progress is not the elimination of struggle, but rather a change in its terms’ - Aneurin Bevan

Next Labour - will change be moderate or radical?

The past...

David Miliband is using the term "Next Labour" in his campaign for leadership of the Parliamentary Labour Party. What this signals is that even the man widely viewed as the "New Labour" candidate acknowledges that the project is over. In his South Shields speech, it was recognised as factor in the general election defeat - "we were perceived to be defending the old order" when much of the electorate wanted change.

There are very good reasons why our party in government "did not become a movement in our communities rather than just an electoral machine". New Labour was predicated on winning office and holding office on the basis of moderate change, not radical change. To win enough seats to form a government, New Labour had to gain the support of voters who had previously backed the Tories. Since reasoned persuasion could not overcome media hostility, the party leadership adopted a centralised means of making policy and in doing so presented an image to the public which would not offend the ruling elite - and which would be mediated to swing voters.

(Now, perhaps there was no alternative to the New Labour project, perhaps Labour could have continued without rebranding - this is not my concern here. Though it might be interesting to speculate, it is of no relevance to the Next Labour project we must build.)

By accepting privatisation and the deregulation of the economy and abandoning industrial policy and state intervention, New Labour was not making an appeal to Middle England swing voters, it was making an appeal to Upper England - the ruling elite of billionaires and millionaires who are the major owners in industry and finance and who traditionally have sought to topple Labour governments by extra-parliamentary means. Given the choice between a "living breathing movement" of ordinary people or a centralised machine controlled by politicians from above, these people prefer command-and-control: a machine can be replaced or sabotaged with ease, but a movement is stubborn because it is more democratic.

So in office, New Labour was able to implement much needed reforms that benefited people on modest and middle incomes without incurring the wrath of the ruling class. Tax revenues from an expanding financial services industry and a record period of economic stability allowed investment in the National Health Service, in schools, children's centres, education and skills-training.

All of this has changed with the global economic crisis and the resulting bank bailout. The potential for financial meltdown meant that governments across the world had to step in to prevent recession turning to depression - taking equity stakes in banks and providing capital. In the UK, the bailout and the subsequent recession have caused a widening public spending deficit which the Tory-Liberal coalition aims to reduce through large-scale cuts in expenditure.

Through the years in office, a great distance was put between the party's traditional goal of extending democratic participation into economic affairs and the necessity of remaining in office to stop the Tories undoing the achievements that had been made. This meant that impediments to social justice, such as the Tory anti-union laws, were not repealed - and the growth of a bonus culture in the City could not even be criticised by ministers.

...the future...

Lord Griffiths, architect of the Tory government's privatisation and deregulation programme in the '80s, famously defended social injustice by saying of bank bonuses that people should "accept that inequality is a way of achieving greater opportunity and prosperity for all".

However, firms that are owned by their staff or customers, such as the John Lewis Partnership or The Cooperative Group, are able to provide opportunity and prosperity that is shared more equally and sustainably than in traditional investor-owned enterprises. So clearly, arguments in favour of inequality are self-serving rather than scientific, and an alternative is possible. Next Labour must promote democratic enterprise as the prefered model for private sector job-creation and economic development, and argue for an active industrial policy to nurture co-owned firms.

Reflecting the collapse of the financial sector and the world-wide discrediting of deregulation, Labour's geneneral election manifesto promised "A future fair for all". Though co-operative and mutual enterprise was supported more explicitly in the manifesto, both in rhetoric and policy, this unfortunately did not transfer into the election campaign itself.

As many of the party's former ministers have said in the aftermath of the election, it was hard to argue for fairness when there was much about the government's record that was unfair. Jon Cruddas, a backbench MP, has been more explicit about how the party has lost five million votes since 1997:

"many of our own people deserted us. The people who New Labour's architects said had "nowhere else to go" went elsewhere [...] the biggest swing was among skilled manual workers. [...] Immigration has been used as a 21st-century incomes policy, mixing a liberal sense of free for all with a free-market disdain for clear and effective rules. [...] Low pay and job insecurity, despite a minimum wage, has left people on the edge of society looking in on new levels of riches. This has happened while migrant workers are set against British workers by rogue employers looking to shave costs to make a bigger buck. This has not happened by accident. Labour actively took the decision not to better regulate for agency workers, and to not introduce living wage agreements."

