One Nation is an audacious land grab – but with problems and limitations

November 17, 2012 7:20 am

Hats off to Jon Cruddas and Mark Ferguson for a great One Nation week on LabourList. I think you have to wear a hat if it’s a proper One Nation! For the first time in a long time, since Ed’s conference speech, Labour has a prism through which to think and operate and the postings this week have shown there is life, energy and vitally to the concept.

No single short phrase can ever bear the burden of carrying a whole political project. All we can settle on is a phrase that is good enough – that enables enough of the country to shelter under it. We wont know if One Nation (ON) is good enough until May 2015. But the leadership is investing in it and it looks like it will stick. It is our job to get behind it in a constructively critical way – as we have seen this week on this site.

The beauty of the phrase is not just its audacious land grab on the Tories home turf but the place it gives everyone in Labour. We can read what we want into ON – from left to right and from blue to new. As such it feels slightly reminiscent of early New Labour where, for a while at least, the old right and the soft left could find a home. Like all mobilizing phrases that is its strength and its weakness. And, like the evolution of New Labour, the politics of ON will adapt not just based on the character and nature of the Party’s leadership but crucially the forces that operate around them.

Which brings us to some of the detail of this weeks LabourList debate. The quality and breadth has been great. Spotting Philip Blond from the centre right and Richard Grayson from Liberal Left is good for the debate, the site and Labour. Inevitably ON is being shoehorned into everyone’s pet subject. If you append ON to X, Y or Z then you are away. Well maybe. Lets not get too carried away with its applicability.

So lots of great articles but the highlights I spotted were these. First Maurice Glassman and Francesca Klug, setting out the paradoxical nature of the ON project. Again this is a character of all political projects – they carry within them essential tensions that provide both opportunities and threats. Maurice makes us think about what we want to cherish and what we need to renew, while Francesca gets us thinking about the particularity of a national story within the need for a universalist message. Her recourse to a politics of the good society, in tune with Maurice’s common good, is certainly welcome with me.

Anthony Painter offers his usually sharp overview, this time on the division between those that want to reform the state and those that are state skeptics. I’m with the former. There are places the state must not go, like the infringement of our liberties, but its is the democratization and localization of the state that will enable us to build from a solid and diverse foundation. Duncan O’Leary gives us a good example through the SureStart story – the best New Labour example of the importance of institution building in a political project that started to go wrong when it stopped being co-produced. As Hilary Cottam’s relational welfare tells us, these institutions have to start with people – not diktats from the centre. And really important is Ivana Bartolleti on feminism – reminding us that there are things we want to conserve but old male dominated hierarchies are certainly not one of them.

Then we come to the problems and limitations of ON politics. The structural flaws are Scotland, Wales, Europe and the environment. Can One Nation cover these bases too? It’s tricky to say the least. Michael Jacobs does a good job on Labour and land but knows too well that climate change respects no national borders. Which bring us to Colin Crouch and Europe. The structural weakness of the left is that capital went global and so far democracy has failed to keep up. You cannot regulate something over which you have no control. If we cannot find global or at least European solutions to the now obvious downside of free markets then more authoritarian forces will try to find national solutions. We might end up with a very different ON than we bargained for.

Such flaws don’t invalidate ONism as a mobilizing concept. It does mean there is a lot of hard work to stretch it far enough but not beyond either the ridiculous or a breaking point. We have a concept to work with. Lets do just that, with commitment, tolerance and respect. Well done to Jon and Mark for a fantastic week of One Nation debate.

Neal Lawson is Chair of Compass

This piece forms part of Jon Cruddas’s Guest Edit of LabourList

  • AlanGiles

    “We can read what we want into ON – from left to right and from blue to new.”

    That’s right. Lewis Carroll put it even better “words mean what I choose them to mean”

    It can mean whatever you want it to mean – in short it is a meaningless term. Words. But actions speak louder than words.

    The words in this weeks LL have been long-winded, anodyne, let’s not frighten the horses, humdrum platitudes. The only article of any genuine depth or feeling was that of Sue Marsh – but then she lives in a real and painful world. Not the world of Cruddas’s would-be blue skies; as for the rest it was like headmaster Cruddas had set an essay where all the pupils had to drag the words “one nation” into them.

