation to each other. In this way it has been possible to position the left as the focus of attention in a positive way, surrounded as they are by niceties and not engaged in depth with anything necessary or industrious. Often, the stock of the boutique is fringe or 'alternative' in nature, with different issues holding similar but individual appeal. This ensures that the left can attract broad support for any of the given items by appealing to the broadest possible range of tastes, without having to form any kind of cohesion between these individual issues. By cherry picking the issues that suit this need, the left can almost guarantee to have at least one item on their shelf that appeals to most lefties, and also to avoid those items which are disdainful or distasteful, and so the cycle of support and create is self-perpetuating. By way of example, here are just a few of the items in their basket at present:

Support for the Palestinians/hate for Israel
No to public spending cuts
Support for freedom of speech and democracy
No to tuition fees
Down with NewsInt/Rupert Murdoch
Support for the Unions

On the face of it, these items/issues are such familiar themes from the left that they might even begin to form the backbone of policy. But they don't. The problem for the left is the complete lack of any kind of cohesion between these items and that further, this kind of flaky cherry picking is in fact counter-productive and highly contradictory. Allow me to expand:

No to public spending cuts/no to tuition fees: 
Utterly impossible demands
If there is no money left (there really isn't, let's not argue about this) in the pot and as a society we desire to educate as many University students as are able, regardless of their socio-economic background, and at the same time we wish to maintain high levels of public spending on the compulsory elements of our education system as well as the NHS and policing, then these two points are entirely contradictory. We EITHER need higher tuition fees to pay for expanding university education, OR we need to cut public spending elsewhere in  order to find the money for Universities. This is basic economics, and economics and politics are one and the same.

Lovers once, Murdoch & Labour
Down with NewsInt/Rupert Murdoch/Support for the Trade Unions: 
The unions and News International are identical in every way. Both have a body of membership who pay a relatively small subscription in order to be part of a large machine which lobbies and pressures in their interests. Both News International and the unions have very highly paid leadership with almost no public accountability, and both seek to influence polity for their own interests and the interests of their paid membership. The only difference here is that New International can switch political allegiance from time to time, the unions never do.  

Support for freedom of speech and democracy/Support for the Palestinians:
Democratic accountability; Hamas style
Israel remains the only county in the Middle-East to be classified as a 'democracy' by the UN and Freedom House. Further, you simply can't be on the left of the spectrum, thus opposed to the fascist extreme right AND support Hamas. Their record on human rights, equality for women and religious minorities are deplorably undemocratic and decidedly fascistic in nature.

Therefore, Boutique Leftism has two features. First, it is largely expressive. It expresses great sympathy with the poor and the marginalised, but fails to engage in any serious and complex analysis of what might make their condition better. Indeed, whilst it waxes lyrical about standing up for the 'disadvantaged' at home and abroad, it does so from the position of a kind of middle-class self-interest rather than in any meaningful or understanding way. Second, boutique leftists understand the old adage that the surest way to ward off criticism is by making it yourself and placing it at the feet of others. This second point explains why those on the left seem to lurch from one issue to the next without any meaningful direction of travel, almost hopping from one piece of moral high-ground to the next whilst never venturing into the valleys of reality. This lack of cohesion ensures that solid policy thinking is impossible because of the often contradictory nature of the items selected, and gives the distinct impression of band-wagonism. 

If Mr Miliband(wagon) is to make any serious inroads as leader of the opposition, he must understand this article and begin to jettison contradictory issues in favour of cohesive policies which have real depth and credibility. He will only be able to do this if he stops listening to those who shout loudest, but very often know the least. My advice is to ignore anyone with a placard. 

For now at least, the Conservative Party remains in government and, with it's coalition partner, firmly in command. Miliband is lurching about in the PMQ shop, interested in different items as dictated to him by the placard wavers and the left wing headline makers. Mr Cameron at least is able to stand firm behind the counter/dispatch box and continue with his course of fiscal responsibility with a degree of integrity and continuity, even in these difficult times. It is with hope that I commend this article to the blog; hope that enemies of the Left recognise the contradictory nature of their boutiquism, and use it to eject them from the UK political shop altogether.

Follow me on Twitter: @HortonEddison


  1. My first thoughts were maybe it’s hard for you to engage in a debate because they (and by they I do not refer to Miliband but those who you may consider as boutique leftists) as they are trying to reframe the debate. One of the obvious problems with the right is that they seem unable to bring themselves away from their own perspective (but I guess that is in the nature of the beast with a name such as Conservative). To see ideas as entirely contradictory may just be because from your own perspective the coordination does not appear clear. Like a confused child who is told by his parents that they want to make him happy and also that they are going to take his sweets off him it seems that these are contradictory ideas (not that I am comparing George Osborne, Francis Maude, David or yourself to a child).

    To label the left as fringe or alternative is a classic method of the right, the process of constructing a world view begins by labelling things as other than the normal and so begins the ease in seeing their ideas as contradictory (note the use of the contrast with the word necessary also, so the left is contingent is that it?)

