The Labour Party is full of the faithful. I’ve heard both Corbynites and Owenites claim that their side will win because they must. That Labour can and will win the next election because the Tories are awful, and that a vaguely defined alternative to both centre-left and centre-right economics will create greater prosperity because every single economy in the developed world is slowing down. There may be good reasons to believe that one’s side will succeed, but it is not wise to argue that because the situation is bad, it will get better.
For the left, the situation has gotten bad before and then not recovered for a very long time. The First World War was a futile disaster of imperial hubris that killed millions. It was followed by the end of the Liberal Party as a party of government, and Conservative dominance during the interwar period. The situation is bad, and the left may stay on the back foot.
Martin Luther King once said “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice”. This makes some sense from his Christian perspective. If there is a loving God then there may be some purpose behind our reality. It may be leading somewhere. Somewhere more peaceful, more truthful and more compassionate.
But this belief in a brighter tomorrow is also prevalent on the supposedly atheistic left, where there is no overriding benevolent force to justify the faith. Instead it is human nature and the unconscious forces of the universe that are said to be the engine driving positive change forward. Steven Pinker argues persuasively that rates of all kinds of violence have been in overall decline since we were barely mastering tools. But in this case there is substantial evidence to justify his claim. What reason do we have to believe that the left will recover any time soon?
The last time the Conservatives defeated a Labour government, they took power for eighteen years. Before the New Labour years of 1997-2010 no Labour Prime Minister had ever won two elections in a row. The Conservatives ruled in Britain for more years in the 20th century than the Soviet Union did in Russia. If the next two hundred years reflect the last two hundred, then politics will likely be dominated by reactionaries and conservatives. We may want to think otherwise, but is that suggested by reason or by faith?