3 February 2012: Does Labour Old or New have what it takes to ‘re-think’ the project of social democracy? asks Michael Calderbank
David Miliband’s article in this week’s New Statesman tries to define itself against the arguments of those typified by Roy Hattersley, for whom New Labour was a botched job at fixing what wasn’t essentially broken. From this perspective, Labour doesn’t need to engage in much navel gazing about its direction, it needs to get back to basics - to further the goal of equality through the good old fashioned levers of central government like universal entitlements, redistribution, and collective provision of services.
It’s a vision that Labour’s core vote and activist base finds comforting, earning from Miliband the soubriquet ‘Reassurance Labour’, in the sense that it takes for granted that the relevance, values, and mission of the party is clear and it just needs to be re-asserted with more purpose. It’s a view that makes us feel good. But what are the chances of making good on this vision, either in terms of winning elections or making its proposals stick in government?
There’s much in Miliband’s alternative with which I – and I imagine a majority of Red Pepper readers – would disagree. But he’s right to suggest that simply rehashing old top-down social democratic recipes don’t amount to a credible position in the 21st century.
Labour spent the majority of the last century out of government, and even when it won elections it seldom proved possible to deliver on the expectations of the electorate. And especially today, when politicians of all stripes are increasingly held in contempt by voters, is it we really likely that we stand on the cusp of a massive popular extension of central government power? Doesn’t the rise of parties of the right across Europe suggest popular support is swelling behind the neoliberal divestment power from bureaucratic interference and political control?
So Miliband is right that this is no time for social democrats to feel complacent about the task ahead of them, and that some serious intellectual heavy-lifting is in order if our values are to be translated into an effective alternative institutional framework for society. But different kinds of ‘re-thinking’ are possible.
Miliband’s own warmed-up revisionism narrows the horizon of options to the predictable mush of neoliberal consensus – and its superficially appealing vocabulary (‘reform’, ‘localism’, ‘decentralisation’, ‘growth’) is essentially a series of Trojan horses for the further incursion of private profit and continued erosion of democratic accountability.
Labour – Old or New – has no ready answers for the left to take down from the shelf. Nor will the debate take place exclusively or primarily in the diminished ranks of its membership. The Green party and climate activists, nationalists, unaffiliated trade unionists, Occupy supporters, UK Uncut, women’s groups, anti-war activists and thousands more will also play a key part in this debate.
The closure of ERT is a litmus test for the Greek left Nicholas Vrousalis argues that the left must not only defend Greece's state broadcaster, but raise the demand for workers' control
Brazil: This is about public transport fares – but it’s about much more too Sean Purdy, an activist in São Paulo’s Free Fare Movement, gives an update on events in Brazil
Brazil: protests highlight the gulf between politicians and the people Tom Gatehouse reports on the movement sweeping Brazil
Why we must intervene and compete with the capitalist media Holly Rigby reports from the launch of a new radical media project in Scotland
Yoga and politics Davy Jones, a yoga teacher and political activist in Brighton, draws an unusual link
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‘In Gezi Park there is free food, medical care, a kids’ area and a library’ Ece Bulut gives us the latest from Istanbul’s Gezi Park, and looks at how the movement is organising – and changing people
Video: The story of the No Dash for Gas 21 In November 2012 twenty-one environmental activists shut down and occupied EDF-owned West Burton gas fired power station. For 8 days they remained on top of two chimneys, stopping 20,000 tons of carbon dioxide being emitted. This is their story
No Dash For Gas activists told to do (more) community service Joel Benjamin reports as climate campaigners avoid jail sentences
This is the week Labour turned its back on the welfare state As Ed Miliband backs a cap on benefits spending, Tom Walker says that the more you read of Labour’s new welfare policies, the worse it gets
Brazil: The giant has awoken Matthew Richmond writes on Brazil's growing mass movement
North Korea: War games gone wrong Tim Beal examines the US ‘playbook’ miscalculations that underlie the current US-North Korea crisis
The day Greece’s TVs went dark Hilary Wainwright reports from Thessaloniki on what happened when the state ordered Greece’s state broadcaster to shut down
Winning at Walmart The OUR Walmart campaign has been shaking up labour organising in the US. As they prepared for their current strike, Alex Wood spent a month with the people behind a new kind of fightback
Toxic gas: why we need to stop fracking Tony Bosworth and Helen Rimmer report on plans to expand fracking across the UK and look at why we need to leave shale gas in the ground