30 March 2015

How Dan Jarvis and left-wing patriotic populism could revive Labour


The UK election campaign starts this week. What do you mean, it feels as though it has already been going for 18 months? What do you mean you will leave the country if another opinion pollster makes a big deal out of one poll – one poll – showing a sudden shift that is then reversed within 24 hours?

It is true that the dispiriting battle between the parties in Britain has taken on a mind-numbing quality. However, if it remains this close, with both the Conservatives and Labour stuck on about a third of the vote each, then the final ten days of the campaign will be pretty exciting.

What will also be rather exciting and interesting is the leadership contest that follows May the 7th. With the outcome 50/50 and a close election in prospect, the losing party is highly likely to be looking for a new leader this summer. Either the Tories or Labour could be electing successors to David Cameron or Ed Miliband.

Last week, I wrote about the potential Tory contest for the London Evening Standard and the possible Labour contest for The Sunday Telegraph.

In the Labour race, if Miliband fails, my money is on Dan Jarvis, the former army officer and MP for Barnsley Central. As I wrote:

“The strongest element of Mr Jarvis’s potential appeal is not ideological. It is that the standard critique, from disaffected voters who hate the out-of-touch Westminster elite, simply would not work against him. Here is a possible leader who can never be accused of lacking experience of the real world or of never having had a proper job. If he wins the Labour leadership, that pitch might win over voters who have tuned out.”

But the potential offer from Jarvis on economics is fascinating. He is, according to his friends, very much to the left on taxation. That rules him out, surely? Not necessarily. Not if he gets his message right, which I expect to run as follows.

In the Sunday Telegraph, I wrote:

“Mr Jarvis would not be a North London intellectual, like Mr Miliband, trying to impose his ivory tower theories on the country. Let’s have a little more fairness, he might say, and a proper contribution to defend the public realm – in all its manifestations – from those who can afford it.”

Imagine him saying that the troops he led as platoon commander in the Paras, and the people he served alongside in Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere, did not earn very much. They made sacrifices because they believed in their country and the notion of public service. While they were off fighting and trying to keep the peace, a minority of people back home were paying themselves many millions and blowing up the economy in alliance with a discredited class of politicians and regulators. The result was that the many suffered, in terms of lower living standards, while the minority who had caused the problem rescued themselves after the disaster with QE and other people’s money. Again, Jarvis could say, it is time for a little fairness.

This line of attack should worry anyone who is pro-market and it would give the Tories massive problems. A left-wing populist approach on economics, imbued with robust patriotism, and presented by a genuinely fresh face not from the political adviser class, could appeal to large numbers of voters. Dan Jarvis could be what the high tax, high spend left in Britain has been looking for since the financial crisis of 2008. My fellow capitalists, you have been warned.

Iain Martin is Editor of CapX