The migrant crisis requires leadership not pragmatism

"The voters are wrong, and what is required is a louder exposition of their wrongness." These were the sarcastic words written by Rafael Behr in his Guardian column and were meant to mock the supporters of Jeremy Corbyn and their desire for Labour to challenge the prevailing Tory wisdom on the economy, welfare and immigration. The success of Corbyn has uncovered a divide in politics, especially left wing politics, between those who believe that we should give the voters what they want and those who want to change what voters want.

The former has been the dominant approach to politics from the mid-80s onwards. It took over when we abandoned grand narratives of changing society and settled for governments which make minor adjustments. The established economic doctrines have not been challenged since Thatcher and a cynical following of the established narrative has been embraced in order for left wing politicians to be "electable". The fact that other than Blair, all of these electable Labour platforms have failed to win elections is usually overlooked when arguing that Labour should give the voters what they want.

This cynical acceptance of right wing arguments is nothing short of tacit support for the establishment, but it is often packaged as being realistic or pragmatic. The pragmatists' argument usually goes thusly: "It's not that I am cynically pro-establishment or have a complete lack of will to change the status quo I am invested in, I am just being realistic about what we can achieve with politics being the way they are". This is the attitude which has allowed neo-liberalism to go unchallenged for over 30 years.

This acceptance of a timidly pragmatic approach to politics has dramatically reduced our belief in what politics can accomplish. The majority of the fault for this needs to be laid at the feet of spineless politicians who are more concerned by what spin doctors have to say than what people need. We now think that politics cannot change society or achieve great things, however we are still faced with enormous challenges that require radical solutions and not timidity. Climate change, growing inequality and decreasing social mobility are long term trends which need a radical solution. In the short term, a situation which right now needs a radical solution is the European migration crisis.

Tackling the crisis requires politicians to have vision and leadership, and at times it will mean telling the voters when they are wrong. Most people in the last election voted for a party which offered some form of controls on immigration; a pragmatist would say this shows there is no electoral will for helping migrants despite any obligations we may feel to those in need. The migrant crisis is an issue where we need politicians to tell the voters and the public what they may not want to hear want to hear. Right now the photographs from Turkey may have increased sympathy for the migrants, but helping these people in dire need will mean leadership from politicians in the long run, when the issue fades from the headlines and when it is not politically advantageous to appear sympathetic to migrants.

We need our leaders to show courage and fly in the face of public opinion if that opinion is against helping people who are suffering. We need politicians to give an exposition of voters wrongness. Little has been done to challenge the anti-immigration rhetoric and the public perception of immigrants is at an all time low. This has led to a humanitarian crisis across Europe from Greece to Italy, from Hungary to Calais. There is a lot of suffering by people who have lost their homes, their livelihoods and even their families. No one can deny the plight of these poor people the victims of war, failed states and totalitarian regimes. Political will is against helping these people because of this pragmatic acceptance that helping migrants is a vote loser.

We have a duty to help these poor people as we are able to help them. They are not asking for much, food, shelter, a place to work that is free from war and tyranny. This is not a lot and involves us giving up so little of our vast wealth to help some of the world's most unfortunate people. We also have a duty to help them as we caused their suffering. Through attacking Iraq and Libya we created the chaos which groups like ISIS have exploited to seize power, groups which many of these people are fleeing.

We are also responsible through our inability to help in the people who live under totalitarian regimes or in war zones like Eritrea and Syria. Our governments show huge ability to influence poorer nations when we want something from them (usually natural resources) but when it comes to helping the world's least fortunate people we shake our heads and say there is nothing to be done. Our inability to solve these problems has brought the victims of war and tyranny to our doorstep and we are obliged to help them here if we cannot help them in their country of origin.

It may be unpopular with small minded little Englanders, who thinks our duty of care extends as far as providing a fertile ground for business to prosper but goes no further - conveniently these people are often business owners and live in prosperous communities - but we need to stand up to these voters and give an exposition of their wrongness. The pragmatists will dislike this but because it requires challenging people's opinions (including opinions they are sympathetic to) but we need to stand up to the pragmatists as well. The migration crisis is a case when the voters are wrong and giving the voters what they want will lead to more suffering.

The pragmatists' arguments collapses when confronted with any situation where taking the easiest route out is not an opinion. On the issue of welfare these pragmatists get what they want a lot, because it is easier to cut benefits (or to allow the Tories to cut benefits if you support Labour) than to challenge the prevailing opinion on welfare. In regards to the migrant crisis, the pragmatists do not have a solution because there is no solution that involves giving the voters what they already want. The pragmatists' solution is to ignore the problem so that it goes away. This will clearly not work.

The reason why the pragmatists do not have a solution is because the solution is leadership and challenging the prevailing opinion. The time and the case for radical leadership has never been greater as we are faced with great challenges. Not just international problems like the migrant crisis or climate change, but the problems of the UK require radical leadership to tackle them. How do we rebalance our economy away from London? How do we provide a reasonable standard living for people across the entire country when even middle class jobs are threatened by automation? How do we care for the growing percentage of old people? How do we share the benefits of technological advancement? These are not problems with easy or pragmatic solutions. To face these challenges we need radical leadership, the challenges are great but I am confident that together we can rise to them.