What Ed Miliband didn’t tell you about One Nation Labour

3rd October, 2012 11:38 am

Ed Miliband’s conference speech yesterday was everything it needed to be. Bold, engaging, heartfelt and delivered with a touch of class.

But it did far more than just tick boxes. After two years Ed finally answered Labour’s most pressing question: what follows New Labour?

One Nation isn’t just another flowery term. It’s a solid line of thought which has been circulating within the party for a while. It’s the answer for those who firstly reject New Labour as too accepting of neo-liberal economics whilst barely mentioning society or community; who, secondly, also dread the return to an unelectable and deeply regressive Old Labour; and thirdly, feel uneasy at the toxic ‘blue Labour’ brand which, for many, has been presented as too populist.

Ed spoke brilliantly about the need for a united nation in these tough times; a nation that works together to pull through with everyone playing their part.

On benefits: “It is incredibly important… to show compassion and support for all those who cannot work… particularly the disabled men and women of our country. But in order to do so – those who can work have a responsibility to do so… we’ve got a responsibility to help them and they’ve got a responsibility to take the work that is on offer.”

On banks: “We need banks that serve the country. We can do this the easy way or the hard way, either you fix it yourselves between now and the election, or the next Labour government will ensure that the high street bank is no longer in the arm of a casino operation…”

But Ed only had an hour, and there’s plenty more to the One Nation philosophy…

Crucially, One Nation must recognise that most everyday people – and by everyday people I mean the 99% who are far away from our geeky political debates, who work 9-5 supporting their families and would rather watch soaps or documentaries each evening, rather than scour the internet for Disraeli trivia – are socially conservative.

And no, by socially conservative I don’t mean racist, sexist or homophobic. I mean they value gradual change over social upheaval; they want what’s best for their family; they want tranquillity over conflict; they have no time for the Marxism that some Labour thinkers still seem to think forms the bedrock of the party’s working class support.

There’s nothing wrong with this, and this is the lesson liberal left intellectuals must respect. There’s nothing wrong with having little or no interest in learning about politics. I put it to you that most politicians would struggle to wire a plug, let alone teach a class of screaming kids or put out a fire.

Too often preaching lefty politicians and commentators scream about injustice, about poverty, about how the education system is inadequate, sneer at those deemed less moralistic and turn their noses up at people who don’t hold their Marxist views. In other words, they’ll defend those whom the education system has failed – but only if they happen to turn out socialist.

John Cruddas’ comments at the weekend represented an essential step towards displacing this intellectual snobbery from the heart of the party. “I have mates who are BNP and UKIP and Tory. I don’t surround myself with Labour members who have the same views as me,” he said. This came after a previous warning that “the BNP thrive in areas where people feel forgotten by the mainstream parties.”

Reaching out to those who are cut off from the social mainstream is an important part of the One Nation agenda and a part that Cruddas must address as he undertakes his policy review.

These issues haven’t been ignored within the party; the problem is that leading Labour figures failed to talk about community and identity for so long. An exchange between David Lammy and Gordon Brown – where Lammy told Brown of a constituent’s concern about family issues and knife crime and Brown responded with “tell them we have got tax credits” – typified New Labour’s biggest flaw; its obsession with money and a laissez faire attitude towards social trends.

Equally, the use of the phrase ‘One Nation’ wasn’t dreamt up this week, either. Ivan Lewis’ chapter ‘One Nation Labour’ in the Purple Book, written over a year ago, was the forerunner in recognising the need to reach out to voters who no longer had faith in a Labour party which appeared to be neglecting, or outright rejecting, their concerns.

Here, Lewis discussed the need embrace the positive elements of the ‘big society’ – the community groups, for instance, which give people a sense of identity and belonging when they may otherwise feel insecure and pessimistic about their future. He also suggested a ‘Prevent’ strategy to help vulnerable teenagers at risk of being targeted by right-wing or religious extremist groups.

An important part of the One Nation agenda must be the need to accept that integration, or ‘interculturalism’ represents the next step for a tolerant and diverse Britain. A society which deems segregated communities acceptable is not progressive – more must be done to help different communities interact. Schemes such as the National Citizens Service must be rolled out to ensure that children from different economic and cultural backgrounds spend time together throughout their education. Strengthening bonds between and within communities is crucial for our society.

National identity is also key to the One Nation Labour agenda. I’ve outlined the need to utilise patriotism in a social democratic sense to communicate the idea of rights and responsibility in a recent piece for LabourList so I won’t tread over old ground. It’s important to say, however, that the language of patriotism is essential to the success of the project and the two Eds will need be consistent in emphasising Labour’s patriotism over the next two and a half years. For instance, regular attacks on those channelling money through offshore tax havens must run alongside the lines on work and welfare in Ed’s speech.

So One Nation Labour is not just an electoral ploy or gimmick. It’s inherently progressive. It’s the Labour that was always destined to follow New Labour, so long as a visionary had the reins. With Ed we have that visionary. He’s held backed listened to those around him and chosen the right path. Hats off to Ed Miliband and here’s to One Nation Labour.

