Labour, loveable institutions, elections and the real big picture: a scattershot attempt to start a painful discussion
02:59 in a bedroom in Belfast is the wrong time and place to get deeply restless and fired up for a new, robust, proud and striving social democracy. And, as you’re about to see, it probably does little for coherence.
Strangely, this restlessness was inspired by James Purnell’s Newsnight film on welfare, listless staring at the 1945 and 2010 election maps on Wikipedia, and then reading a Google-generated gaggle of first-hand accounts of the 1945 Labour victory. This post is motivated by nostalgia for a past I didn’t witness, and serious, sleep-robbing fears for the future we’re probably about to enter.
Imagine, within living memory, crowds of hundreds at polling stations and town halls, thrilled for a popular, truly social democratic future. It seems so alien and remote. Alien, remote, but very, very inspiring.
I’m a Green, but, put simply, I want that man to be the next Prime Minister, and for that map to flip to red again.
I’m no great fan of Purnell, and I’m not even going to bother rehearsing his dire, cruel record as a cabinet minister, but his emphasis on a welfare (or ‘protection’) state we can “love”, en masse, like the NHS, really appealed to me.
For me, successful social democracy acknowledges the market’s utility, but should never bow down before its power. Instead, it should set about constructing open, universalist, efficient, well-loved, easily explained institutions capable of protecting and enhancing the individual, while allowing that individual the social, economic and educational resources to flourish within a community of real and ready interaction. It should confront and dissipate unfair or distorting concentrations of power, while prizing service and institutional openness before the average citizen. It should be humane, but unafraid to embrace incentives against idleness.
If any of us sat down to design a state from first principles, while taking the entire world around us as a medium-term given, (a globalised, change-averse political world with rampant market power, an almost unreachable, unteachable plutocracy, our FPTP election system, all-pervading rot and paralysis in the world’s benign-cause institutions, the prospect of runaway climate change, capital flight, and the unfortunate need for some sort of financial services industry, amongst other frankly crap phenomena) what would we include? In what order? To what end?
What things are we defending now (if mostly in rhetoric) in the midst of the Tory cuts agenda that we would never include in a from-first-principles plan? Could we explain these things in easy, pithy ways, appealing to a common calculus of fairness withered by the relentless rise of liberal individualism uber alles? (social, good, economic, bad…)
I love the idea of a growing Green Party, but Green politics have, to my mind, always been as much about winning the argument and seeing it through as policy, as attaining political power as an end in itself.
In 2015, I think we will want to see a good Labour government, and we will want to see it prosper.
There won’t be a Green government. There won’t be a Liberal Democrat government. There might well be a Conservative government. Can we (or more importantly the people too poor, sick, desperate or helpless to blog, write or rally) really tolerate that for another nine years?
As the anti-cuts movement is gaining no great traction (when measured against much of its own rhetoric), and as the long-term stability of the Coalition seems to be a safe enough bet, should we be making a greater effort to engage with Labour in opposition? We all want to bring down the Tories, but what exactly happens then?
Sure, the Labour Party continues to take cretinous positions, but does also seem to be more earnestly open to mildly radical action than it has been for many, many years. Ed Miliband’s good work on phone hacking rests as much on a fundamental distrust for concentrated power as it does on simple parliamentary opportunism.
Looking at the myriad challenges before us as progressives, and (with the best will in the world) the miniscule gains of the UK Green parties, shouldn’t we give the tattered red flag another, heartfelt flutter before almost all we hold dear is lost, possibly forever?