Different and Better: How One Nation can work for Labour

13th November, 2012 7:05 am

In order to generate energy and to succeed in opposition it is necessary to have a narrative, a strategy and an organising concept that can give plausibility and coherence to the swelter of initiatives, policies and programmes that swirl around the Westminster Village.

The narrative must tell a story of how we, as a nation got into this mess and how we as a party are an important part of how we will get out of it.

The strategy, both electoral and governmental, concerns the coalition of interests that can champion the change that is required and generate value, the people and the things that will make things different and better.  A plan of action that can grow in time to deliver electoral success and a compelling programme of government.

The organising concept is the idea that selects and shapes the policy and turns it into politics.  An idea that applies to all areas of policy and defines the identity of the party and of the offer they make to the electorate.  This is what Ed Miliband achieved at the last Party Conference with One Nation Labour.

In comparison, the idea of productive and predatory capital is an excellent and a true analytical distinction but it could not organise policy across the range, it gave no guidance concerning welfare reform, or education, constitutional reform or defence policy.  There was a real danger that we would get trapped in the dominant framework inherited from New Labour and intensified by the Coalition Government and engage in an endless and antagonistic exchange concerning faster or slower, higher or lower, more or less, without disputing the direction of travel.

With the emergence of One Nation however, the organising concept has been established.  It commits Labour to a politics of the Common Good.  In all areas of policy, estranged and divided part of our Nation: capital and labour, north and south, immigrants and locals, men and women, secular and religious need to be brought together in order to generate greater value.  It is different from what went before because no one interest dominates civic, political or economic life but all of these require people to come together and make things better.

Labour was founded in order to demand recognition by those who worked, as part of one nation.  There was no wish to dominate but to remind the rich and the powerful that workers were part of the nation, that they had interests and considered themselves a necessary part of the common good.  That argument needs to be made again for one of the things that is different about the One Nation position is its recognition of labour as a source of value, the Labour theory of value.  Innovation is generated by people with experience and expertise who understand the new technology and can work within it.

This in itself is a radical breakthrough because now we need to have a real conversation with the Unions not about what the Party can do for them, or even what they can do for the party, but what they can do to make things better.  How are Unions to be partners in generating value, honouring good work, defending labour as a necessary partner to capital and technology in the production process?  Do they champion changes in corporate governance so that the workforce is represented on boards?  That should be an important part of One Nation agenda, and one that Disraeli and Burke could not ever accept.  Anyone and anything other than Labour constituted the diverse ecology of the Nation.  We are here to correct that mistake and One Nation Labour does that.

But it is not limited to corporate governance reform on the private sector.  The same applies to the public sector.  How is the workforce, along with funders and users going to make the way we care and look after each other better.  It suggests a move from the contractual to the Covenantal.  We trust each other with the care of our children and our parents and we need to honour those who do that well, but we also need a way of dealing with those that don’t.  One Nation is a demanding category.  Vocational renewal is a double edged sword, it requires quality and equality and we need to be resolute in the pursuit of both.

It goes into making capital available to regions and to break the grip on internal investment by the same failed banking institutions.  Regional banks which serve local markets and businesses draw attention to our reliance on the financial sector and the need for an economy that works on dry land.  The lack of private sector growth in the regional economies outside finance and property is a great concern and One Nation makes the people of those regions part of the nation once more.

It enables us to talk about Land Reform and Community Land Trusts as a way of including people in the property owning democracy by transferring the freehold asset to communities.  In housing that means that the price is halved and there can be a genuine and affordable house building programme.  It is also applicable to Dover Port for example and offers an alternative to privatisation and nationalisation that works in the interests of all the people of Dover and brings capital, labour and the town together in a common concern for its flourishing.

One Nation is both a radical and a conservative idea and that is why it works.  It retrieves a tradition from within our nation history and through it generate greater solidarity and inclusion. Labour, in recent years, has shown a tremendous respect for diversity and pluralism.  This is greatly to our benefit and it was right to do so.  What was missing was a balance, an account of how that diversity can generate better forms of the common life, of how it could nourish and sustain the common good.  One Nation Labour corrects that imbalance.

Ed Miliband has retrieved, from what his Dad might have called the ‘dustbin of history’ a great gift to his party.  In order to live and grow it must be supported and cared for by many hands.  It offers the possibility of great years ahead.