Joe Jervis works on the Guardian social enterprise network, has worked with social policy think-tank Demos and tweets @joejervis89

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  • You know what it reminded me most of? A French political rally. The idea of using a tax haven as being “unpatriotic” is precisely the language used against wealthy French moving their money abroad. Talking about patriotism as it pertains to “The State” is also fiercely Republican language, as is the idea of ‘interculturalism’ – that one ceases to be one’s former country when one settles in France. I have no desire to see that type of discourse enter UK politics. It’s illiberal in the correct sense. If Ed starts talking about “citizens” i’ll know my analysis is correct.

    • Patriotism in relation to individual responsibility to one another, responsibility to your neighbours/community, corporate responsibility… not just focused on state.

      “The idea of using a tax haven as being “unpatriotic” is precisely the language used against wealthy French moving their money abroad.” Good, they’ve got that right at least. Shocking that people think they can reap all the rewards of the society they’ve grown up in and give nothing back. Right in line with social democratic principles

  • PaulHalsall

    Yawn.

    The whole thing is a prelude to another New Labour style-sell out.

    • Chilbaldi

      is there any end to your destructive negativity?

      •  Is there any limit to your delusions and ability to take in the empty rhetoric of another party leader trying to claim the fantasy of the “centre”, e.g. One Nation/Big Society, both of which will not welcome non “Hard Working Families”. Give me the Welfare State/Great Society any day.

      • Dave Postles

         There’s nothing wrong with a healthy scepticism.  Is there some magic dust that Labour has to remove the scales of self-interest from people’s eyes?

    • robertcp

      I disagree Paul.  Ed M has clearly taken Labour back to the moderate centre-left.  A return to New Labour would lose Labour votes as well as being wrong in principle.

  • Jeremy_Preece

    Isn’t it nice to wake up today and feel that there is something on offer on the Labour table.

    •  Yes, Blairism circa 1995, the big tent for middle classes while working people tow the line, personal responsibility for all and the hope that the city will not rip the country…again.

  • Jeremy_Preece

    Thinking through the whole idea of one nation makes me feel that there is certainly a lot of milage that we can get.
    For a start there is a kind of positive nationalism. Those of us lucky enough to have gone to the olympics (and was able to go to both the olympics and the paralympics), experinced a flag waving that was really about a warm sense of belonging, and a happy sense of wanting your locals to do well. In the paralymics is was also about crowds of people from every walk of life, enjoying the achievements of those often given little value in our society.
    This contrasts with the nasty nationalism where we see the Union Jack dragged through the gutters of Belfast in some act of Unionist outrage, or when a shaven headed group of braindead thugs go overseas, tank up on huge amounts of booze, warm up by trashing the bar and then go to the grounds looking for trouble.
    At the end of the paralymics, there was a huge sense of people not wanting it to end.

    One nation can and should be able to tap into this olympic type of feel good. It was about a sesne of community, rathern than individualism. It was where those jammed in onto trains and undergrounds talked to each other. Perhaps it was really those present saying that really this is how they wanted to live, not as individual competitors cutting each other’s throats to get ahead. It was exactly the opposite of the Tory divide and rule.

    So the question is whether one nation can actaully deliver the very notion that “Big Society” was meant to be about. Of course, big society was only a cover for cuts in public services and the notion that many valuable public service jobs could be farmed out to volenteers In the same way, one nation must not be ab excuse to keep some public sector workers such as teachers on pay freezes as their share of money goes down and down in real terms.

    Above all, I hope that one nation is seen as the medicine for the divide and rule of the Tories whose chief whip was involved in the “pleb” incident. Whether or not the word pleb was used, the key was that public school boy – born to rule man, thinks that it is okay to tell the other memebers of society to “know  their place”

    • Hi Jeremy, good to hear your thoughts.

      I like the idea of positive nationalism and negative nationalism – or patriotism and nationalism as I see it (if you have time: http://labourlist.org/2012/08/celebrating-patriotism-how-labour-can-learn-from-danny-boyle/). Proper patriotism stands firmly in line with centre left values and is an important vehicle for showing people what Labour are about and promoting social democracy

  • Dave Postles

    Did he tell you about the March for a Better Future on 20th October? 
    We have a few places on our coach from Loughborough/Leicester on the 20th.  Do please join us if you are from this area: £18 waged and £12 concessions (unwaged and kids).

  • AlanGiles

    Today’s (4th October) “Independent” story is somewhat concerning:

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/david-set-for-return-to-lead-his-brothers-election-campaign-8196550.html

    Yet ANOTHER return for Mandelson?.

    An idea as foolhardy as it is unimaginative.

    One other point, Joe, from your article, quoting EM:

    “… those who can work have a responsibility to do so… we’ve got a
    responsibility to help them and they’ve got a responsibility to take the
    work that is on offer.”

