Andrew Harrop: Labour’s recovery starts with stripping power from Britain’s political and economic elites


Whoever wins the leadership contest, the centre of gravity of the Labour Party has shifted to the left. Our members, our supporters and our MPs are more left-wing than 10 years or 20 years ago and two unashamed socialists are vying to be leader. This has been our movement’s response to the crisis of capitalism which began in 2007.

But the people who we need to vote for Labour, in order to govern again, did not respond in the same way. They were not unsympathetic to Ed Miliband’s left-leaning economic agenda, which is why George Osborne and Theresa May have stolen it. But their main response to the economic crisis, revealed in the result of the EU referendum, has been to yearn for more security, control, familiarity and order.

The task for the party is to create a political project which finds a home for both these reactions to economic crisis. Labour must bring together its new “deep-red” instincts – for a more egalitarian and collectivist Labour politics than we have known for a generation – with the intuition of “blue Labour” to embrace political emotions of identity, community, and control.

Creating an ambitious politics which combines these different instincts will not be easy. It will mean creating an agenda for economic reform that people believe would truly touch their lives and Labour could deliver. It will mean re-legitimising the welfare state, by promising to nurture shared institutions which recognise contribution and serve us all, not just those with least.

But the word which really links the passions of Labour’s internal insurgents and the angry, anti-establishment Brexiters is “power”. In their different ways, Labour’s lost heartland voters and its new economic radicals want to “take back control”, of decisions about their lives and communities, from the distant and controlling forces of market and state. The task is to forge a politics of power that can appeal to each camp in equal measure.

And the place for Labour to start is with politics and democracy itself. Labour needs a practical agenda that lives up to the mantra of “take back control”, not just by honouring the verdict of the Brexit vote, but also by pledging to strip power from Britain’s political and economic elites. The party must promise to tackle inequalities of power, with realistic ideas that can re-set our democracy and re-earn political trust.

To set the wheels in motion, earlier this year the Fabian Society convened a group of senior figures from across the Labour Party to draw up a Charter for democratic reform. This is not a bone-dry initiative for constitutional geeks, but an urgent exercise in spreading practical power and rebuilding faith in politics.

The group has focused on making democracy easy and accessible in the digital age; on equalising power through fair funding and openness in politics; and on ensuring that every voice and every place matters equally, through the creation of a democratic second chamber with equal representation across the nation, as well as an end to the marginalisation of voters in the safest seats.

But it would be absurd to propose new ways of sharing power, on the basis of conversations held exclusively in SW1. So today the Fabian take-over of LabourList is our effort to practice what we preach. All day we’ll be posting democracy-themed articles to stir up debate and generate readers’ responses below the line. Every single contribution will feed into the development of our Charter, which people across the Labour movement will be asked to support when it is complete. Or if you’d like to go further and propose your own idea you can head over to the special Fabian Democratic Reform website and write a pitch yourself.

Andrew Harrop is General Secretary of the Fabian Society

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