The Socialist Way
This is a critical juncture for the Labour Party as it prepares for the next General Election. It is arguably time to re-embrace the party’s democratic socialist tradition: based on firm principles of equality and social justice and combined with the realistic means of achieving these objectives. It is to that tradition that this article speaks.
Roy Hattersley and I co-authored an article which was published at the start of last year by The Political Quarterly under the title ‘In Praise of Social Democracy’. It led on to significant debate with four commentaries accompanying the article on its publication and followed by numerous other responses. The two authors had known each other for a number of years prior to that and had a similar perspective on New Labour. Following the 2010 General Election defeat there was an attempt to provoke a debate over the future direction of the Labour Party by a disparate group of authors under what was to become known as Blue Labour. Roy and I disliked the anti-statism and social conservatism which was central to Blue Labour. We have since been criticised by advocates of ‘New’ and ‘Blue’ in roughly equal measure!
Perhaps the most high profile critique was from David Miliband, who labelled our ideas the Labour Reassurance Tendency. Apparently what he believed was that we were encouraging members to wrap up in a comfort blanket of traditional Labour values and forget about the need to win over the middle ground. Nothing could have been further from the truth. We desperately need a Labour Government in 2015. Another term of Coalition or Conservative majority government would see the end of the welfare state. The best, if not the only, way to do this is by being explicit in our ideological commitment to socialist (or social democratic) values. Principle and power go together.
In turn, these debates led on to the publication of The Socialist Way (IB Tauris 2013). Contributors include senior politicians, journalists, academics and the policy experts at leading think tanks. The chapters explored these themes and set out a radical approach to economic policy including a Keynesian growth stimulus and structural reform, including the green agenda, cooperatives, public ownership and industrial democracy. There are further chapters on the need to restore the status of the welfare state including the promotion of a more just and equal society, an integrated health and personal care system, challenging notions of the underclass and a clear and sensible alternative to the Coalition’s education reforms. The central importance of the state, at national, regional and local levels was addressed and how an interventionist state could be combined with the promotion of human rights. A further set of chapters promoted a pro-European and internationalist foreign policy. Finally, the book explores how this recognisably socialist policy framework can be turned into an effective electoral winning strategy.
Now we are approaching the Labour Party Conference it is time to stress again the appeal of traditional democratic socialist aspirations and the relevance of policy. The Labour Party cannot win the next General Election by endlessly seeking to compromise with what it perceives as middle England. Between 1997 and 2010 the Party lost 5 million votes. While some of these went to other parties, a significant proportion simply decided to drop out of the democratic process. They felt that the Labour Party no longer spoke to their concerns. It is to these people that Labour must now appeal. It must stress the differences that exist between it and the Coalition Government. It must offer not just competence but also vision. Not just better management of the status quo but hope of a more just alternative.