    One is tempted to ask Miliband the question, with over 2 milion unemployed – WHAT jobs on offer?. Part time shelf stacking at Tesco, temporary contracts, no-hour contracts, and for those disabled people trying to work, Labour starting the process of dismantling Remploy (Hain, 2008) a process bought to it’s obvious conclusion by the coalition, has been a great help, hasn’t it?

    This is why I get frustrated with Labour 2012 – a step forward one day, and a step backwwards the next. If Mandy being unctuous, Cruddas with his pseudo intellectual posturing is the answer Miliband has come up with, his is plainly asking the wrong questions.

    Would I vote to restore Mandleson to a  position where he can meddle and get up to his old tricks?. In a word, NO

    • rekrab

      Good morning Alan, I thought Andy Burnham did  quite a good speech yesterday, however as usual I listened in very carefully and it’s clear that the repeal of this coalitions act on the NHS will only be a partial repeal because Andy has said that the need remains  to develop a 21st century national health service by using more private initiative to care for more elderly people in their homes, although he didn’t quite put a lot of meat on the bones of the cost for caring for the elderly in hospital and the initiative to more home care (a’la private care) it certainly puts a slide on the idea that any incoming labour government will return the NHS to it’s founding principles.

    • rekrab

      Good morning Alan, I thought Andy Burnham did  quite a good speech yesterday, however as usual I listened in very carefully and it’s clear that the repeal of this coalitions act on the NHS will only be a partial repeal because Andy has said that the need remains  to develop a 21st century national health service by using more private initiative to care for more elderly people in their homes, although he didn’t quite put a lot of meat on the bones of the cost for caring for the elderly in hospital and the initiative to more home care (a’la private care) it certainly puts a slide on the idea that any incoming labour government will return the NHS to it’s founding principles.

      • AlanGiles

         Good  morning. Yes I think it is more interesting these days to note what politicians of all parties DON’T say rather than what they do.  I quite like Andy Burnham personally, but we shouldn’t forget he dreamt up NHS Global and wanted more private participation.

        On the whole it has been a good week for Labour. The conference upset Dan Hodges, which must mean they are doing something right, however on the other hand we have the threat of one of the oiliest politicians in the business making yet another comeback (Mandelson).

        It seems to me if Ed Miliband really does want one Nation Labour he should make absolutely sure all remnants of the New Labour days are removed bag and baggage.

        I think most people, especially the floating voters which Labour must attract, would see Mandy as the  epitome of the self-serving, dishonest, sleaze and scandal ridden politician that puts them off voting in the first place

        • rekrab

          Yeah, What I can’t fathom out is there wasn’t any commitment to repeal pension changes and the freeze on wages, just some reference to the NHS procurement spending being reset.So is Dan Hodges playing foul here? I read your link and if Ed brings back a number of those people then I’m pretty sure you’ve called it correct in terms of voters not voting.I think it’s right and proper to remember that Ms Lamont now backs further cuts to Scottish services and that’s a complete change from where she was only a few months ago?

          I caught a glimpse of Sky News last night, Jacqui Smith was being asked about a headline on Ed’s “one nation” she said the “one nation” idea was a good idea and bringing everyone together to vote for a centre party was great or words to those effects, Jeez! she seems to think that the “one nation” move is a centrist endorsement we all agree with?

  • Attlee45

    Since the banking crash, has the centre not shifted ever so slightly to the left? After all, we lost the last election because we were not only in power when it happened, but that New Labour was so closely identified with these dodgy “wealth creators” who milked the system dry.

  • Daniel Speight

    I’m not sure what is deeply regressive Old Labour.

    Is it the Labour of Harold Wilson?
    Or that of Jim Callaghan?
    Or Neil Kinnock or John Smith?
    Possibly the Labour of Clem Attlee then?
    Does it go even further back?

    Maybe it means leaning more towards Keynes rather than Hayek inspired neo-liberalism?

    Marxists? Then again Ernie Bevin said he was more of a Marxist on economics.

    No I’m lost. You say of  ‘One Nation Labour’ It’s the answer for those who firstly reject New Labour as too accepting
    of neo-liberal economics whilst barely mentioning society or community.
    You obviously have a problem with the deeply regressive Old Labour. So maybe what you have found is an acceptance of neo-liberal economics as long as it does mention society or community.

    Or of course you explain yourself a bit better.

    • Bad day at the office?

      Old Labour was crucial to our history. I’m not dismissing the work of Atlee et al post 1945. But we live in a different world, things have changed. Just as we must move on from New Labour we can’t afford to move backwards 70 years

  • sdrpalmer

    Ah, yes: One Nation politics.
    One people, one government, one leader.
    This could be a winning formula.

  • Redshift1

    Who are all these marxists you’re going on about?

  • Redshift1

    Who are all these marxists you’re going on about?

  • Redshift1

    Who are all these marxists you’re going on about?

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