As I See It
Leonard’s envy politics won’t make us great again
In a strategy that always looked doomed to failure, Kezia Dugdale wanted Scottish Labour to fight its own corner and pursue its own agenda. Since replacing her as party leader Richard Leonard has made great strides to align his policies more closely to Jeremy Corbyn’s left wing agenda, a move that at least gives the party a semblance of unity.
Mr Leonard is the epitome of the ‘firebrand’ politician, a term most usually attributed to those on the left, perhaps because they tend to be always demanding a revolution in ideas that requires a robust style of oratory.
His combative, some would say aggressive, tone is certainly reminiscent of those soap-box orators of pre-microphone times who were forced to shout their campaign statements from street corners to make themselves heard. It also helped convince those listening that their message was important and that the speaker had conviction in what was being said.
Labour is not short of old-fashioned firebrands. John McDonnell, the shadow Chancellor, is not shy in raising the tempo, as he did in his speech at the party’s annual conference on worker rights and nationalisation. Once again it is the call to arms, an appeal to the downtrodden to man the barricades, that underpins the party’s manifesto for change.
Labour’s mantra under Mr Corbyn is “for the many, not the few”, trotted out in almost every media statement and speech. For Mr Leonard it is more than a slogan. It is a mission statement at the heart of every policy commitment, from the railways to land ownership. He is the champion of the have-nots, a spokesman for everyone denied what he believes is their right as a citizen and a human being.
Few would argue with any of this, except Labour’s means to achieving this society that benefits the many not the few is not particularly appetising. In practice it would mean higher taxes, not only for the wealthiest Scots who, in all honesty, could probably afford it, but for many of those who would become unintended victims of a tax hike.
His plans to “tax the rich”, along with those of Mr McDonnell, would deter investors and drain the ambitions of even those they claim to support. The SNP has chipped in by producing evidence that half of those affected by the proposed windfall tax on the rich would be pensioners.
There are other holes in the rhetoric. On the one hand Mr Leonard dismissed nationalism and the quest of the SNP to divide Scotland from England as being irrelevant, stating that class is the real divider in Britain.
Yet, in the same speech to delegates in Liverpool he played the nationalist card himself by pledging to rebalance government grants in favour of Scottish businesses over those from inward investors, aka ‘foreigners’. This is dangerous talk and shows a failure to understand the importance of foreign investment into the economy, particularly the commercial property market which would whither without it.
Somewhere in all this bombast is a decent man fighting the good fight for social justice. It’s a commendable cause, but it won’t be achieved through envy politics, punitive taxes and denials of freedoms to those regarded by Labour as undeserving of the wealth which many of them have earned by their own endeavours.