The launch of Liberal Left is to be welcomed. Anything that challenges the Centre-right voting block of the Coalition is clearly a good thing. Anything that helps develop centre-left relationships as an alterative now, tomorrow or in the future to a Conservative led government is to be welcomed. With Labour currently struggling to maintain a healthy poll lead it would be stupid not to look for political partners outside of Labour’s ranks.
But there is more than electoral necessity at play here. The renewal of the left project requires a thorough going rethink about the nature of social democracy or socialism. Compass talks about the good life and the good society because ultimately politics is about human flourishing – an act that is both individual and by necessity highly social. Of course such a politics requires the active intervention of the state but how, when and where the state plays a role is a critical issue. Social liberals and social democrats have much to learn from each other but much in common about the role of a more local, democratic, accountable and responsive state.
Electoral desperation is no basis for living, breathing alliances in which differences have to be debated and enduring solutions found. There is little point waiting to see whether the voters deliver another hung parliament. There is everything to be gained from discussing values and policy agreements – on tuition fees, the NHS, growth strategies and the rest with people in the Social Liberal Forum – who make take a less aggressive line against the Coalition – and now Liberal Left who stand in opposition to it. Then the wider Centre-left has the chance not just to form a temporary and haphazard majority in parliament but a consensus in the country.
Just think what could have happened if both Labour and the Liberal Democrats had taken cooperation more seriously before 2010. The Tories could have been denied scores of seats as they were in 1997 and 2005 and a Parliament of a very different shape could have been formed.
I know some Labour members will simply be thinking – why don’t they join Labour? Just remember that to many, Labour is still the party of Iraq, bankers bonuses, welfare reform, the big state and the free market, tuition fees, 90 days detention and the rest. Labour is a party with little if any internal democracy – unlike the Liberal Democrats. Different but complimentary traditions can make us stronger. And tactically it’s far better that they fight the Coalition from within the Liberal Democrats than be confined to the margins like much of Labour’s opposition.
So today is a big and important step towards a new pluralist left politics. 1945 was the creation of the fusion of Labour and the social Liberalism of Keynes and Beveridge. The crash creates another moment for the transformation of our society and economy – but we have to adopt them same pluralist approach to make it work.
Neal Lawson is the Chair of Compass