Maurice Glasman is a Labour Lord and academic.

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

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  • Maurice, break this down for the more simple-headed, please.
    Tell me again how the organising concept emanating from the One Nation narrative and strategy might be applied to, let’s say, welfare policy? I don’t quite get it.
    Specfically, how woul actual policy relate to your maxim that: “We trust each other with the care of our children and our parents and we need to honour those who do that well, but we also need a way of dealing with those that don’t.” What does “dealing with” mean in the welfare policy context.

    • John C

      Seems clear to me – a one nation welfare policy would look a bit more
      German, a bit more Australian, and a bit more Scandinavian, than what we
      have had in the past.

      A bit more German, because there would be a
      stronger correlation between what you put in and what you get out – the
      old national insurance concept adapted for a more precarious and
      unequal Labour market. So for those on decent incomes, unemployment
      benefits might be more generous in the short term if they have paid in
      for a certain length of time. Some of that might be contingent on a
      higher payback for a while after they get back into employment.

      A bit more Australian because we wouldn’t just be using the welfare state to fix the worst problems of inequality ex post, but also looking at the structures of that inequality and what Government could do to reduce the problem at the starting point – Ed’s “predistribution”.
      A bit more Swedish because it would recognise that the benefits of welfare in terms of income security and public services have to extend a long way up the income chain if a critical mass of people are to support a reasonably generous welfare state overall – a sharp means test of residual services, the “Robin Hood” model of welfare doesn’t pass the public opinion test in the long term, however intuitive it looks.

  • ‘One Nation’ will be an incoherent and useless slogan for Labour so long as the party fails to develop a narrative of that nation’s identity. Britain is increasingly not one nation, but three nations (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) plus another nation (England) that the party and the political establishment in general refuses to acknowledge: England.

    ‘One Nation’ Labour, and indeed Britain, will be deliverable and feasible only if Labour does articulate a narrative for the whole of the UK: what is the relationship between the devolved nations and England; what can Labour do for and in each; what is the relationship between reserved and devolved – and hence English – policy areas? Can Labour bring itself to articulate a vision for England? If not, what will reform of health, education, housing and social-care policy actually mean, as a Labour UK government’s powers in these areas will in fact be restricted to England, even if Labour refuses to acknowledge and articulate that fact.

    One Nation is meaningless so long as the one nation to which it applies in full – England – is the one nation Labour cannot bring itself to value and envision. Simply balkanising England into a series of economic-development regions, as Lord Glasman is proposing here, will not do it.

    • Even the pro balkanisation of England IPPR couldn’t muster more than 10% support for the English regions (or more commonly – the regions). Meanwhile surveys consistently show support for an English parliament around 50% or higher http://toque.co.uk/english-parliament-opinion-polls – but then the regions have never been about what the people want so much as what the British establishment wants i.e. the political inconvenience of England – gone for good.

  • AlanGiles

    Well said, Paul. I Also don’t like – or perhaps, more correctly, don’t trust people who use terms like “dealing with”, without saying exactly what they mean.

  • Dear Maurice

    You assert:

    “With the emergence of One Nation however, the organising concept has been established.”

    Could you tell us more about the organisational model?

    Peter Kenyon
    secretary, City of London Labour Party

    • John C

      I think you’re getting mixed up here Peter – my view is that Maurice means in this instance an “organising concept” through which ideas and policies come together to form a narrative, rather than “organisational model” in terms of how politics and campaigns are structured on the ground.

  • Jayne Linney

    When will any of the authors dare to raise the real issues caused by the mightily unjust Welfare Reform?

    Writers do acknowledge the workers but no one so far has even tentatively began to discuss the fate of those of us who can no longer *if ever) seek employment; we have over the past two years been repeatedly demonised by Politicians of al parties.

    They’ve all focussed on the unproven idea that the majority of Chronically sick and Disabled People are claiming our benefits fraudulently ; even when asked directly about the issues Ed Miliband chose to respond by complaining about people accessing Disability benefits without need.

    There is an increasing amount of evidence proven this notion as totally wrong yet, despite this, the same old rhetoric is spewed out.

    Maybe Politicians feel eleven million Sick and Disabled people are merely unworthy, I hope they don’t forget we still have the vote!

  • AlanGiles

    We have Graeme Cooke to look forward to, who believes benefits should be time-limited.

