The challenge facing Labour

Don’t let the Tories win the argument on the management of public services.

I'm afraid in my previous post I gestured rather airily in the direction of some "fundamental questions of political economy" that the candidates for the Labour leadership need to answer, without specifying what those questions might be. I don't think I'd be able to better for clarity or precision Chris Dillow's account of the challenge facing Labour as it tries to determine what a post-New Labour version of social democracy might look like.

Dillow offers five reasons why New Labour's conception of social democracy is dead. I'd like to draw your attention here to two of those reasons. First, he points out that Labour's "promise of macroeconomic stability" was false (John Gray said something similar in the piece about Ralph Miliband that I discussed yesterday):

Macroeconomic stability was mere good luck which has passed, not something which it is in the power of governments to create.

The challenge for an intelligent left is to ask: how can we protect the worst-off from macroeconomic fluctuations, given that macro management is insufficient? This requires either more use of insurance markets, or a welfare state that puts a higher weight upon reducing risk than upon incentives.

Gray, of course, was fairly pessimistic about the ability of a future Labour government to "protect the worst-off from macroeconomic fluctuations". But he and Dillow agree that figuring whether and how it is possible to do this in the "globalised world" to which Tony Blair's memoir is, in part, a deluded incantation is a task the centre left needs to take very seriously.

Second, Dillow makes a point about managerialism and the public sector (something David Miliband and Jon Cruddas allude to in their Guardian piece that I also blogged about yesterday):

The inefficiencies in the public sector generated by top-down management might have been tolerable when no one worried about government borrowing. However, even though concern about the deficit is grotesquely overblown, this is not the world we'll live in in the foreseeable future. Governments will have to pay more attention to value for money. This requires that public-sector workers be empowered, as they know best where inefficiencies really lie. But New Labour's managerialism prevented it from seeing this.

The critique of managerialism is something that the left has allowed the Tories (for whom it goes proxy for an assault on the public sector tout court) to take ownership of and it's time it wrested it back.

Jonathan Derbyshire is Managing Editor of Prospect. He was formerly Culture Editor of the New Statesman.

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Jeremy Corbyn challenged by Labour MPs to sack Ken Livingstone from defence review

Former mayor of London criticised at PLP meeting over comments on 7 July bombings. 

After Jeremy Corbyn's decision to give Labour MPs a free vote over air strikes in Syria, tonight's Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) meeting was less fractious than it could have been. But one grandee was still moved to declare that the "ferocity" of the attacks on the leader made it the most "uplifting" he had attended.

Margaret Beckett, the former foreign secretary, told the meeting: "We cannot unite the party if the leader's office is determined to divide us." Several MPs said afterwards that many of those who shared Corbyn's opposition to air strikes believed he had mishandled the process by appealing to MPs over the heads of the shadow cabinet and then to members. David Winnick declared that those who favoured military action faced a "shakedown" and deselection by Momentum activists. "It is completely unacceptable. They are a party within a party," he said of the Corbyn-aligned group. The "huge applause" for Hilary Benn, who favours intervention, far outweighed that for the leader, I'm told. 

There was also loud agreement when Jack Dromey condemned Ken Livingstone for blaming Tony Blair's invasion of Iraq for the 7 July 2005 bombings. Along with Angela Smith MP, Dromey demanded that Livingstone be sacked as the co-chair of Labour's defence review. Significantly, Benn said aftewards that he agreed with every word Dromey had said. Corbyn's office has previously said that it is up to the NEC, not the leader, whether the former London mayor holds the position. In reference to 7 July, an aide repeated Corbyn's statement that he preferred to "remember the brilliant words Ken used after 7/7". 

As on previous occasions, MPs complained that the leader failed to answer the questions that were put to him. A shadow minister told me that he "dodged" one on whether he believed the UK should end air strikes against Isis in Iraq. In reference to Syria, a Corbyn aide said afterwards that "There was significant support for the leader. There was a wide debate, with people speaking on both sides of the arguments." After David Cameron's decision to call a vote on air strikes for Wednesday, leaving only a day for debate, the number of Labour MPs backing intervention is likely to fall. One shadow minister told me that as few as 40-50 may back the government, though most expect the total to be closer to the original figure of 99. 

At the end of another remarkable day in Labour's history, a Corbyn aide concluded: "It was always going to be a bumpy ride when you have a leader who was elected by a large number outside parliament but whose support in the PLP is quite limited. There are a small number who find it hard to come to terms with that result."

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.