Labour’s dilemma, nailed

Great Bagehot column in the Economist. Sample:

What is going on? I see it as evidence of two deep cleavages in British and Western politics. The first is the gulf between instrumental and expressive politics. The former involves winning elections in order to wield power and change things. The latter involves seeking fulfilment and personal satisfaction by interacting with symbols, attending events, declaring positions—in short, signalling things about oneself. With the decline of mass classes and monolithic ideologies it has become increasingly hard to combine the two sorts of politics. So the two are drifting apart. Government is becoming more technocratic, political activism more colourful and the gap between the two wider. Arguably this affects Labour more than most. The party has an unusually idealistic culture compared with its European counterparts (with its roots in Christian socialism and Bloomsbury utopianism, traces of both of which live on in Mr Corbyn) but was also founded with the specific intention of winning elections (for which read the relative pragmatism of most of his MPs). The Labour leader’s defining trait, however, is that he has no interest in general elections, opinion polls or indeed the views of any Briton outside a crowd of supportive activists and campaigners so small as to be electorally insignificant.

The second cleavage is that between social liberalism and statist socialism. Here, too, Labour has traditionally been a coalition. For every Denis Healey there was a Tony Benn (Hilary’s much more lefty father); for every Hugh Gaitskell a Nye Bevan. Here, too, the two sides have become harder to reconcile. Globalisation, an increasingly individualistic, consumerist culture and the decline of heavy industry have expanded the rift between the prescriptions of the party’s moderates and those of its hard-liners. All claim their interpretation of its eternal principles is the truest. But few would deny that they have more in common with members of other political families than with each other.

He goes on to review four possible scenarios for Labour. None of them good.