    The only thing I have taken away from this week is that we have had a pretty mediocre and meaningless school debate, where people like Glasman have held forth at great length and said a great deal about very little of any practical value.

    A suet pudding of self-regarding euphamisms, pompous self-important people (Graeme Cooke for example) who live in a world far removed from that the people they seek to represent, trying to find a prescription that will “cure” everything and everybody, in the ridiculous belief that real life can be “planned” from a research group or think tank. And it must appeal to the bigots who devour the Express, mail and Sun every day. Labour 2012 is just Labour 1994-2010 with an extra layer of wallpaper to cover over the cracks.

  • AlanGiles

    “We can read what we want into ON – from left to right and from blue to new.”

    That’s right. Lewis Carroll put it even better “words mean what I choose them to mean”

    It can mean whatever you want it to mean – in short it is a meaningless term. Words. But actions speak louder than words.

    The words in this weeks LL have been long-winded, anodyne, let’s not frighten the horses, humdrum platitudes. The only article of any genuine depth or feeling was that of Sue Marsh – but then she lives in a real and painful world. Not the world of Cruddas’s would-be blue skies; as for the rest it was like headmaster Cruddas had set an essay where all the pupils had to drag the words “one nation” into them.

    The only thing I have taken away from this week is that we have had a pretty mediocre and meaningless school debate, where people like Glasman have held forth at great length and said a great deal about very little of any practical value.

    A suet pudding of self-regarding euphamisms, pompous self-important people (Graeme Cooke for example) who live in a world far removed from that the people they seek to represent, trying to find a prescription that will “cure” everything and everybody, in the ridiculous belief that real life can be “planned” from a research group or think tank. And it must appeal to the bigots who devour the Express, mail and Sun every day. Labour 2012 is just Labour 1994-2010 with an extra layer of wallpaper to cover over the cracks.

    • aracataca

      It wouldn’t matter what Labour said you’d be against it.
      You yourself put forward no ideas or political programme and fail to answer the most basic questions about what you think and what path you think we should go down. One week you attach yourself to the Green Party, the next you eulogise ‘independents’. Your attempts at humour are (without exception) laboured and you pour vile abuse on anyone who puts forward a positive set of political ideas or programme. In short you offer anybody who can be bothered to read what you write a political coach trip to nowhere.

      • AlanGiles

        But at least I write under my own name William and not under a silly pseudonym because you don’t want anyone to know you were the “William” who used to post on LL – what?. That’s right ” pour vile abuse on anyone who puts forward…..”.

        Hypocrite.

        And as you appear to be too far gone to notice, I said that Independents was the best thing for the PCC posts if we must have the dubious things rather than party political representitives. The police should not be politicised at all, but you are so busy getting your wooden spoon out, like a raddled old woman trying to stir up trouble you probably didn’t notice that I wrote that.

        Grow up, Billy.

        • aracataca

          My pseudonym has political significance but what would you know about it? By the way it is ‘independents were’ not ‘independents was’. Why don’t you go on a grammar course you might learn something although I doubt it.

          • AlanGiles

            While we are talking about courses, perhaps you could try one that would let you think for yourself, instead of swallowing every absurdity dreamt up by Labour and fawning to it.

            So I made a rather bad grammatical slip, and you are so pathetic and sad you have nothing better to do than point it out – and that is all you have to say and all you have to do with your time. Pathetic little man.

  • Serbitar

    “ONism” sounds very much like “Onanism” doesn’t it? Coincidence? Not judging by the content of the series of so-called “One Nation” articles I perused on Labourlist over the last seven days in my honest opinion.

    • JoeDM

      Also, what about being “ON message”? Very New Labour.

      • Serbitar

        Clouds without water. A mirage in the desert.

