Does ‘leftwing’ politics equal welfare politics?


by Leon
22nd November, 2007 at 3:00 pm    

I was reading this piece in the New Statesmen about the rise of BME candidates in the Conservative Party when something Shaun Bailey said stood out:

“People are shocked at my conservative views. But left-wing politics equals welfare politics.

It’s an interesting and I assume widely held rightwing belief that leftist politics will always equate to state dependency. A question I want to ask is how true is it? Does ‘leftwing’ (let’s pretend for a moment the right/left dichotomy is still relevant) politics equal welfare politics?

Is the solidarity and dare I say collectivist tendencies of the left always doomed to keep people poor and a slave to the state? Or is this a convenient myth from a political ideology that likes to ignore the corporate welfare state dependency of the private sector?


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  1. Joe Otten — on 22nd November, 2007 at 3:07 pm  

    “Or is this a convenient myth from a political ideology that likes to ignore the corporate welfare state dependency of the private sector?”

    Not really – all you’re saying there is that right-wing politics is another kind of welfare politics. It doesn’t absolve the left of anything.

  2. Kismet Hardy — on 22nd November, 2007 at 3:55 pm  

    left-wing politics equals welfare politics. right-wing politics equals warfare politics.

  3. Leon — on 22nd November, 2007 at 4:37 pm  

    “Benefits not bombs!”

    Now that’s a slogan a Stalinist like me can get behind! :D

  4. justforfun — on 22nd November, 2007 at 4:45 pm  

    One is what ones enemy defines one as. Not what you define yourself as, unless you like talking to yourself.

    so It’s an interesting and I assume widely held rightwing belief that leftist politics will always equate to state dependency . Is it a rightwing belief or is it actually a leftwing belief?

    Justforfun

  5. Piggy — on 22nd November, 2007 at 6:54 pm  

    Left wing politics = welfare politics doesn’t really work, it’s more a rhetorical device used by conservatives to imply that being left-wing means having a desperate urge to take people’s wages and give them to gay junkie asylum seekers. Aside from anything else it ignores a) the not insignificant number of left-wing positions that are anti-state and b) the fact that most halfway-sane conservative/right-wing thinkers argue for some kind of welfare state (Friedrich Hayek, for example).

    Personally my favourite attempt to sum up the whole spectrum of left-wing opinion in a single sentence is Hugh Gaitskell’s (I think) ‘Socialism is about equality’. Obviously it only works as a very, very rough guide but it seems to be somewhere in the region of right. Working from that proposition, being for or against the welfare state is more of a strategic choice than a core principle. The pursuit of greater equality might involve a welfare state, or it might not.

  6. Rumbold — on 22nd November, 2007 at 8:19 pm  

    Leon:

    “It’s an interesting and I assume widely held rightwing belief that leftist politics will always equate to state dependency. A question I want to ask is how true is it? Does ‘leftwing’ (let’s pretend for a moment the right/left dichotomy is still relevant) politics equal welfare politics?”

    I do not think that all left-wingers are somehow pro-welfare dependancy. Some of the most striking reforms of welfare have been proposed by left-wing figures (Bill Clinton and Frank Field, the Labour MP). This said, there still is a broad tendancy amongst the left to associate the state with goodness. Thus, they see nothing wrong with someone being dependant on the state their whole lives.

    “Is the solidarity and dare I say collectivist tendencies of the left always doomed to keep people poor and a slave to the state?”

    The problem seems to be getting worse. I do not object to lifelong welfare dependancy so much from the money side, but more from the notion that such a condition damages society as children are brought up with little or no connection with the world of work. The idea that you never have to work then becomes entrenched throghout generations. Already we are seeing three generations of the same families who have hardly ever worked.

    Nor does the system benefit some of the people who need that support the most; the disabled. People with serious disabilities quite rightly receive a sum of money from the government. The government have decreed that disabled people will lose this money if they earn more than £20 a week. Thus people with severe disabilities who want to work for a few days a week cannot, because they cannot afford to.

    Why not let them work and still receive the money? The taxpayer will benefit because the government will be receiving national insurance and maybe income tax, and payments to the disabled person will not increase. It will also increase their self-confidence, as it is nicer to be paid than rely totally on handouts.

    This government (and no doubt fututre ones) refuse to accept this commonsense solution, because they believe that the state knows all.

  7. Rumbold — on 22nd November, 2007 at 8:24 pm  

    I have always admired Shaun Bailey:

    “And what Cameron hears about those estates, about the black communities and the impact upon them of the caring professions, has an uncompromising tone. “When you do a job like mine and the community work I do, you start to see lots of people in pain and living badly,” Bailey says. “You see well-meaning people around them trying to help, but what they do is that they support them so much that they take over their lives. They rob them of the will and the skill to look after their own. They make them dependent. We get all these people who are parachuted into poor communities who manage that community and then go home to their lovely lives. It’s just horrible for that community because it means all of us continue to live in this horrible dark world that we can’t navigate without someone leading us from it.”