Several candiates have raised the issue of immigration, but there's a danger that Labour overplays it. Other issues were motivating voters - the biggest being the economy. For skilled manual workers, many of whom deserted Labour particularly in Southern England, pay and conditions have come under pressure from increased competition from migrant workers and from off-shore outsourcing of jobs to lower-wage economies. However, as Diane Abbott has pointed out in launching her own bid for Labour leadership - it would be a mistake for the party to play into tabloid demonisation of migrant workers, rather there has to be a focus on the issues which are really a problem such as the shortage of affordable housing and job security.

The former schools secretary, Ed Balls, has now announced his intention to stand. Balls is usually tagged a "Brownite" in contrast to "Blairite" David Miliband - though as Jon Cruddas has said when arguing for the leadership campaign to move at a steady pace, "I've known some of them for 20 years but I don't know what they stand for. We should extend this and allow them to define what they are."

The distinctive concept Ed Balls champions is "progressive universalism" - recognising that those on modest and middle incomes have a shared interest in public services which are delivered on the basis of need. The media characterisation of Balls is not flattering - and I think is based upon his own presentational difficulties which result from a speech impediment that he has struggled to overcome.

Andy Burnham, former health minister and the self-proclaimed "continuity candidate" and John McDonnell, who like Diane Abbott is a member of the Socialist Campaign Group, are also trying to win support from their fellow Labour MPs to get on the leadership ballot.

...and the present

If David Miliband has positioned himself as a radical moderate, Ed Miliband positioned himself as a moderate radical in announcing his leadership bid. By backing a living wage campaign, the Cruddas view of immigration as a class issue, and by calling for the party to a rethinking its response to globalisation, he has laid claim to Next Labour by virtue of his distance from New Labour - and by his recognition that the global balance of power between labour and capital has shifted since the crisis, if only in terms of ideas.

But still, Ed Miliband has said the following of the postwar settlement "that gave working people a sense of security" that it "cannot be reproduced". This displays a remarkable lack of ambition because no thought is required on how to provide economic security to working people - rather, there has to be the political will to act.

These are the policy dilemmas, irrespective of who leads Next Labour:

* The UK is integrated into a Europe-wide, and expanding, labour market. Our trade unions are the most tightly regulated organisations in the UK, employees being held back by the worst labour laws in the EU. Will Next Labour stick with the model of a neo-liberal Europe that benefits the few, or will it back a Social Europe that benefits the many?

* Foriegn Direct Investment plays a greater role in the UK economy than ever before, and the incumbent government looks set to abandon the active industrial policy adopted that New Labour belatedly adopted. Will Next Labour switch back to a hands-off approach, or will it champion industrial activism and company law reform that was set out in the manifesto?

* Deficit reduction measures seem certain to result in another recession - another round of job losses and firms going to the wall, another wave of home repossessions and bankruptcies. We will see a sharp rise in poverty and a growing divide between the middle and the top of society. Will Next Labour attempt to position itself towards elite opinion at home and abroad, or will it campaign for the people who caused the crisis to foot the bill?

on the future of labour

I was born in the eighties, the decade in which the labour movement suffered a series of defeats and the party struggled to come to terms with the neo-liberal reforms of the Tories. The collective power of working people was eroded and poverty and inequality soared as mass unemployment became an accepted part of the new settlement.

The rebranding of the party as New Labour was seen as the launching of a new party which would completely accept the shift in power from elected institutions to institutions geared towards securing capital accumulation, and would discipline the broader labour movement against radical democratic change. In electoral terms, it meant that the strategy for holding office was not to challenge those interests which have the power to influence public opinion, nor to challenge the assumptions of swing voters.

The failure of Labour to secure a fourth majority should not be a surprise - what was surprising is that Labour managed to win a third term in office. The price for becoming a party of the established order was that although a great many progressive reforms were enacted - investment in public services, creation of children's centres and the minimum wage, etc. - these are sometimes overshadowed by the sight of unelected business figures becoming ministers to please the capitalist class, and by support for US-led wars in the middle east and elsewhere.

