That big broadband offer by the Labour Party last week shows they are a party with ambition.
And yet what is going to undo them in this election is their lack of ambition for everyone else.
The offer of free broadband for everyone is genius. Everyone hates their internet provider. It’s a classic case of a sector in which the market isn’t working. That’s not to say the state would do it any better. But when your router is acting up you switch it off and back on again. A period of nationalisation might at least have the same effect and reset things.
And it’s tangible. The Conservatives key policy is Brexit. But no-one seems able to explain the actual benefits of leaving the EU beyond giving some middle aged men who like war films a sense of satisfaction. Those in the Tory party that rushed to rubbish Jeremy Corbyn’s broadband plan while insisting that Brexit is straightforward if only everyone would just believe a bit harder looked foolish.
The broadband policy speaks to a vision of a Britain where things are better. It can be filed under what Sarah Palin (remember her? The Alaskan candidate for US vice president whose foreign policy nous ran to looking at Russia through a telescope from her garden) dismissively dubbed ‘the hope-y, change-y stuff’.
Of course the electorate rather like hope and change. Palin was banished back to obscurity in Anchorage.
But there is a contradiction at the heart of the Labour campaign.
And it’s not just the way Jeremy Corbyn and his team are capable of plumbing the depths of ineptitude during parliamentary term time only to transform into a slick and credible campaign machine once an election is called.
It’s to do with billionaires.
Lloyd Russell-Moyle triggered the first controversy of the election campaign by saying no-one in Britain should be a billionaire. With his scruffy beard and hard left views you might describe Russell-Moyle as a sort of poundshop Jeremy Corbyn. Except poundshops are useful. And successful. And capitalist.
When his interviewer, 5Live’s excellent Emma Barnett, expressed incredulity at his suggestion he dismissed her reaction as ‘performative’. This is a man who’s only previous claim to fame was a limp lifting of the ceremonial mace in the House of Commons in order to disrupt proceedings. He knows about performance.
The billionaire issue was put to Jeremy Corbyn and his shadow chancellor John McDonnell.
Their response should’ve been simple. They could’ve said that if they win power everyone will pay their fair share of tax and they’ll use the levers of power to encourage the mega rich to make more charitable gifts. Everyone likes fair taxation, even if no-one can agree what it is.
But they didn’t say anything of the sort of course. They dodged and fudged and gave the impression that billionaires would be in for a roughing up off the taxman, should they get into Downing Street.
A billion quid is an awful lot of money. If you’d saved a million pounds every year since William Wallace was stoating about shouting ‘Freedom!’ you’d still come up short. So imagine how hard it would be to spend such a fortune, it’s clearly more than anyone needs.
But Labour has conjured up a reverse dog whistle. A dog whistle in politics is when you say something explicitly, but embedded in the message is a signal only a certain section of society will hear. By refusing to condemn the attack on billionaires Labour have sent a coded message that everyone can unscramble. That there is such a thing as too much money. Labour will put a limit on your aspiration.
And for all the turbulence and churn of the last decade, one thing is unalterably true: most people want to get on with their lives and get on in life; they want a better world and a better standard of living for their family.
No-one ought to tell their children that there’s a limit on their ambition. (Unless their ambition is to fly off the top of the climbing frame at the park, obviously). The nature of aspiration is such that when you cap it you kill it.
Almost no-one is going to be a billionaire. There are only around 150 in the UK. But folk can hope. If not of actually racking up a billion at least of being better off.
And who’s to say Labour wouldn’t lower the limit on too much wealth? After all John McDonnell previously appeared to suggest his nationalisation programme stopped at utilities, rail and water. And then he went and added BT. Because he, like Labour’s programme for government, is ambitious. And quite rightly he doesn’t like it when others suggest his goals are wrong headed.
Yet Labour seem to think anyone who dreams of being a billionaire is plain wrong. A politician who seeks to constrict dreams is doomed to fail.
Perhaps Sarah Palin can teach us something after all. She was sent scuttling back to Alaska by one Barack Obama. Her laughable memoir was titled ‘Going Rogue’. The president’s autobiography was called ‘Dreams from my Father’.
Obama dared to dream, but not at the expense of anyone else’s ambition. That’s why he won. And why Corbyn will come up short.
James Millar is a political commentator and author and a former Westminster correspondent for The Sunday Post