Did the left win the 20th century?

Another plane

Last week I received a complimentary 100th year anniversary copy of the New Statesman. I have to say I have thoroughly enjoyed reading the archived essay from John Maynard Keynes on the case for intervention and Will Self talking about his pessimistic outlook.  However the one feature which really caught my eye was politicians and political commentators discussing ‘Did the left win the 20th century?’

Having got over the shock of not being asked for my opinion directly by the New Statesman I decided I would quite like to write about this. I am quite unashamedly left wing in my politics, I believe in nationalised public services, government intervention in business, tax and spend fiscal policy and ending all fossil fuel subsidies and the need for a rapid transition to a clean energy system.

However I recognise that to tackle the biggest challenge our generation faces in my eyes ‘climate change’, we will need both sides the left and the right to work together to have any chance of seriously curbing our carbon emissions.

To date I would be correct in suggesting big business are standing in the way of tackling climate change at every turn. If capitalism is going to survive as the dominant politically ideology for the next 100 years, I believe it will have to evolve, retract, become a more local. We live on a planet with finite resources and a rapidly changing climate.

The businesses which help us becoming smarter and more efficient in the way we lead our daily lives, paying a fair wage to employees will be the ones which thrive. Those who continue to put profit before the wellbeing of their employers and those who currently buy their products will perish.

Did the left win the 20th century?

Oh, how I would love to answer ‘yes’ and say how in 2013 we live in a socialist paradise where everyone cycles and poverty in non existent. The truth is that as I type this I can hear the planes on route to City Airport and we stand on the verge of a triple dip recession. To boot we have a government who want to de-regulate and privatise and outsource everything, even through irresponsible unfettered capitalism was a root cause of the financial crisis. The neoliberal economics of Milton Friedman adopted by Thatcher then Blair and almost every western government since the 1970’s and has led to the current sad state of affairs, so it could be said the economic doctrine of the right sadly had more support at the end of the 20th century.

However the social ideals of the left certainly gained universal acceptance by the end of the 20th century. Things like for example an national health service, state pensions, acceptance of gay relationships, end to apathied, employment law, human rights act. These only came about because of the left.

So on reflection perhaps it was a score draw. What is clear the politics of the 20th century failed, the gap between the richest and the poorest grew wider. And although there were huge advancements in providing help for the most needy food banks are opening at a rate of 3 a week in the UK.

The next 10o years will need a different kind of people politics with ideas for change from business and government coming our communities not out of touch privileged politicians.

Regardless of who “wins” the 21st century political battle, lets hope it is the side which fights for social justice and wealth distribution and tackles climate change. That is the side I will be on.

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