Where does Labour go from here?


1:10 pm - July 30th 2010

by Jonathan Rutherford    


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What is Labour’s future? Soundings journal, and Open Left at Demos ask the question in a new, jointly published e-book, Labour’s Future.

We don’t offer answers, but set out a series of points of view – from Phil Collins’ Liberal Republic to Doreen Massey’s, ‘the political struggle ahead’ – that frame the coming debate.

The decision by the Shadow Cabinet to oppose the AV referendum reinforces the view of a party that is exhausted, out of date and locked in a reactionary frame of mind. Its policy language is stuck with the generation of ’92, the frequent referencing of its values struggles to escape the cliches of ‘fairness’ and ‘progressive’.

It attacks the coalition in a way that fails to grasp that the economic crisis is creating new kinds of political realignments across and within parties.

As Jeremy Gilbert writes, ‘The New Labour model for managing the party is dead.’ As Marc Stears describes it, Labour’s quest for ‘certainty’ now leaves it incapacited. The question of what comes next hangs over the leadership contestants. Their time is consumed by requests to give their positions on all aspects of political life.

They must have plenty of things to say about everything which leaves them with nothing to say about Labour’s future. None have abandoned the quest for certainty and taken a leap into the unknown. None have yet embarked on the necessary journey of renewal.

The e-book comes out of a seminar held back in May that brought together 50 people associated with different political perspectives. A number of papers were given and Jon Cruddas and David Miliband gave responses. The aim was to explore what common ground might exist and the prospects for a political axis around which to build cross-party political renewal.

There were some sharp differences of opinion around the role of markets and our understanding of capitalism and the legacy of New Labour. But there was also a shared agenda around pluralism and the importance of alliances in a time of political realignments. There was agreement about the need for the democratic reform of the party and for developing community and workplace organising.

Pressing issues included the need for Labour to develop a new political economy and, as Neal Lawson writes it needs a debate about a new model social and democratic state. Anthony Painter argues that Labour has to revisit alternative models of collective provision. It was also generally accepted that Labour has to evolve a more ethical language for its politics, which Stuart White suggests should be one of ‘fair reciprocity’.

Labour needs to ask itself some hard questions and face some difficult truths. We know that Labour is disconnected from the people, but there is a reluctance to face up to the current depth of feeling against it.

Labour lacks a political economy for rebuilding the post-crisis economy. The discrediting of neoclassical economics has left a great hole in policy-making. It is implicated in the financial crash. It championed the casino economy and allowed the housing bubble. Labour was passive, timid and never once challenged the power of the banks. And it ignored manufacturing industry, who could have been our allies in building a more balanced economy.

Let’s acknowledge that we’ve only just begun this process of change and that it is for the longer term, in or out of office. The truth is that Labour in power stopped building relationships with people; it stopped building a politics of dialogue and mutual respect. It did not indicate that it valued people.

Labour politics is about building a common life together. It is a politics that is a part of the everyday life of people and their families. It must be alive in our neighbourhoods and workplaces or it will not live at all.

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You can download the e-book here.
Contributors: Philip Collins, Sally Davison, Jeremy Gilbert, Stuart Hall, David Lammy, Neal Lawson, Doreen Massey, Anthony Painter, James Purnell, Michael Rustin, Jonathan Rutherford, Marc Stears, Allegra Stratton, Heather Wakefield, Stuart White

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About the author
This is a guest article. Jonathan Rutherford is editor of Soundings and Professor of Cultural Studies at Middlesex University.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Labour party ,Westminster

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Reader comments


I’m looking forward to tucking into Phillip Collin’s contribution

As mentioned before, New New Labour has to start by disowning Blair.

Factual error at the very beginning, the shadow cabinet has decided to oppose the bill in it current form not the concept of A/V, it is entirely possible that the party would urge a yes vote if a referendum were to be held.

To quote the Guardian

The shadow cabinet agreed yesterday that it still supported the referendum the Alternative Vote (AV) system – but, in a new reasoned amendment, will say it is entirely wrong that this reform, on Conservative insistence, is being bound up with plans to reduce the number of MPs and introduce widespread boundary changes.

