Labour’s storming victory at the first by-election of the parliament in Oldham East seems a long, long time ago. It was just after that Ed Miliband gave his speech to the Fabian New Year conference.
Looking back now, it’s clear to see how much of what happened in 2011 for Labour was sketched out in this speech. Talking to a packed hall of Fabian members, Miliband set out the three challenges Labour must face to win back power.
The first challenge was the need to understand why our economy has stopped working for the majority of people. This line of argument showed clearly the thinking that led to the good/bad capitalism theme which formed the centrepiece of Miliband’s conference speech. This theme is now at the heart of political debate. From Peter Oborne to the Occupy LSX movement – discussions about the failure of our economic system and its effects on people are taking place across the political spectrum.
As well as the economy, Ed Miliband set out two further challenges in that speech: How to move away from managerialist policy-making and reconnect with our communities; and moving politics away from vested interests and renewing our democratic spirit.
The Blue Labour agenda – one of the most colourful internal Labour debates – was precisely about the need to reconnect with communities, and the Fabian Society continue to be at the heart of this discussion. How we reengage locally without dismissing the important role that the active state can play will be a major focus for the Fabians and the Labour Party in the coming years.
The challenge of taking on vested interests was seen no more clearly than in the phone hacking scandal. Miliband’s capturing of the public mood over the summer gave the ultimate platform to this central challenge which is now a central part of his economic message. Vested interests and asset strippers have been identified as part of the problem. Renewed democratic participation and wealth creators are some of the solutions we now explore. Whether this was in the Refounding Labour process or laying out the challenge for taking on monopolies in the energy industry – the agenda was set out back in January.
Today, as we reach the last few weeks of the year, the news is that we are to miss our deficit reduction targets, while youth unemployment has hit 1 million, and we hear murmurs of contagion fears in the Eurozone crisis. The coalition said there was no alternative, but one is very much needed. It is against this backdrop that we prepare for Fabian New Year Conference 2012: The Economic Alternative, where Ed Balls and a host of other leading commentators will set out their stall on what that alternative should be.
How we engage with the big questions on the economy are now the key to being seen as a credible government-in-waiting. Once again, if you want to be at the heart of the debates driving Labour in 2012 – there is no better place to start than the Fabian Society New Year Conference.
An extended version of this post can be seen at Next Left. Tickets for the conference are available here.