Friday 30 September 2016


'Socialism for the 21st century' - that's the rallying cry from the Labour Party conference in Liverpool this week. Sounds good to  me. The Cornishman published my letter last month in which I made the case that leading economists such as Ha-Joon Chang at Cambridge, Thomas Piketty in France, and Joseph Stiglitz in the States have ideas for the recovery of capitalist market economies and the creation of more humane and prosperous societies that are broadly similar to those of Jeremy Corbyn

Jeremy Corbyn - our next prime-minister

and all who share his values. The old and crude polarisation of capitalism vs socialism is no longer fit for purpose.

Pilgrim, my alter ego in 'The Road to Corbyn' (published August 2016), says (p.132):

'I feel ... I feel now that the way people used to talk about the battle between capitalism and socialism is no longer helpful. Too many sane and compassionate people who have an understanding of economics that is the opposite of  the neo-liberal nonsense we are suffering believe in the positive power of the market to  generate wealth. But that market has to have a measure of regulation or otherwise Mammon will rule. Inequalities of  wealth and power will be the order of  the day' ...

And a little later (p.133):.

'The smile had gone. Pilgrim was angry. "It is the patronising contempt for ordinary people that gets to me. We are all equal in worth. There should not be this reckless pursuit of deception ..."

If I had to pinpoint the key ideas of my book - the reason for writing - those extracts above capture

most of them. It's interesting that an Oxford contemporary and friend, who spent his working life in the Treasury, read 'The Road to Corbyn' and in his otherwise quite charitable review missed Pilgrim's acceptance of the role of the markets. My friend acknowledged that he was neither a supporter nor an admirer of Corbyn and went on to disassociate himself from my rejection of the market economy. I and Pilgrim are very careful with our words. We would not  wish to be open to the charge of deception. Mr Corbyn also has a straight and honest way with words. Our socialism is for the 21st century. We want the full flourishing of market economies and such a future can only come through national and international governmental regulation.

'We are all equal in worth'. I am not your better because, say, I have an Olympic gold medal, or a doctorate, or a family that is so rich and well connected they sent me to Eton. We appreciate those truths more widely now than ever before, thank goodness. In my working lifetime in the classroom, I experienced at close quarters the consequences of this wider collapse of deference in our society. My authority as a teacher had to be earned through what I said and how I performed. My certificate of qualification carried no weight in itself. Are we not, potentially, a healthier land as a result of this dramatic shift away from the exercise of naked power - with all its attendant possible abuses - to the insistence on a justifiable and legitimate authority?  My socialism has at its heart a vision of a land where people matter and all are of equal worth. Those who resist paying more taxation, who object to redistribution on the grounds of need -  by name, Tories - seem to me to be showing symptoms of that patronising contempt for ordinary people that made Pilgrim so angry. Tories - be they rich or poor - see the world divided into the deserving and undeserving, our kind of people and the rest, the intelligent and the unintelligent, the educated and the uneducated, the cultured and the uncultured. But in my world, we all have worth simply by virtue of our common humanity. We can discuss the finer points in any redistribution scheme in close detail but let us at least recognise what is the essential difference between a socialist of my ilk and a Tory.

And then there is the question of the elephant in the room - the beast that remains largely unrecognised, indeed unseen by the mass of people. I mean the Royal Family. Our land is a constitutional monarchy. Our neighbour, France, is a republic. Much of the social and political history of our land during the 19th and early 20th centuries was shaped by fear. The fear felt by the wealthy and powerful elites in Britain. The fear that revolutionary forces made up of the lower orders would topple the old order as had happened in France after 1789 in the Revolution that led to the setting up of a republic. As industrialisation led to urban growth and population increase, the fear of the masses intensified.

Royal Secrets - a Report by Republic

I watched the lunchtime news today and heard the BBC royal correspondent reporting from Canada say: 'Waving to the crowd should be in the royal genes by now.' I grew up learning that royals had blue blood - at least until the penny dropped. I remember being physically shocked when another older undergraduate, in the van taking us - peace activists -  up the roads to Liverpool to protest against the launching of the Polaris submarine with its nuclear warheads in 1968 or '69, spoke a home truth about the royal  family. 'When they go to the toilet, you do know they shit just like you or I, don't you?'  Well of course I sort of did know that - but from my home and background that came as a thunderbolt.

The death of the so-called 'People's Princess', Diana, led to royal behaviour that for a brief while seriously dented their approval ratings. But the spin machine was soon in gear. The royal family's fortunes were restored. But much rested on the longevity of the reigning monarch, Elizabeth. For a moment consider how much of an anachronism is the institution of royalty. In an age when deference has collapsed in significant ways why should one family be graced with a special place in our political system? Why should such status and power and wealth remain through the generations? Make no mistake, the safeguarding of the power and mystique of royalty is inextricably linked with the protection of the rights and privileges, and the wealth and power, of the ruling elites that are determined to control our land and other such lands to their own advantage and our disadvantage.

I am proud to be a member of Republic. As republicans we know that the monarchy needs to be abolished if we are to be a truly democratic society. I recommend reading 'Royal Expenses - counting the cost of the monarchy (2015). Did you know the truth behind the claim that the royals cost the taxpayer around £40 million a year? The real figure is around £334 million a year. Each 'working royal' costs the taxpayer around £18.5 million, money that could employ thousands of  nurses, teachers or police officers.

I also recommend 'Royal Secrets - a report  on Royal  Secrecy and Power' (2015). Read and discover the degree to which the monarchy is  one of the country's most secretive institutions, gaining access to ministers without any chance of  scrutiny, spending public money without proper accountability. In a democracy, public institutions must be built on honesty and trust. The heir to the throne - Charles - has access to cabinet papers and government ministers that provide him with unique opportunities to  influence government in line with his agenda and his own personal interests. Here in the South West, in the Duchy of Cornwall, numbers of his tenants are too scared to talk openly about their own issues and complaints lest there be consequences. Clem Attlee would have something to say about such a state of affairs.

I want a republican Britain for similar reasons to those that explain my identity as a socialist. I would love to know that future generations of Britons will be living in a fairer, more decent, kinder society where all are valued and no one is made superior by birth.   .                


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