Osborne has taken the "dot communism" fetish to another level

Labour should learn from his error.

This summer at the Edinburgh book festival, Ewan Morrison coined the excellent pejorative "Dot Communism" and I've been borrowing it ever since. Dot Communism pervades public life across all political boundaries. It is the lazy fetishisation of the values of firey start ups everywhere: work tirelessly, grow fast, and democratise resources, insofar as democratisation involves everyone owning everything at once, whether it be information or hard cash.George Osborne yesterday took this fetishisation to a new extreme, and Labour should be learning from his error.

Proposing a new scheme in which employees swap certain significant employment rights for a stake in the organisation which employs them, Osborne seeks to create a new kind of worker - the "employee-owner". In a sense it's safe Tory ground in that he's relying on personal responsibility rather than protectionism to ensure both productivity and fair play. However, the scheme also relies on- indeed champions - the thrusting owner mentality which will thrive on personal risk provided there's the promise of fat, fast returns.

Labour should be paying attention to two kinds of response. Unions have reacted with outrage, with Paul Kenny of the GMB stating unequivocally his belief that "slashing people's employment rights... won't create jobs and it won't create growth". This was perhaps predictable. Osborne gleefully played up his scheme's lefty-bating angle, introducing the policy with the gloriously sarky statement "workers of the world unite". Still, the horror of the left at this extreme application of the dot communist manifesto should be a stark warning to any overly soundbite-friendly policy wonks at Labour HQ.

More importantly, John Cridland, director general of the Confederation of British Industry, was quoted in the Guardian with a distinctly lukewarm response. The scheme might be 'attractive' to workers in 'some of Britain's cutting-edge entrepreneurial companies', but he thinks 'this is a niche idea and not relevant to all businesses'. In other words, flashy get rich quick schemes might well appeal to a few media-friendly industries whose workers are characterised by boldness and zeal, but the majority of organisations rely on the bulk of their workforce feeling secure in their jobs, drawing their salary, and proceding perfectly happily without a major stake in the future of the company.

All Labour needs to do now is to realise that this is exactly what they've already said. Shadow secretary of state for business Chuka Umunna's speech at the party conference- as recorded on Labour's website- now looks rather prescient in calling for "an economy that rewards those that work hard and create sustainable value- not those just out to make a quick buck". There's an opportunity for Labour to turn this line into more than banker-bashing. They can be the party of sensible entrepreneurship and sustainable growth, the thriving local furniture business to the Tories' coke-fuelled Old Street digital bullshit dispensary.

As Ed Miliband starts putting some flesh on to the bones of his "one nation", he should be reading the papers today and remembering that, in business, mutual responsibility, shared vision and employee development are about much more than the promise of quick cash. Indeed, he's already said as much- so he'd better make sure the nation realises it.

Josh Lowe is a freelance journalist and writer. He tweets at @jeyylowe.

The silicon roundabout in Old Street. Photograph: Getty Images.

Josh Lowe is a freelance journalist and communications consultant. Follow him on Twitter @jeyylowe.

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Justin Trudeau points the way forward for European politics

Is the charismatic Canadian Prime Minister modelling the party of the future?

Six months after Canadian election day, Justin Trudeau’s Liberal party continues to bask in the glow of victory. With 44 per cent of support in the polls, the Liberals are the most popular party amongst every single demographic – men and women, young and old, and people of all educational backgrounds. 

While most European mainstream parties only dream of such approval, this is actually a small dip for the Liberals. They were enjoying almost 50 per cent support in the polls up until budget day on 21 March. Even after announcing $29.4 billion in deficit spending, Canadians overall viewed the budget favourably – only 34 per cent said they would vote to defeat it.

Progressives around the world are suddenly intrigued by Canadian politics. Why is Justin Trudeau so successful?

Of course it helps that the new Prime Minister is young, handsome and loves pandas (who doesn’t?) But it’s also true that he was leader of the Liberals for a year and half before the election. He brought with him an initial surge in support for the party. But he also oversaw its steady decline in the lead up to last year’s election – leadership is important, but clearly it isn’t the only factor behind the Liberals’ success today.

Context matters

As disappointing as it is for Europeans seeking to unpack Canadian secrets, the truth is that a large part of the Liberals’ success was also down to the former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s extreme unpopularity by election time.

