Ed Miliband’s latest thought pieces
Some thoughts about Ed’s Labour Party conference speech were made in an earlier blog if you wish to refer back.
Last week he made a couple of contributions that raise fundamentally important issues for the Labour Party’s policy review and deserve some series consideration and debate by all members. I’ll try to raise some initial thoughts in this email and you may wish to refer to the text of the contributions. The article in the Guardian is at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/jan/14/labour-oldham-progressives-champion?showallcomments=true#comment-foldbut the better one is the speech to the Fabian’s conference last Saturday: http://www.fabians.org.uk/events/transcripts/ed-miliband-speech-text
Ed has started something which is unique in my personal knowledge of the Labour Party over the last almost 50 years. He is not propounding answers and expecting us to fall into line but instead is starting from basic conceptual analysis which leaves plenty of room for further debate. It is risky and exposed thing to do but is refreshing and we should take up the opportunity. However what he is saying seems much coded and needs a bit of interpreting.
I’ll try and capture the main elements, but please read the texts yourselves. In the Fabian speech he argues that we cannot assume the next election will ‘fall into our laps’ due to anger against the Tories. So as a Party we should to be the voice and standard bearer of the ‘progressive majority’. He then works at defining what this means. First what it is not: not just distribution but a new economic model; not just technical managerialism but having a values based ideological purpose; not based on sectional interest but a broad coalition of values.
Then what it is. First, learning lessons from the cause of the economic crisis that finance needs regulating, the economy rebalancing and we need to stop making people poorer as a response. He argues there is a connection between tackling inequality at work through the living wage wealth creation. Second, there is a need to bring together the Fabian socialist way of doing things on behalf of people with trade union and cooperative tradition of democracy, self respect and local solidarity what I would call ‘self activity’. He suggests lessons can be learned from the green movement in this regard. Third, the need to re-build trust in politics and politicians through making promises that can and will be delivered and a local political practice like the London Citizens movement, campaigning to actually achieve things.
Just to start some discussion I’d like to suggest some initial comments.
First, there is a political history connected to the term ‘progressive’ which I hope does not prove problematic. I used to identify members of the old Communist Party of Great Britain by their constant reference to the term. I think it dates from their British Road to Socialism policy statement which refers to ‘progressive elements’ in society as a way of avoiding using the term working class. It would be a shame if we felt we had to use euphemisms for the same reason. Especially as the ‘squeezed middle’ suggests the working class is expanding!
Second, economic rebalancing, financial regulation and not allowing the poor paying for the crisis will mean a direct challenge to some very powerful forces and the operation of the international economic system that we should call capitalism. Ed Miliband’s father Ralph made this point in his book State in Capitalist Society and it is still very relevant, even to the extent of suggesting the ‘S’ word again. This challenge has to be made, but we will need to develop the arguments very thoroughly and will need to consider our international connections to make policies effective. We could for example, support that the ‘living wage’ is adopted throughout the EU and that the EU Lisbon treaty is re-negotiated to allow more intervention in the way the economy operates. It means moving beyond the Labour Party as a national UK party, the other main point that Ralph Miliband made!
Third, mutualism, coops, trade unions and solidarity are organisations and processes and are not solutions to problems that people experience in themselves. As I know from my own experience there is a constant debate within these organisations about the extent they should embrace politics and policies that are aimed at social change. It is right to emphasis collective self activity but for this to be relevant we will have to show how these organisations and practices can challenges the power of the rich and the powerful and at the same time can demand or put into practice solutions to the issues and problems that people experience. John Holloway proposes the term ‘building the future in the present’ which suggests a possible way of thinking about this area.
Fourth, whilst thinking about the longer term we also have to ensure that the Labour Party is involved and perhaps leads the current fight back against the Tories. For me it is not difficult as there are a range of good – ‘progressive’ if you like – policies and social investment that the Labour Governments’ introduced which started to move in the direction that Ed is talking about. Many of these achievements are now being destroyed by the Tories and we should be with those who are resisting and fighting back.
Ed Miliband latest assessed
Ed Miliband’s latest thought pieces