    Another classic technique is to frame the terms of the debate so as to give yourself a head start in the debate and suggest there are no alternative ways to start it when there are (there really are, let’s not argue about this). To say there is no money left precludes any discussion. I’m sure there is money left as we look around money is being spent. Even from Nepal I can see this as I read about a report in the House of Lords that there should be a reduction in the 0.7% spent on foreign aid. 0.2%, 0.7% and 12% of no money all equal nothing. So I think there is money left. But the point is not to be facetious but to try and show that statements that say “economics and politics are one and the same” are there to try and blinker people into having a certain kind of debate and this is where in a lot of the problems of modern politics lie. Politics is about as one dictionary definition say “the debate between parties having power” and comes from the Greek word for city rooted in the idea of how we should organise a city as a group of people. Economy comes from the Greek for household management and is originally linked to how we would manage the resources we have at home. So I think it is crucial to note the difference in that one is about people deciding in some form what to do for the best and the other is about how to organise our resources to help us achieve what we want. What we need to be careful not to do is to fall into the trap of letting the tool of economics lead us but to get it to follow our lead. Maybe this is one of the underlying principles of the boutique leftists; That people are not household resources but individuals with their own ends in themselves. This is where the debate comes full circle as if you fail to notice the narrowing of the debate before you know it you have accepted that politics is economics and then you have accepted that there is no money and then you are accepting that there is no other way and we are all in this big society together. One thought I’ve had about these basic economics is that surely there are other avenues than these simple few for raising funds for government (one that springs to mind is tax avoidance).

    Looking at Murdoch and Trade Unions as identical in every way is another piece of rhetoric that tries to blinker people into unquestioning head nodding. Just get them to stand next to each other and you’ll see the difference. Check their bank accounts. Have a look a how many games of premier league football the TU’s are broadcasting this season. The point here is that something like the premier league can enable someone to run papers at a loss and influence public opinion to the extent that it makes it worthwhile for Murdoch in the long run as the influence he gains is as good as money…..

  2. …Not to say the unions are perfect, and they have a long history of aggravating people for little reward, but they are elected through a vote and people often have direct working everyday contact with one of the groups representatives, often a friend. Ok, so the media has complaints departments and the facility to write to the letters column. As well you can stop buying the product (that is being run at a loss a lot of the time). But a lot of people find football addictive. So there’s a few differences there I think.

    As for Israel and Hamas I see the point about the contradictions with the way the leaders of these groups act but to say “Support for the Palestinians” and then to turn Palestinians into Hamas is something that the Palestinians I met in Ramallah would find insulting (especially after you’ve already pointed out yourself that it isn’t recognised as a democracy). They told me what they really wanted was just to be able to go to work without having their friends blow up in front of them.

    But enough of what I found difficult about your piece, I think I might try and sum up a position that could find itself to be coherent and fit these examples you’ve chosen. I think politics should be about changing the world to try and make something better. I think everyone does this with their lives everyday as otherwise we would collapse into inactive fatalism and not really do anything.

    This then leads to how to make it better. I think it would be made better through acts of social cooperation that enable people to achieve more of what they would like with the system working to give every person the opportunities to do things they should have the right to do and also would like to do. This comes with the acknowledgement that this is an ideal to aim for and that people have different aims that conflict at times but they also have what some might term inalienable rights, like the right to life. To this extent part of the process for doing this is trying to be as transparent and open to debate as possible as part of what I’d see as good democracy.

    I would hold that the divide between Murdoch and the Unions is such that Murdoch is not good for a plurality of debate (I can explain why if you like) and the Unions are trying to be more effective at this kind of work since their dark days of the 70s…..

  3. …When keeping the door for debate open I think you need to acknowledge ideas that are out there as alternatives for the economy, I’m no expert, and from what ive seen you might be more so than me (maybe you can explain some of what you know in another post to me), but I’ve seen other plans that sound plausible out there and haven’t heard many arguments from the right to knock them down just simplifications of complex situations that sound good as a sound bite but don’t really make much sense in terms of a developed argument. This is (and no offense intended) what your post feels like at times here (Im hoping I can inspire you to give me more depth). This is where your comments on no public spending cuts and no tuition fees come in. I think you probably need both of these in some sense, but to try and summarise that economic situation in such a short paragraph demonstrates the sort of discussion ive come to expect from the right, and thus links back to your comment about “difficult to to engage in any kind of meaningful policy debate”. I’m your man if you mean it, and its not a case that is a simple as you’ve said here. I can easily envisage a situation where by there aren’t tuition fees and there are less public sector cuts (I don’t think much of the debate was around n public sector cuts) and it would fit with the perspective Ive given in that people find other avenues to gain money. Its simply that the people in power don’t see it as an option. That’s not to say it isn’t one, it’s just to say that they’ve been fairly voted in and that is what people voted for. In a more open and transparent (my values remember, I’m trying to be coherent) democracy people would at least be aware of the alternatives, rather than be told there is no other option, especially come times of elections.

    These ideas I think also fit with the idea that I can be against Israeli aggression and illegal occupation (according to the UN, the same authority you quoted) and be for the rights of Palestinians to live in an open country and go to work and have clean drinking water and be able to freely trade. I think that’s a fairly straight forward one that doesn’t need to much explaining once you get past the distinction between Hamas and Palastinians.

    I hope some of this is provocative anough to inspire some form meaningful debate with you and as I said I’d love to hear you response, for me I think John Stuart Mill had it right when he said “If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.” Let me know what you think.