Throughout almost ten years in power, Harper shifted Canada markedly to the right. His Conservative government did not just alter policies; it started changing the rules of the democratic game. While centre-right governments in Europe may be implementing policies that progressives dislike, they are nonetheless operating within the constraints of democratic systems (for the most part; Hungary and Poland are exceptions).

Which is why the first weeks of the election campaign were dominated by an ‘Anybody But Harper’ sentiment, benefitting both the Liberals and the left-wing New Democratic Party (NDP). The NDP was even leading the polls for a while, inviting pundits to consider the possibility of a hung parliament.

But eight days before election day, the Liberals began to pull ahead.

The most important reason – and why they continue to be so popular today – is that they were able to own the mantle of ‘change’. They were the only party to promise running a (small) deficit and invest heavily in infrastructure. Notably absent was abstract discourse about tackling inequality. Trudeau’s plan was about fairness for the middle class, promoting social justice and economic growth.

Democratic reform was also a core feature of the Liberal campaign, which the party has maintained in government – Trudeau appointed a new Minister of Democratic Institutions and promised a change in the voting system before the next election.

The change has also been in style, however. Justin Trudeau is rebranding Canada as an open, progressive, plural society. Even though this was Canada’s reputation pre-Harper, it is not as simple as turning back the clock.

In a world increasingly taken by populist rhetoric on immigration – not just by politicians like Donald Trump, Nigel Farage, Marine Le Pen and other right-wingers, but also increasingly by mainstream politicians of right and left – Justin Trudeau has been unashamedly proclaiming the benefits of living in a diverse, plural society. He repeatedly calls himself a feminist, in the hope that one day “it is met with a shrug” rather than a social media explosion. Live-streamed Global Town Halls are one part of a renewed openness with the media. Progressive politicians in Europe would do well to take note.

Questioning the role of political parties today

Another interesting development is that the Liberal party is implicitly questioning the point of parties today. It recently abolished fee-paying, card-carrying party members. While this has been met with some criticism regarding the party’s structure and integrity, with commentators worried that “it’s the equivalent of turning your party into one giant Facebook page: Click ‘Like’ and you’re in the club,” it seems this is the point.

Colin Horgan, one of Trudeau’s former speechwriters, explains that Facebook is “literally a treasure trove for political parties”. All kinds of information becomes available – for free; supporters become easier to contact.

It was something the Liberals were already hinting at two years ago when they introduced a ‘supporters’ category to make the party appear more open. Liberal president Anna Gainey also used the word “movement” to describe what the Liberals hope to be.

And yes, they are trying to win over millennials. Which proved to be a good strategy, as a new study shows that Canadians aged 18-25 were a key reason why the Liberals won a majority. Young voter turnout was up by 12 per cent from the last election in 2011; among this age group, 45 per cent voted for the Liberals.

Some interesting questions for European progressives to consider. Of course, some of the newer political parties in Europe have already been experimenting with looser membership structures and less hierarchical ways of engaging, like Podemos’ ‘circles’ in Spain and the Five Star Movement’s ‘liquid democracy’ in Italy.

The British centre-left may be hesitant after its recent fiasco. Labour opened up its leadership primary to ‘supporters’ and ended up with a polarising leader who is extremely popular amongst members, but unpopular amongst the British public. But it would be wrong to assume that the process was to blame.

The better comparison is perhaps to Emmanuel Macron, France’s young economy minister who recently launched his own movement ‘En Marche !’ Moving beyond the traditional party structure, he is attempting to unite ‘right’ and ‘left’ by inspiring French people with an optimistic vision of the future. Time will tell whether this works to engage people in the longer term, or at least until next year’s presidential election.

In any case, European parties could start by asking themselves: What kind of political parties are they? What is the point of them?

Most importantly: What do they want people to think is the point of them?

Ultimately, the Canadian Liberals’ model of success rests on three main pillars:

  1. They unambiguously promote and defend a progressive, open, plural vision of society.
  2. They have a coherent economic plan focused on social justice and economic growth which, most importantly, they are trusted to deliver.
  3. They understand that society has changed – people are more interconnected than ever, relationships are less hierarchical and networks exist online – and they are adapting a once rigid party structure into a looser, open movement to reflect that.

*And as a bonus, a young, charismatic leader doesn’t hurt either.

Claudia Chwalisz is a Senior Policy Researcher at Policy Network, a Crook Public Service Fellow at the University of Sheffield and author of The Populist Signal: Why Politics and Democracy Need to Change