    He says it better than I could.

  8. Cover Drive — on 22nd November, 2007 at 8:24 pm  

    Left wing politics = social justice.

    The problem is in reality that’s always an ideal!

  9. ZinZin — on 22nd November, 2007 at 8:50 pm  

    Bill Clinton and Frank Field- Left-wing, you need a new compass.

  10. El Cid — on 22nd November, 2007 at 9:06 pm  

    Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach him how to fish and he will eat for lifetime (assuming there are no EU quotas which prevent him from landing his catch).
    So my answer is NO — it does not and should not, necessarileee.

  11. ZinZin — on 22nd November, 2007 at 9:08 pm  

    Rumbold:

    Bailey’s spiel is nothing more than knocking down the strawman that is the patronising liberal. Another thing Rummy, I have had a meeting with a social worker today about getting a referral/funding for autism support, should I worry about the state doing everything for me?

  12. Piggy — on 22nd November, 2007 at 10:28 pm  

    Rumbold,

    “This said, there still is a broad tendancy amongst the left to associate the state with goodness. Thus, they see nothing wrong with someone being dependant on the state their whole lives”

    Hmmm… I’d agree that there is occasionally a tendency among some people on the ‘left’ to clumsily equate ‘more government’ with ‘more left-wing’, but it seems a bit daft to suppose this means that they would be happy about someone spending their whole life on benefits.

    With regards to the Shaun Bailey interview, I think that really his conservative credentials come from his comments about the corrosive moral effects of ‘liberalism’. His comments about the importance of community organisations to anti-poverty strategy are largely unobjectionable from a left-wing point of view. Community self-help organisations like co-operatives and trade unions have always been a key part of the British left. The only difference is that the people who ran co-ops and trade unions realised over a hundred years ago that they could only make serious drive against poverty and inequality if community action was supplemented with politcal action.

  13. Ravi Naik — on 22nd November, 2007 at 11:14 pm  

    Bill Clinton is not a Left figure. He is a moderate and he governed that way (the so-called Third way).

    Social justice and social responsibility – they can go together without falling into any extremes.

  14. Ravi Naik — on 22nd November, 2007 at 11:15 pm  

    I mean, … into either extremes.

  15. Piggy — on 22nd November, 2007 at 11:25 pm  

    “Another thing Rummy, I have had a meeting with a social worker today about getting a referral/funding for autism support, should I worry about the state doing everything for me?”

    Also, would it be better if Zin got exactly the same help from a charity? I’ve heard several tories say things that seem to suggest that while people getting support from the state is morally undesirable, getting help from a charity is just super. I don’t fully understand why.

    And while Conservative hearts are bleeding for the poor souls unable to ever be self-dependent thanks to their enslavement by the evil liberal welfare state, why isn’t anyone speaking up for the equally wretched children of wealthy investment bankers? Discouraged from getting so much as a paper round by overly generous parental handouts then sent to private boarding schools where a phalanx of staff prevent them from learning such basic life skills as cooking and laundary. When they are finally allowed to enter the world of work they are denied the opportunity develop themselves in a competitive job market by a web of family and old school ties, which force them into high powered jobs with fantastic prospects and enormous salaries. Eventually they come to have children of their own and their upbringing and lifestyle has left them incapable of even raising their own offspring without help from outsiders. Some are forced to use Romanian au pairs, others Lithuanian. In time the children will be packed off to Eton and the process will repeat itself, each generation equally unable to lift itself out of this grinding life of dependence. Surely as a society we need to ask ourselves how we can break this horrifying cycle and give these people a chance to stand on their own two feet, to develop a sense of pride and dignity at achieving something by themselves instead of being spoon-fed by the well meaning but ultimately harmful actions of their wealthy parents.

  16. Dan | thesamovar — on 22nd November, 2007 at 11:55 pm  

    In a capitalist society, one of the things the left is for is redistribution. Whenever the state takes money from all – particularly if its a progressive tax – and spends it equally on all, that’s redistributive (all parts of this sentence are idealisations and sadly do not correspond to reality). It doesn’t have to be welfare spending.

    But, that’s only a way of ameliorating the inequalities of capitalism, it’s not a solution. The left should more positively also be for more radical solutions to this problem.

  17. douglas clark — on 23rd November, 2007 at 1:13 am  

    Much taken with Piggys’ analysis.

