Andy Burnham’s ‘Aspirational Socialism’ should aspire to greater socialism


As I’ve said before, I like Andy Burnham. The leadership campaign has reinforced his ‘nice’ image and he’s also emerged as a bit more politically interesting than expected.

However, he still emphasises social mobility too much. The idea that aspirational people should be able to ‘succeed’ and ‘get on in life’ however poor their background is naturally appealing but my problems with it are:

  • Surely a truly socially mobile society would also see lots of people born to wealthy backgrounds fail due to their laziness or other personal inadequacy and end up becoming poor. None of the proponents of social mobility ever discuss this, which seems dishonest to me. No-one mentions removing the safety nets for the rich.
  • The focus on individual success makes me slightly uncomfortable as it reinforces too many right-wing political narratives. I understand that we have to utilise ‘common sense’ arguments in order to maintain widespread political appeal, but we shouldn’t forget that we are collectivists not individualists.
  • Social mobility is not inspiring as a long-term vision for the left because it assumes the retention of wealth inequalities in society. We can be more ambitious than simply helping ‘talented’ poor people escape poverty. We should commit ourselves to seeking the abolition of poverty altogether. Sincere egalitarianism should seek to remove class divisions rather than make them a bit more fluid.

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3 Responses to “Andy Burnham’s ‘Aspirational Socialism’ should aspire to greater socialism”

  1. Paul Sagar Says:

    You may be interested in this very good article from Stefan Collini at the Guardian (it’s effectively a rewrite of a much longer piece in the London Review of Books a few months back):

  2. captainjako Says:

    Yes, that makes sense to me. The more I think about it the more problematic the concept of ‘social mobility’ becomes.

  3. Danivon Says:

    Surely we are not simply ‘collectivists’, but we want everyone to be able to live up to their potential as part of a society. That doesn’t mean naked individualism, but it does mean helping people to succeed.

    I don’t agree that social mobility implies retaining large wealth inequality. The most socially mobile societies are also those in the West where inequality is lower: Sweden, France, etc.

    It’s all very well to be snotty about the idea, but the main issue is that children from lower / working class backgrounds are too often trapped for life, even though they have the capacity to do better. It’s a massive tragedy for society, and to give the impression that we don’t care is not simply a tactical mistake, it’s against the ideals that the movement has been based on.

    I note that among Andy Burnham’s proposals is a Land Value Tax, something that has been called for since the days of Thomas Paine, and which would certainly address wealth inequality where wealth is bound up in land and property. Not that I’m convinced that Burnham is the best to lead the party, but he has good ideas.

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