This rather undermines the argument in the article

4. Luis Enrique

jesus wept, does anybody respond positively to the sort of empty drivel in the last para?

(and stop using words you don’t understand. “neoclassical” economics is not the same thing as deregulation blind faith in markets etc. and much of the economics that would justify regulation, government intervention etc. is squarely neoclassical)

@ 4…..quite, he’s blithering. The very concept of externalities comes from neo-classical economics. Marshall in fact (the “father” of neo-classical economics)….as does the solution, from his successor in the Cambridge chair, Pigou.

6. Rhys Williams

Labour is heading for political oblivion.
The Tories will be power for 20 years.
State education will be non existent, all schools will be privately run by corporations and religious groups and the NHS will be replaced by a privately run compulsory insurance scheme.
The welfare estate will be handed over to volunteer section. Until they fuck it up and then their will be nothing except scenarios like the scene in the Inspector calls when the girl ask the factory owners wife for poor relief. The poor begging for handouts by their betters.
Unions are becoming an anachronism.
So why have a labour party.
The real battle will between social and liberal conservatives.
The next 50 years belongs to the cjcjc, luis E, flowerpowers, tim j and the Matts of the world fighting amongst themselves.
The only thing that keeps the right together is a hate for the left
That is why they post on a minor left of centre site to keep the fire burning.
In reality there is no left, certainly no electable left

@6…My, you really do know how to cheer a chap up on a friday afternoon.

Thanks!

I think they probably meant to say neoliberalism rather than neoclassical. Although the former is based on the latter. It all just sounds so vague and content free. I don’t buy this idea beloved of think tanks that the public want politicians who can engage with them. The great majority of the population want low interest rates- low inflation and low unemployment. Everything else are fringe interests. Obviously I am generalising but people care about issues like civil liberties when it affects them but they are really not that bothered about other peoples civil liberties.

If Labour had continued to deliver low interest rates, low inflation and low unemployment they would still be in power. Where do they go from here? Out of power until the present lot mess up and they can offer credible policies to deliver low interest rates, low inflation and low unemployment.

9. Luis Enrique

Rhys, for future reference I advocate redistribution, widespread state intervention in the economy, oppose privatization of healthcare etc. I really find it disheartening how frequently people confused economic literacy and dislike of vacuous waffle [*] with being right wing.

[*] being a rather flattering depiction of myself.

If “vacuous waffle” is flattering, how do we insult you?

@8 richard

“If Labour had continued to deliver low interest rates, low inflation and low unemployment they would still be in power.”

Not necessarily. I think enough people were pretty horrified by the illiberal control freakery of many NuLabour policies, the decision to invade Iraq, and the dysfunctional nature of the Labour leadership, to lose them an election whatever the economic position had been. You can’t fool all of the people all of the time

@ OP

“Its policy language is stuck with the generation of ’92, the frequent referencing of its values struggles to escape the cliches of ‘fairness’ and ‘progressive’.

It attacks the coalition in a way that fails to grasp that the economic crisis is creating new kinds of political realignments across and within parties.”

Labour is in real danger of becoming the new Stupid Party. I honestly thought they might be more contrite after the election….. instead it looks like we’ll need to wait a decade or so until the current NuLabour apparatchiks finally get kicked out, and something more progressive replaces it.

13. Rhys Williams

Sorry Luis

14. Rhys Williams

Tim W
I wouldn’t bothering posting anymore.
Don’t you feel like a drunk kicking a dead dog

15. Rhys Williams

Galen
I agree
Labour did have relatively low inflation, low interest rates and low unemployment compared to our economic competitors but they were illiberal and wanted to be more authoritarian than the right on issues such as crime, foreign policy and civil liberties.
Also lets be honest Brown, as a leader was a mistake.
For all the mistakes, I still feel the Tories would have won.
Also the world is changing . We are moving into the world of Rand’s egoism.
Labour’s collectivism is now outdated.
I still believe in those values because I am to old to change.

“Don’t you feel like a drunk kicking a dead dog”

No, drunk with joy at hounding a dying political party perhaps…..

17. Richard W

Galen 10,

There is an economic model that tracks the governing party’s poll position relative to the main opposition with inflation, unemployment and interest rate weightings. Historically, support for the governing party relative to the main opposition depends positively on wage and house price growth and negatively on inflation, unemployment and interest rate changes.

