Trying to grab back a slice of that utopianism, we have the just launched More United. Billing itself as the UK's first crowdfunded political instrument, it aims to harness the power of the internet to channel monies to election candidates. Those set to receive the cash are "moderate, progressive" candidates who sign up to MU's five key principles. If politics did scout badges, this is pretty much what you have here. Respecting and celebrating diversity, protecting the environment, international cooperation and EU loveliness, empowering citizens, and, as they put it, being for "a fair, modern, efficient market based economy that closes the gap between rich and poor and supports strong public services".
The last is a strange principle to hang your creds on. For one, the sentence is entirely incoherent. Markets are engines of innovation and growth, but only because they're chaotic, concentrate wealth in a few pair of hands where a strong, interventionist state is absent, and are founded on exploitation. That isn't a value judgement, it's a simple fact that those employed to produce commodities only receive in their wage or salary a small portion of the wealth their activity generates. By any measure, surely the hallmark of any progressive person would see them deeply uncomfortable about such a state of affairs. So there is that. And then there's the curious mention of markets. It's a bit odd because, surely, it's an unnecessary adjective. A "modern, efficient economy" would have worked just as well. Its inclusion here and its positioning as the first of the five principles is a deliberate choice. It's designed to make sure those frightful Corbynites are kept at arms length so they too can be written off as awful extremists, as something our nice, nice MU people can define themselves against.
Moving on to the initiative's patrons, well strike me down, if it isn't the great and the good. The hip young gunslingers of London's tech city rub shoulders with a couple of London-based liberal heroes, London-based do-gooders, and London-based journos. There's an underlying something uniting them all I can't quite put my finger on ... And so there we have it, nothing at all to dissuade the casual cynic that this is anything other than a nice establishment outfit pushed by nice establishment people to fund nice establishment candidates.
There are two things that interest me about this initiative. First off, MU aims to be a cross-party movement to fund candidates who have broadly the same politics - as if too much similarity between the politicians doesn't partly explain the mess we're in. Fine, if you want to throw money at liberalish Tories, liberalish Labourites, and, um, the LibDems that's your business. Except, that is, should you happen to be a member of one of those parties. I cannot speak for our blue and yellow friends, but Labour takes a dim view of its members backing and supporting other candidates. Should MU decide to throw money at a candidate who happens to stand against Labour at an election, by participating in the crowd funding you're out on your ear. And rightly so. Parties aren't for jolly debates, they're about interests. Supporting anything other than a Labour candidate is, to put it bluntly, setting yourself against the interests of the labour movement. Feel free to do so, but you can't do that from inside our tent. I hope Jess Phillips MP, who's reportedly signed up to MU, gives this some thought.
The more interesting point is what MU represents, or thinks it represents. It aligns itself with the folks who went on the polite pro-EU demo after the Brexit result, and those digging deep to buy the The New European. The metro middle class types are its target market. People who think they're above and removed from the tribalism and crudities of party politics. Unfortunately for them they've misread the situation. The referendum has sparked off a mass politicisation that is, despite the bureaucratic heroics of its NEC, finding its expression in the Labour Party. People are pouring in. And all the other parties have seen an uptick in their membership fortunes too. After decades of decline, you might say we're seeing the return of the political party. Hence the people who would ordinarily be most receptive to a campaign of this kind are moving into active engagement. MU's model is premised on a politics that is done by politicians. It treats with people at the level of interested observers, and therefore comes to the scene some 18 months too late.
A less charitable reading might be that this is a liberal, middle class manifestation of the stop-the-world-we-want-to-get-off market previously cornered by UKIP. Frightened by an apparently insurgent hard right (but oblivious to its limited shelf life), and bewildered by a left insurgency that would like to see the back end of well-meaning Labour MPs just like them, they're clinging to a centre ground bending and twisting all over the place. Without an analysis or understanding of what's happening to British politics, their fate is to launch empty initiative after empty initiative in the hope of making things better and nicer, their illusions about what's going on reinforced from within the safety of the metro media bubble. They're the Jehovah's Witnesses of politics - they eschew participating fully in the messes of modern life in the hope they'll ride Armageddon out.
Except it's already upon them. The political world they know has ended and something new is up for grabs, and they've placed themselves in the right position to ensure the influence they exert over what's coming next will be negligible. Good.