There’s one thing on which we can all agree: it’s time to reconsider the future of the Labour Party and its overall direction.
We should start with honesty. For the last fifteen years, despite some massive electoral successes, Labour has been an intellectual no-go zone. I haven’t seen the books to make a powerful case for social democracy and which serve to popularise socialist ideas. There’s been no sign of energetic issues-based campaigns, or even popular commemorations and assessments of our previous lasting achievements as a party. It’s as though the party has been dreaming, comforted by the trappings and ample support provided by civil servants.
We’re on our own now. Labour’s highly effective electoral machine needs to be redirected, to mount effective defences of the services and philosophy upon which democratic socialism depends. And this doesn’t place us outside the mainstream of British society – as we saw during this campaign, and before. The centre of British society is social democratic and open to arguments on public ownership and public service. On railway nationalisation and on management and investment in utilities, the British people have socialist instincts.
However, our record of alienating natural supporters in government means we cannot convincingly change direction to mount a defence of those values of equality and liberty upon which our party was originally based. The fact that the Liberals have joined with the Conservatives means that the Jenkinsite plan of realignment is dead. But abandoning a degree of left pluralism should not be an option.
The most obvious partners for a Labour Party fundamentally re-assessing its policy stances are now the Greens. But I would also extend looser co-operation to the leftist fringe, to local activist groups and community defence organisations. Labour has to re-learn how to be a relevant left-wing party with a wide and open societal basis, and acknowledge the damage that has been wrought by the 2001-2010 government attack on our civil liberties.
All the time, Labour needs to illustrate that it is a learning organisation: that in power, or outside power, it can match its values to real life, and connect policies to the real problems that people face. It’s not enough to make arguments that rely on a reversion to a pre-2008 global economic order. Labour’s arguments should be based on a new global approach, and need to connect with the new, radical agenda emerging from others such as Sigmur Gabriel and Andrea Nahles in the German Social Democrats.
We need to think about our values. Here’s an initial suggestion: Labour needs reassert its humanism, as opposed to the economic determinism of the centre-right. If the global economic order does not allow for a decent life for British people, then, put simply, this order will need to be changed. Institutions will need to be reformed and created to put humane values first. Perhaps the role of the state is not just as employer of last resort. Perhaps the financial crisis indicates that the role of the state is as shareholder, regulator, controlling the valves of employment and consumption to achieve the full-employment, green economy which would secure our future. I see the party as an organisation with revolutionary aims yet a democratic, achievable methodology – a “socialist-humanist party” with a clear and inclusive approach.
The trade unions should be regarded as a massive asset in these times of ideological chaos. I would regard the management of the party finances as an immediate priority. Labour should consider a temporary office-share with either Unite or the TUC in order to refocus its existing funds on campaigning and educational activities. Prestige costs money. Labour supporters need a credible party, not necessarily a party with prestigious office space.
This is the mixture of practical and theoretical challenges which I believe a new leader will face. In light of this, I am sure that a more credible leadership could emerge from those who have not participated in government to date.