When the Conservatives were miles ahead in the polls 2009, the model was predicting a dramatic narrowing of the gap at the end of 2009 due to forecasts what would be happening with inflation in the economy. None of the political journalists in the media could understand the narrowing of the gap because Labour were not doing anything different. Furthermore, the model was predicting the polls would narrow until March due to house prices and falling inflation and then the Conservatives would widen the gap until the election as inflation increased. The polls tracked what the model had predicted and if Labour had gone for a March election they may well have been the largest party in a hung parliament. If anything the Conservatives underperformed in the election and Labour despite the Brown unpopularity overperformed.

With our tradition of Parliamentary government and a FPTP electoral system, it is crucial to have a credible main opposition party capable of winning byelections and, eventually, a general election.

Without that, the governing party (or parties) can pursue its (or their) own agenda regardless of electoral sentiments – recall what happened during the 1980s when we lacked a credible opposition to the Thatcherite ascendancy. Mrs Thatcher eventually resigned in 1990, not because of anything that the Labour Party did but because she lost the support of her cabinet colleagues. Labour lost the following general election in 1992.

At the May general election this year, the failing political standing and credibility of the Labour government made the prospect of a hung Parliament the more welcome and that was evidently not just to my way of thinking.

I’ve no special regard for the Labour Party, nor for the other main parties either – I didn’t vote at the 2005 election. Recent performance of Labour in opposition since the election has focused on bashing the ConDem coalition and defending Labour’s version of the history of its time in government, which is what can be expected. But there will shortly come a time when adversarial opposition alone is not enough to gain credibility. Opposition parties need to come up with alternative policies. We can only wait and hope.

19. Rhys Williams

But there will shortly come a time when adversarial opposition alone is not enough to gain credibility. Opposition parties need to come up with alternative policies. We can only wait and hope.

Good post Bob
But the credible opposition will come from the right not the left.

“But the credible opposition will come from the right not the left.”

I’m not convinced – and certainly not reassured by that prospect.

One reason is that I regard the whole leftist v rightist distinction as pretty meaningless in the absence of clues about what it might signal – the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany signed a Friendship Treaty on 28 September 1939 when Britain and France were already at war.

Because of the evidence, especially including evidence from the recent financial crisis, I don’t subscribe to a belief that Free Market Capitalism is sufficiently self-regulating to prevent systemic collapses. For another, I reminded of this:

“The chances of a child from a poor family enjoying higher wages and better education than their parents is lower in Britain than in other western countries, the OECD says”
http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2010/mar/10/oecd-uk-worst-social-mobility

I don’t support the replacement of the Trident missile system. What’s worrying is the absence of convincing signs that ministers or the military hierarchy are getting to grips with the rising threats from either asymmetric warfare and subversion or cyberwarfare, all of which are relatively inexpensive options for present or prospective enemies of Britain to engage in. The Trident missile system isn’t an effective deterrent against these threats as we know from 9/11 in America or 7/7 in London.

I’ve huge doubts about the benefits claimed for the upheaval currently being inflicted on the NHS and don’t subscribe to the mantra that above all we need “strong and stable” government.

21. Rhys Williams

No, drunk with joy at hounding a dying political party perhaps…..

I know your UKIP but that sounds so Tory

22. Charlieman

@20 Bob B: ” The Trident missile system isn’t an effective deterrent against these threats as we know from 9/11 in America or 7/7 in London.”

I agree somewhat. Polaris exists and may point towards North Korea. Ouch, if you live in South Korea.

However, if fundamentalists overcome a government that possesses nuclear weapons, the equation is different.

“If Labour had continued to deliver low interest rates, low inflation and low unemployment they would still be in power.”

Claptrap.

Irrespective of their levels, while inflation is higher than growth inequality rises and the poor get poorer relative to the everyone else.

When that happens under a regime composed of a party self-describing as of the ‘left’ or ‘centre-left’ their target electorate sees this as a betrayal and that party has effectively committed electoral suicide.

This can be seen where the pressure for investment in public health services and greater flexibility in the workplace created increases in the labour pool just as low-interest rates shafted savers. Debt-financed housing and education meant individuals were encouraged put themselves in hock to institutions just to tread water.

