Can we play safe?

Stephen O’Kane 16 December 2011

Although it may still be hard for people on the political left – and especially trade union activists – to swallow, we are becoming familiar with the point that in hard economic times Joe Public will usually play safe and vote for right-wing governments. In a ‘crisis of capitalism’ we want governments we think we can trust with our money as Tim Montgomerie would say. The history of the 1930s largely seems to support this, despite the partial exception of Roosevelt’s New Deal (hardly left-wing or meant to be) and the more marked exception of Sweden’s Social Democrats. But the history yields a different warning. Playing safe in these contexts often includes closing in on nationalist assertion or protection at all costs and trying to exclude foreign influences. Tensions on immigration mount. If history is any guide here, there is increased danger of wars, and they often do facilitate left-wing (including Marxist) revolutions. The warning to conservatives and liberals is to reconcile playing safe with keeping the peace, not least in international affairs. Otherwise the ‘crisis of capitalism’ may mean some sort of hard left revolution after all, only deferred to a later and still more catastrophic stage.

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