    I rather suspect that these great thinkers, when they are not thinking, spend their time watching soap opera and really do believe that people can become disabled in episode 5007 and are fully mobile again by episode 5018. Or that people lose their job on Monday and get a job in the local cafe, corner shop or launderette on Tuesday.

    The truth is people like Cooke are entirely out of touch with real life. They spend their waking hours with their head in the clouds (including Professor Glasman) and don’t actually know how tough life can be for ordinary people.

    Labour want to be seen as just as tough as Duncan-Smith which is why the would-be Mayor of Birmingham remains in the shadow minister post, spewing out his rhetoric regardless, when it is clear he is not interested in, or wants to learn from, his post. He’d rather be in Birmingham than Westminster, which shows his committment.

    The demonisation of the unemployed and disabled started under Blair and the poisonous Frank Field, continued under Brown with Purnell and Freud, and sadly will continue while Mr Cruddas and his right-wing mates continue mouthing their latest “one nation” catchphrase (how many more times will it be plastered across LL this week?) with their sentimental rhetoric about “patriotism”.

    If this week has proved anything under the editorship of Cruddas, it proves he and his cohorts have nothing new to offer except repeating what they have said so many times already. It’s only early Wednesday morning as I write, but it seems to me they have already said everything they have to say, which wasn’t very much in the first place, however long-winded and “intellectual” the articles are: I am just waiting for Mr. Cruddas’s best mate Purnell to write an article, after all – I feel sure they think “Jim’ll Fix It”.

  • Serbitar

    Did Eric Pickles and Iain Duncan Smith ghost write this article?

  • “One Nation is both a radical and a conservative idea and that is why
    it works. It retrieves a tradition from within our nation history and
    through it generate greater solidarity and inclusion”

    No it isn’t a new idea its an old one – It hasn’t worked because you can’t
    have inclusion and solidarity when you have a two tier society and are
    putting forward policies to entrench this inequality. You can’t have inclusion when you pay a firm like ATOS to harvest the disabled for profit while you demonise them in the press.

    You can’t have solidarity when people are being gouged by energy companies, while you bleat endlessly about the need to “shop” around. You want to make benefits time limited but do nothing to deal with unemployment. You want to exclude generations of young people from education, but then brag about a skills based economy without ever mentioning how you intend to fill it. You demonise the old, the young and immigrants and then talk about a “respect” agenda.

    This idea is nothing more than a more egregiously and hypocritical version of Blairs Big Conversation, or Camerons Big Society. It is nothing more than a straw man and an empty piece of useless bloviating rhetoric.

  • MarkHoulbrook

    Maurice Glasman wishes to explain to those he is reaching out to how a parable can engage the electorate. One Nation… a modern phrase for R A Dahls view on pluralist political philosphy. There is nothing new here. Organised groups have always played a a large role in the political process.

    What Maurice is attempting to impart is that here in Britain , there is no constitutional safeguards to promote the One Nation rhetoric he is preaching.

    We have a one nation idea, Two Labour doctrines, and five political pluralist strands or rather philosophical dogmas on the centre left. Old Labour, Blue Labour, Purple Labour, Real Labour interwined with Third Way social democracy (New Labour). How is this working for Labour and more importantly how is it working for grassroot organisation.

    When only 5 – 10 % of members in CLPs turn out door knocking, campaigning and to AGMs in the party how can you produce a plan of action that will produce electoral success. You will not. Refounding Labour works theoritically but in practice its a damp squib. This should be confined to the dustbin of history. It is not working.

    Your article is just a front, where you hide the REAL issue of attempting to manufacture a belief that organised groups will produce the onset of new institutions, that is, your vision of a better society. New Labour could only manage pluralism based on failed race, religion and gender policy, that is cultural pluralism through the use of Quangos as a power base.

    You have all but change the name of New Labour but it is clear that it is certainly going to provide the electorate with “more of the same”.

    Jon Cruddas’s real goal is to try to change an unwritten and flexible constitution into a written and rigid one. Is that not right Maurice.

    Please be honest with those you are attempting to reach out to. Where is the Power?

    You cannot have a party that does not practice internally what it preaches externally. The policy review is not relative to those it attempts to want to serve. It lacks a human face.

    Not so sure whether you favour American Pluralism or the fragmented German Model


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