Despite the ruling class offensive in the past three decades, social attitudes surveys still find that a majority of people regard themselves as working class - better understanding the notion of class as a socio-economic condition of dependence upon an earned income or that of a spouse or partner.

A great many people understand the historic mission of the Labour Party - to represent the interests of working people in all levels of government. This obviously contradicts with the ruling elite's view of democratic representation as a means of legitimising huge inequalities of wealth and power.

The outgoing Labour leader perhaps had a greater understanding of the history of our movement than his predecessor, though he lacked the communication skills - not to convince voters, but to convince the ruling class that he could make ordinary people pay for the bailout. For this, the Tories (of both blue and yellow) are more convincing.

You still find, though not as much, people who will declare their politics with "I am Labour" - a proud identification with a party conscious of its historic mission. Despite everything, it is considered shameful to have voted Conservative. I expect now people will speak of having voted Liberal with regret - since the party has sold out its supporters in pursuit of power.

I first considered joining the party in 2007 when it became clear there would be a change of leadership and - I hoped - a change of course. But as it became clear there was to be no open debate through a leadership contest, I didn't join for another two years. In the deputy leadership contest, the only candidate who seemed to understand how people were feeling was Jon Cruddas.

No doubt that in this leadership contest, there will be an acceptance of the view that Labour needs to become a party of social movements again - and there will be much talk of the Obama '08 campaign in the US. But there is a debate which needs to be revived - and it stems from the result of the party's last leadership contest.

The change to Clause IV of the party's constitution marked an attempt to end debate on the content of democratic socialism. Although it made the party's goal explicit, the new Clause IV sought to assuage the fears of the ruling class by making it clear that the party would not reverse privatisation or embark on a programme of nationalisation of industry. In other words, it would not challenge the power of the ruling class.

However, the triumphalism of the early nineties is no longer with us - we are now in the shadow of a systemic crisis of the capitalism and on the verge of being forced to pay the price for the continued rule of a wealthy few with cuts to living standards and public services for the many. We need to recognise that although Labour was in office for a longer period than ever before - it had less power than ever before, accepting capitalist globalisation and ceding power to the Bank of England.

The new Tory government has gone even further - it will outsource decision-making on spending cuts to an independent body led by Sir Alan Budd, a former banker.

Budd appears in a 1992 film from Pandora's Box, a series produced by the documentary-maker Adam Curtis. He says the following of Tory economic policy of the '80s:

The nightmare I sometimes have, about this whole experience, runs as follows. I was involved in making a number of proposals which were partly at least adopted by the government and put in play by the government. Now, my worry is . . . that there may have been people making the actual policy decisions . . . who never believed for a moment that this was the correct way to bring down inflation.

They did, however, see that it would be a very, very good way to raise unemployment, and raising unemployment was an extremely desirable way of reducing the strength of the working classes -- if you like, that what was engineered there in Marxist terms was a crisis of capitalism which re-created a reserve army of labour and has allowed the capitalists to make high profits ever since.

Now again, I would not say I believe that story, but when I really worry about all this I worry whether that indeed was really what was going on.

This surprising admission is made more surprising by the denial of belief - to those on the recieving end of Tory policy, it was apparent what was happening and why. And it will happen again unless the Labour Party can purge itself of fear and confidently assert itself as a democratic socialist party.

My saying this does not imply that it is either possible or desirable to re-fight old battles - rather that there is a lot the party can learn from the movements with which is has historic connections - The Co-operative Party, which represents democratic enterprises accounting for millions of pounds in business; and the trade unions, which represent interests of millions of people in the workplace.

I doubt that a leadership contest will mark a period of reflection - it is after all a competition. I certainly hope it will be conducted in a comradely manner. And whilst it will focus on the personality and past actions of candidates, I hope that the candidates will make an attempt to advance the party's position on the economy beyond acceptance of existing power relations and towards greater democratic control by ordinary people.

the struggle continues

The reasons for Labour being behind in the polls are natural considering the recession and the expenses scandal - to say nothing of the vicious hostility of the Murdoch papers.

