There are many ways to win an argument. In recent years, the term “evidence-based policy” has become fashionable among those who like the facts to make their case for them. Others rely on the power of rhetoric, or on the appeal of the outsider.
Some people set out to change public opinion over time. Albert Einstein’s advice on the matter was to learn the rules of the game and then learn how to play better than anyone else. That’s the traditional way to win a political battle, but if it fails you can take the approach of the current incarnation of the Labour party, and ignore the rules entirely.
However much it may distress those who yearn for undiluted authenticity in their politics – for which, read blind adherence to fringe positions with narrow appeal – it remains the case that elections in Britain are won not from the passionate edges of politics, but from close to its centre.
The architects of New Labour knew this, just as the architects of Tory modernisation know it, too. And yet it is a rule that Labour made clear it was perfectly happy to ignore when it elected Jeremy Corbyn as leader.
Its new shadow chancellor is now telling us loud and clear what he thinks of the rules governing economics, too. McDonnell says he wants to bring about “a new economics”. This is what people say when confronted with an economic reality that leaves little room for their old-fashioned (if re-packaged) socialism.
The economic rules, it seems, are not just to be broken – but shattered and buried. For now, there are no market-moving consequences of Labour’s self-indulgent retreat away from economic consensus.
But imagine, if you can, a scenario where a Corbyn-led Labour party hasn’t collapsed under the weight of political reality, but is in fact holding its own and closing the gap with the Tories as polling day 2020 approaches.
Sterling will not react well to the possibility of a party winning power and then promptly printing money to build hew houses, while directing the Bank of England to build roads to join up all these new towns.
McDonnell claims “a new world is possible” – a world in which the deficit can be eliminated while any semblance of austerity is ceremoniously abandoned. If the current Labour party is so determined to ignore the rules, it had better get used to losing the game.