Ok, I had wanted to write a song/rap to go with Andy Burnham’s Aspirational Socialism manifesto, but I decided that a more ‘traditional’ blog would better suit the purpose. Whilst the name is very catchy, the manifesto is in places, dangerously vacant of real socialist ideas. Also, this whole “I hate elites” attitude, whilst being an ex-Cambridge student, for example, is rather tedious.
That is not to say that because he went to Cambridge it makes him a non-socialist, or an elite himself. There are many who have been a part of very elitist practices and institutions who have become rather revolutionary, take Karl Marx for example. This is why I have a problem with the whole, we hate anyone who doesn’t come from a ‘normal’ ‘ordinary’ background – so Burnham’s current message. Whilst I agree the system and society needs to be totally reformed so that elitist practices are removed, and so that we no longer have such a clearly undemocratic and unfair system – I equally don’t like class war, where groups of people are generalised and stigmatised. There are many in the upper class who do deserve to be stigmatised for being very elitist, there are many who have got to Oxbridge through knowing people or having lots of money, but not everyone.
And this is where socialism comes in. It is not about constructing hatred between people who are better off and those who aren’t – it is about reforming society so we have less marked divisions, and so we don’t have people living in such extremes. This is where Andy Burnham’s socialism, for me, is off the mark. He is reopening divisions between classes – where instead, we need to create a greater consensus. Of course, you wont get everyone on board, but we cannot ignore the people in the top and middle classes who want to become involved in changing the system so it is fairer for everyone. We can’t just stigmatise everyone, even if it is fair to apply it to a large or semi large group of people.
I myself, can often fall into the trap of generalising those at the top or whatever. Even though generalisations can sometimes be correct, we have to also try to move away from this often unproductive way of doing things, so more productive alliances and policy can form.
I do like Burnham’s focus upon the grassroots however, and the need to construct a party movement has been a dominant and prevalent issue amongst all leadership candidates. To his credit, there is definitely a strong level of personalisation to his campaign, and it does add something different. But again, it can sometimes fall into the trap of constructing an ‘us’ and ‘them’ society – and for me, there is nothing aspirational about that.
But what’s Burnham’s substance?
Overall, in terms of socialism, it is pretty tame. I mean, he speaks good rhetoric regarding education, talking up the importance of comprehensive education. But then he fails to throw his weight behind grammar schools abolition, instead saying that they should be open to a ballot of all parents in the catchment area. If he seriously wants to stop education being determined by who you know, and the wealth and cultural capital of your parents, then grammar schools, followed by private schools – should be both on his agenda for removal. However, in terms of education and employment, his ideas for making internships paid is a very good idea – however, again, his commitment for that to be minimum wage, even though he supports a living wage (eventually), again shows his reluctance to commit to socialism.
Burnham does offer other very socialist and inspiring policy ideas – such as his commitment towards more council housing, for better mental health provision and for legalising gay marriage. However, again, there are concerns around how far he would be able to go when it comes to real reform. Take gay marriage, there was an interesting article on Pick News that illustrated how there are many concerns regarding his overall attitude towards gay rights. For example, he is scared by very homophobic scientific claims that we should stop gay men and bisexuals from giving blood because they are more likely to have AIDs. This is such a clear form of discrimination, and I think it should be a key aspect of socialism to stand up and have the ability to reform life so that people are respected and provided opportunities fairly, not in terms of bias and prejudiced propaganda.
Whilst he holds some very aspirational ideas such as furthering trade union rights, he doesn’t go far enough when it comes to pay reform, such as not even talking about the need for a high pay commission (even if supporting elsewhere, this should be clearly stated here), and he also proposers a very unnecessary slow introduction of the living wage (also note the internship living wage idea earlier). Also, take his views around immigration, whilst arguing he is all for immigration and free movement, he wants to actually undermine (even though he thinks the current law is undermining it) free movement by changing benefit rules – this will only further send out the message “immigrants aren’t welcome here”, and will detriment free movement, not promote a more positive image towards it.
It is also not very socialistic to propose to cut the deficit as fast as Labour had promised before the election. This is something that Ball’s is probably winning on, and is one of the reasons for why he is most likely to land the chancellor job when it comes to cabinet decision time. He was right to argue that Labour’s plans for halving the deficit as fast as they said was wrong, and that there are better ways to deal with the deficit. However, Burnham’s tax policies are very socialistic – as he rightly states that Labour needs to focus more on the importance of tax increases on the wealthiest instead of public spending cuts – and also talks about the need for taxes such as the robin hood tax and a land tax.
So, Burnham does have some very good socialist leaning progressive ideas – but equally, many of these ideas don’t go far enough, and there is still a strong hint of the many detrimental attitudes and aspects of New Labour that poisoned the very thought of socialist policy. Probably one of Burnham's more impressive ideas however, is the national social care system and this is something I hope happens regardless of who wins the leadership election. Whilst I think that Burnham is on the right track, there are many issues that would need resolving to call this a real progressive manifesto.