Should Labour fail to secure an overall majority, I would support a coalition with the Liberal Democrats. However, if a coalition is necessary it must be on the basis of shared objectives on fairness, not the privatisation and deregulation agenda of the Orange Book liberals. Many Liberal Democrat activists have roots in the Labour Party, either through the SDP split or more recent departures over foreign policy.

Any Tory victory would be far from a landslide - certainly David Cameron has no mandate for the kind of changes they want to bring about. So if we are faced with the Tories returning to office, we should not mourn but organise. Public opinion has shifted so far from the Tories in much of the country, they have had to establish a cult of personality around David Cameron to hide the snobbery and bigotry of the party.

The priority for the next government will be to assuage investors with details of deficit reduction plans. The Tories intend reckless spending cuts which would take money out of the economy. A Labour government would initiate a spending review and the pre-budget report at the end of the year would announce spending cuts for the financial year 2011-12. Gordon Brown has suggested that decisions on cuts will be subject to a fairness test - and Labour is backing a living wage for lowest paid workers.

The choice on Thursday is is between a winning struggle with Labour or a losing struggle with the Tories. The contrast between Labour's roots in the trade unions and the co-operative movement with the wealth and privilege of the Tories hasn't been so stark for years.

the Darlington debate

To Polam Hall on Thursday for the hustings organised by Churches Together in Darlington. This lasted two hours. I'm not saying it was a bad experience - I managed to miss the national debate on the economy, at least. But that's two hours I'm never going to get back.

"Integrity of Purpose: The Common Good in Darlington" is the challenge to prospective parliamentary candidates - yes, all of them.

Thankfully, one of the fringe candidates couldn't make it due to being heavily pregnant(!) The other, UKIP's Charlotte Bull was no doubt well meaning, but pretty much clueless on issues not related to Brussels. For example, her vocal support for NHS privatisation made the Labour candidate's jaw drop (and mouth the words "oh my god" in disbelief).

Well, the other big-c Conservative, Edward Legard, was a much better speaker - terribly arrogant, as you'd expect of a Tory lawyer, but he managed to escape the stereotype with his strident opposition to the war in Iraq - something which, he claimed, had encouraged him to get involved in politics. He did not agree to Cameron's Broken Britain claim - something siezed upon by the Labour and Lib-Dem candidates - and claimed it was the economy that was broken.

Mike Barker, the Liberal Democrat candidate, spoke of his early interest in politics being sparked by the dockers' leader Jack Dash - the Arthur Scargil of his day, demonised by the Tory press. Sadly, Mike was not so radical, and left the Labour Party by way of the SDP...

Jenny Chapman, the Labour candidate, spoke movingly of the events which led her to become actively involved in politics - tragedies occuring because of health inequalities and under-investment in the NHS. When questioned on commissioning of services in the NHS, rather than direct provision, she said that while it was here to stay, it could be used to improve services. Jenny said that she does not want to be Labour's representative in Darlington, but Darlington's representative in parliament.

The issue of public transport led to all candidates agreeing that action was needed. I regret not asking a follow up question on this issue - not least because for the Tory candidate to agree seemed at odds with his party's tradition of selling off public services and utilities to their backers.

Such were the numbers of people in attendance, I was too nervous to submit a question. If I had, it would have been on the excellent question in the Integrity document: "would you support the development of new models of worker co-operative ownership along the lines of the Mondragon Corporation in Spain?"

Naturally, the Labour candidate submitted the best response to this question, noting that the party's sister is the Co-operative Party, the political wing of the co-operative movement in the UK:

We can learn a great deal from different models of enterprise, like Mondragon, where the needs of the workers are prioritised. Even though all businesses are affected by the global financial crisis, there is less unemployment within the Mondgragon businesses as people are moved around to other jobs, or hours are cut without cutting pay. The wages for unworked hours are repaid through extra hours worked later in the year.

While most businesses determine voting power based on how many company shares a person owns, cooperatives can allocate each worker one vote. Mondragon co-operatives also stick to a more egalitarian pay scale—top management is rarely paid more than six times the lowest-paid worker. Profits and losses are distributed among all the members equitably because their efforts together determine the success of the company.

There will be opportunities for more co-operatives in Darlington, and I am committed to supporting them.