    How about make inheritance tax 100% and unavoidable and redistribute it to everyone just before Christmas? Now, that’s a meritocracy!

    Ain’t gonna fly, dammit.

  18. Boyo — on 23rd November, 2007 at 8:48 am  

    I think you can equate the increase of the numbers receiving welfare with (what i regard as) the hijacking of the left by the bourgeoise (god i’m so working class i can’t even spell it, or can I?!).

    The welfare state was created to stop people like my great auntie from starving to death as she did in the valleys in the 1930s. Since the usurption of the left by the wealthy, welfare has increasinly been used as a tool to destroy working class consciousness through welfare dependency.

    Preventing them from experiencing the brutal reality of capitalism actually stops them getting angry, so we now have a whole class of people living on hand outs afraid/ too apathetic to do anything about the inequalities that have grown under New Labour, aptly named after the betrayal it embodies.

    Ironically the most authentic expression of the working class is now more likely to be found in your anti-handout working class tory, who is more likely to be aware of where they stand in the world than the epsilon-like underclass rump.

  19. Morgoth — on 23rd November, 2007 at 4:43 pm  

    As to the question posed by the OP, it has been ever since the Fabians hijacked the left in this country in the post-war period.

  20. Don — on 23rd November, 2007 at 4:53 pm  

    Well said, Piggy.

  21. Rumbold — on 23rd November, 2007 at 5:55 pm  

    ZinZin and Ravi:

    “Bill Clinton and Frank Field- Left-wing, you need a new compass.”

    “Bill Clinton is not a Left figure. He is a moderate and he governed that way (the so-called Third way).

    Social justice and social responsibility – they can go together without falling into any extremes.”

    They consider themselves left-wing and are members of left-wing parties. However, I will concede that they are perhaps not orthordox leftists.

    ZinZin:

    ” Another thing Rummy, I have had a meeting with a social worker today about getting a referral/funding for autism support, should I worry about the state doing everything for me?”

    See my views on funding disabled people in #6. Let me ask you though, do you want to be funded by the state for the rest of your life, or do you want to work (forget financial considerations for the moment)? Which life would make you happier?

    Temporary support for the unemployed is fine, and admirable, but long-term support is damaging because of the mindset it creates.

    Piggy:

    “Hmmm… I’d agree that there is occasionally a tendency among some people on the ‘left’ to clumsily equate ‘more government’ with ‘more left-wing’, but it seems a bit daft to suppose this means that they would be happy about someone spending their whole life on benefits.”

    Rather then, they do not see it as a particular problem.

    “Also, would it be better if Zin got exactly the same help from a charity? I’ve heard several tories say things that seem to suggest that while people getting support from the state is morally undesirable, getting help from a charity is just super. I don’t fully understand why.”

    As a general rule, my problem is not with who is providing the welfare, but the length of time that welfare is provided for. In general, charities will encourage people to get out of the situation they are in- they do not want to fund them indefinately. The state, on the other had, is not concerned about cost so is happy to fund someone for life.

    “And while Conservative hearts are bleeding for the poor souls unable to ever be self-dependent thanks to their enslavement by the evil liberal welfare state, why isn’t anyone speaking up for the equally wretched children of wealthy investment bankers? Discouraged from getting so much as a paper round by overly generous parental handouts then sent to private boarding schools where a phalanx of staff prevent them from learning such basic life skills as cooking and laundary. When they are finally allowed to enter the world of work they are denied the opportunity develop themselves in a competitive job market by a web of family and old school ties, which force them into high powered jobs with fantastic prospects and enormous salaries. Eventually they come to have children of their own and their upbringing and lifestyle has left them incapable of even raising their own offspring without help from outsiders.”

    It is true that some of these children are cut off from reality, though I am not sure that the boarding school example is a good one, as such an environment often produces very resourceful people. I am not a fan of boarding schools though, especially for younger children.

  22. Rumbold — on 23rd November, 2007 at 6:01 pm  

    Douglas:

    “How about make inheritance tax 100% and unavoidable and redistribute it to everyone just before Christmas? Now, that’s a meritocracy!”

    Oh dear. Oh dear oh dear of dear. In other words, you want to massively increase the amount of money and power given to the state. Why? Would you go up to a random person in the street and give them a large chunk of your own money, then tell them to spend it on you as they see fit. No? Why not? That is what happens with the government. They take our money, then condescend to give some of it back to us.

    Your plan would encourage zero savings, as people would just spend money as soon as they got it. I would not risk having all my savings hoovered up by Whitehall. What I save should be mine, not theirs. They already take money from us in so many different taxes, why should they doubly penalise savers too?

    I am not getting angry at you, just this idea.

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