Here are my top five most influential contemporary UK lefties.
George Bernard Shaw remarked: “If all economists were laid end to end they would still not reach a conclusion”; well, Professor Blanchflower has. He is consistent and persistent in arguing that the scale of the economic Armageddon we face requires unprecedented action.
As the leading “dove” on the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee until last June, Blanchflower’s was the leading voice warning of the risks of deflation and unemployment. He now issues his analysis and call for action through the pages of the New Statesman. We should simultaneously pray he’s completely wrong on his predictions; but that his prescriptions are heeded if not.
Why I hear you howl? He is influential precisely because he is not trying to be influential. Following the election defeat there has been a noticeable lack of “I told you so’s”. ‘Sources close the former PM’ have been quiescent. His low profile in UK politics will allow Labour to move on and ensure that, unlike Mrs Thatcher, his memory does not become a death cult for his followers.
Indeed, we do not hear much talk these days of Blairites at all – and that is much to be welcomed. Labour’s brand of ‘personality politics’ was responsible for its long periods in opposition: first in the 50s with Bevan and then with Benn in the 80s. Mr Blair serves his party well by concentrating on his second career.
There was a time when trade union general-secretaries were household names. Those days are long gone. But there is one that still manages instant name recognition, usually preceded, it has to be said, by a profanity. Bob Crow, the tabloid bête noire and leader of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union is a defiantly unreconstructed militant. As a Millwall football club supporter, he revels in the club’s motto: “Everyone hates us, we don’t care.”
Yet he’s the only general secretary I can think of who’s been on Have I Got News for You. His extreme left politics may be primordial, but Crow never claims to be more than he is: a tribune of his members and he is undoubtedly effective in pursuing their interests. With a membership that has increased by 40 per cent on his watch, Crow is a powerful reminder to theorising progressives that if you make a practical difference to ordinary peoples’ lives they will support you. Regardless of what anyone else thinks.
They seemed to have dropped off the radar in recent years, but have come bang with a bang with two moves that put them in the centre of the action. First, their Progressive Conservatism project provided David Cameron with some intellectual detergent to wash out the ‘nasty party’ stain by making a daring foray into the left’s territory, particularly around social and welfare policy.
Second, their Open Left project which is looking at ‘renewing the thinking and ideas of the political Left’, may help to flesh out just how we can win back ground that should never have been lost to the right in the first place.
The former director of communications for the Liberal Democrats and founder of the anti-ID card pressure group ‘No2ID’is now director-general of the right-wing Institute for Economic Affairs.
Littlewood is important because he shows the coalition is not just a marriage of convenience, but also of ideas. This pact is not just an aberration. The right of the Lib Dems have far more in common with the Conservatives than they do with Labour.
Littlewood personifies that unholy alliance. Understanding that this coupling between Orange Book free market Lib Dems and the Tories is true love is perhaps the most valuable lesson progressives can learn from 2010. Only by understanding it can it be overcome.
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