  • JoeDM

    One point – “One Nation” but you still support multiculturalism. Err…………

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mike-Homfray/510980099 Mike Homfray

      Not very much point in doing otherwise – multiculturalism is a reality and isn’t going anywhere. Its more a case of how it is managed

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=715486331 Alex Otley

        Exactly. Britain is a more diverse country than it was. There is nothing that Little Englanders can do to reverse that, but more importantly there is really nothing wrong with it.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=715486331 Alex Otley

      I have some doubts about this One Nation thing as a label, but you have certainly missed the point. Nothing contradictory about multiculturalism and One Nationism. It just means reaching out to different ethnic and religious groups as well as different socio-economic groups, which to be honest was something that Labour has always been better at doing anyway.

      • rekrab

        But what does it mean on the economic front? does “one nation” encompass the “we’re all in it together” and all crown nation will be subject to tuition fees and austerity cuts?

        • AlanGiles

          The very title of this article – (“One Nation is an audacious land grab …”) and others like it in this interminable week of essays, seems to suggest that politics is more than ever a game, played by posh little boys who have never done a reals days work, and never lived in the world beyond the Westminster bubble and “think tanks”, they have never got their hands dirty and merely dream up typical scenarios, which of course are not applicable or appropriate to a great many of the people they presume to lead.

          I am afraid Labour is just as guity of this game playing as the Tories and LibDems.

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=715486331 Alex Otley

          Like I said, I’m not really sold on this One Nation thing. I was just commenting on the multiculturalism angle. It has been used to good effect against the Tories, but if I put my left wing hat on I would say that it could lead to Labour abandoning working class representation to an even greater extent. Unless it is linked to a firmer understanding of class and proper Labourist policies I think there is a danger that ‘One Nation’ could end up being another euphemism for centre-right Mondeo Man.

  • Daniel Speight

    I don’t want to be the naysayer as I welcome Jon Cruddas’s attempt to find a new path for the party after the failure of the New Labour ideas, but is this really the best we can do? I have commented before about the lack of intellectual heavyweights in the party when compared to those America produces like Jeffrey Sachs. Is it just the party or is it the whole country that can’t produce the goods? I can only think of David Blanchflower and even he lives in the States.

    • AlanGiles

      Really, all these craftilly worded articles have said, is that they will be the same, only different. Variations on a theme of “too far, too fast”: quite frankly nothing I have read in these articles suggests to me Labour has really changed their minds on neo-liberal poppycock, and I am afraid Jon Cruddas is merely just rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.

      Mr. Lawson seems delighted that the articles could and can mean all things to all men, which shows how vapid they are.

  • Dave Postles

    ‘I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and
    to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible,
    with liberty and justice for all.’

    … see what that did? You need a little more than rhetoric and symbols.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mike-Homfray/510980099 Mike Homfray

    I think the strength of ON is that it recognises that the Right have moved so far towards their position that there are things which we want to cherish and conserve, which emerged from our thinking and action. I certainly welcome the move away from frantic reformism, where everything had to be ‘new’ and where the answer to everything was ‘reform’. Less convincing is the thinking on the State. I am unconvinced about localism, I think people want decent services well delivered, and that there is something to be said for having some central direction
    And, really, how can it be ‘one nation’ otherwise?

    • aracataca

      Agree here Mike. Having been somewhat deeply involved in a country with an absent state (except for its role in curtailing and restricting rights) – namely Colombia -there needs to be a cry of ‘Can we have a state, please?’ coming from somewhere within the ON debate.

  • Monkey_Bach

    Eeek.

    I tried to make sense of this article. I REALLY DID! But failed miserably. The article was peppered with sentences and combinations of words that made no sense to me. For example:

    “… Labour has a prism through which to think and operate…”

    What the heck does that mean? Eeek. How can you “think and operate” through a prism?

    In passing, as a fellow primate, can I prevail upon Mr. Lawson to update his spell checker with a bona fide UK dictionary? I much prefer the English -ise to the harsher Yankee -ize suffix and similar when trying to read the English language.

    Thank you in advance.

    I’m off to cogitate and engage with the world through a banana!

    Eeek.

  • http://www.englishstandard.org/ Wyrdtimes

    Surely the biggest problem with “one nation” is that on health, education, transport, housing, planning, environment, law and order etc UK Labour MPs can only vote on English issues? Which leaves Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs with more say England in those areas of legislation than on their own countries. Can’t you even acknowledge that that’s a problem?

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