You cannot be both radical and pragmatic, they are two different strands of thinking. Being radical is adopting a far-reaching change into the fundamental nature of something; if you’re being pragmatic you’re accepting that theoretical considerations have to give way to the reality of the situation. In essence, being pragmatic and radical at the same time will lead to overblown rhetoric, and a confusing political message which says different things. This is the current state of the Labour party. Corbyn and company got to power on a wave of frustrated Labour members, however his position is precarious. What he wants, and what people want is very different, as the New Statesman showed less than a week ago.
During John McDonnell’s speech, the straddling of pragmatism with the wish to be radical was clear from the outset. He argued that the Bank of England needed to remain an independent body, but that he wanted to review their list of operational responsibilities. In essence he wants to tell them what to do but in a bit of a nicer way. His position on the ‘robin hood tax’ is barely describable . In his interview for newsnight he gave a mixed answer, which was part politician and all waffle. He has said he is going to sign up to Osbourne’s charter for budget responsibility, yet he also plans on a people’s QE which will blow up the deficit. What we’ve seen from McDonnell and Labour is mass confusion, policies seem to be shifting on sand and the party seems to be completely divided but smiling cheerfully.
It isn’t just John McDonnell who is having to try to be radical and pragmatic. Corbyn is starting to learn that his landslide victory isn’t a guarantee of getting what you want. One example is Trident, Jeremy Corbyn hates it as do a large number of his supporters. However the unions like it on the basis they represent the workers who build it, and the parliamentary party is in general completely behind it. The lack of control Corbyn holds was shown by conference essentially refusing to even debate the motion. How long will this emollient language and action last from Corbyn? On Syria cabinet collective responsibility will be tested to the limit. Hilary Benn and Diane Abbott profoundly disagree on intervention, and Corbyn will need to start to lead and be pragmatic, rather than abiding by his radical vision of consensual leadership.
What we’ve seen from Labour is a lot of overblown rhetoric, light on real policy. This is reminiscent of the campaign which Corbyn conducted. It has broad brushstrokes of anti austerity, and anti-capitalism, but beyond that there is nothing. In fact it’s worse for Corbyn and company, as the ‘review’ stamp came out for McDonnell’s speech all sorts of promises could be undone but not unsaid. It’s the worst of both worlds for the Corbyn camp; already we’re seeing promises unravelling as the leaders of the new movement realise the parliamentary party and the public cannot be won over. In short reality is biting for Corbyn and McDonnell.
The members of the Labour party wanted a radical Jeremy Corbyn, not a stronger version Ed Miliband with quirky ideas. I am not a fan of Jeremy Corbyn or his politics, but i wanted to see his politics take hold of Labour. The Corbyn way won an overwhelming mandate, and the only possibility to defeat the Corbyn way is to show that the socialist vision is out of touch with ordinary people and reality. This means that for a time people in the Labour party have to allow Corbyn a free-reign until it all comes crashing down. However we’re not seeing this, people seem to be trying to reign in Corbyn and work with what we have, it will be a constant battle as his instincts lead him away from pacifying the moderates. At the moment all we’re seeing is poor media management, policy change after policy change, and MP’s contradicting each other. I’d rather see Labour move full steam ahead in socialist mode and see what happens, than a bad attempt at matching radicalism with pragmatism.