In effect Labour has reintroduced slavery.

And then Labour’s ruling class of bureaucrats and technocrats were shown to be corrupt to the core, colluding on regulations and laws to put them out of the reach of the wider public, fixing the system for their own benefit.

This could be seen everywhere from expenses, funding and election systems, to security, defense and invasions, to drugs laws and transport, to immigration and marriage.

They created the conditions of discontent which they argued they were resolving: Labour managed the amazing feat that the list of unfulfilled and broken promises is actually far longer than the reforms they claim they were committed to!

As the scale of the failure becomes apparent the future looks exceedingly bleak.

It will take a generation to die out before the memory of Labour’s abject failure is forgotten. If the party survives.

In effect Labour has reintroduced slavery.

Phew, for a minute there I thought this was an over-the-top assessment of Labour’s time in power, good to see reasoned statements like the above prove me wrong.

“while inflation is higher than growth inequality rises and the poor get poorer relative to the everyone else. ”

Erm, no. Inflation tends to reduce inequality as those living off returns from capital lose out. Those who live from wages lose out less and those who live from benefits (which are uprated each year by inflation) lose the least.

The only problem with inflation as a way of reducing inequality is that it also reduces the general level of wealth as well….more equality and less wealth in total. Not a good idea.

Moronic brownshirt troll “In effect Labour has reintroduced slavery.”

Too funny.

increasing the age of retirement and decreasing the state pension, creating an economy based on imbecilic drone jobs, a school system designed to produce qualifications without skills and a police state where youre guilty until proved innocent.

thats slavery.

thanks to Labour.

be grateful you still have a voice to mock your own infantilised circumstances, Sally. If that’s what makes you happy, I’m happy for you. I’ll continue to wish you something better and more fulfilling – I’m sure your potential is far greater than you have achieved so far in your life.

Oh, and your rebuttal is impressively profound in it’s analysis and insight. I’m wearing a peach-coloured hawaiian shirt.

@27:

You could have added these legacies from other New Labour policies:

– A welfare benefits system in which 1,710,000 people gain only 30p or less for every extra £1 they earn:

Benefits reform targets ‘workless ghettos’
http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/cce241ee-9bb7-11df-9ebd-00144feab49a.html#

– “The chances of a child from a poor family enjoying higher wages and better education than their parents is lower in Britain than in other western countries, the OECD says”
http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2010/mar/10/oecd-uk-worst-social-mobility

there is a vacancy for a European-style social democratic party: high taxation, high benefits, low inequality. Not perfect, but radically diferent in the UK.

The Tory Party is largely the party of the financial services and S England. A Labour Party which cut back on red tape could attract many people empoyed in SMEs outside of the SE England. A Labour Party which brought back academic rigour and clamped down on disruptive behaviour in many comprehensives would be attractive to many voters. While pupils at public and grammar schools take IGSCEs in single science subjects they will have advantages over those at comprehensives who take combined science GSCEs. It is vital that those at comprehensives are advised to take 3 or 4 rigorous academic A levels. Increasingly subjects such as Maths, Further Maths, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Modern Languages, History and Economics at A levels are being dominated by those from public and grammar schools which can only reduce social mobility, especially into the professions.

A Labour Party which ensured that 80% a police constable’s and sergeant’s time was spent patrolling the beat rather than filling in forms would gain many votes.

A Labour Party which did not appear so beholden to the public sector unions and increasing public sector employment, may gain support from those working in SMEs outside S England.

A Labour Party which actually delivered an education and training system which turned illiterate/semi-illiterate, innumerate and unskilled into craftsmen would greatly increase the ability of people to increase their life chances and reduce social inequality. For many, the greatest bar to earning good wages is to be illiterate, innumerate and unskilled.

@29 Left Hook

You raise an interesting point. I agree that there is a “gap in the market” for a progressive social democratic force. Who knows, with the LD’s shackled to the Tories for a while, it might happen? I have to say I’m not tht confident of the chances of such a movement rising from the ashes of either NuLabour, or Old Labour. It may take a more radical fracturing of the current party system for something truly novel to emerge.


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