The party's not over
Over to You, Mr Brown: how Labour can win again
Anthony Giddens Polity Press,
Anthony Giddens is new Labour's philosopher-in-chief. For over a decade, this inventor of the "Third Way" has been an ideological confidante of Tony Blair, Bill Clinton and a global array of centre-left leaders. His assessment of what we have got right and wrong in that time matters; but, more importantly, so do the lessons he draws for the future.
Blair is the sole survivor of the Third Way generation of political leaders. The rest - Chrétien, Clinton, Jospin, Kok, Persson, Schröder - have gone, and Blair will soon join this political changing of the guard. Across the world, the right is in the ascendancy, buoyed up by economic globalisation and the collapse of communism. The left has been wrong-footed, uncertain how to apply its traditional values in this new world. New Labour has been the exception. Blair has done more than make Labour electable; he has reshaped the political landscape around a new, more progressive orthodoxy. Giddens is a fan of Blair, but he mixes praise with criticism. He argues for a more explicit egalitarianism, a distancing from the US and a closer relationship with the family of European social democrats.
Forget the title; Gordon Brown is largely incidental to Giddens's purpose. It is the subtitle that hints at the heart of his book: how Labour can win again. Giddens rightly believes that fresh ideas hold the key to winning elections. They are sorely needed at a time when David Cameron is seeking to set the political agenda and the Tories are leading in the polls. Of course, Blair's government continues to make reforms, as it has done for ten years, but right now it is hard to discern what our plan is to meet the challenge of the next ten. To win again, Labour needs to renew - intellectually, politically, organisationally. That cannot happen behind closed doors. It requires an open, inclusive debate about our future direction.
Giddens makes a weighty and significant contribution, serving up a rich diet of thoughts, ideas and policies. The book is suffused with classic Giddens concepts: the ensuring state, responsible capitalism, positive welfare, sophisticated multiculturalism, everyday democratisation. Beneath each lies a host of concrete policy ideas: everything from a tax on wealth to charges for a visit to the GP. His policy reach is breathtaking, encompassing Europe and the environment, lifestyle changes and labour markets. The hundreds of policies he floats could write more than one future Labour election manifesto. Above all of them sits what he calls the big idea, his "Contract for the Future", in which "both the state and markets [become] the servants of the people".
This takes us well beyond the original new Labour agenda, as Giddens rightly intends. For a decade, new Labour won by being trusted to deliver a strong economy and improving public services. Both remain important. But Clinton's famous campaign mantra, "It's the economy, stupid", is no longer enough to secure political victory. There is new political terrain and the main political parties are fighting to seize it. How we respond to globalisation, international migration and global warming. How we build genuinely inclusive societies when there are huge pressures to push us in the opposite direction, most notably a widening gap between rich and poor. Above all, how we fulfil people's desire for greater control in their lives. These were not the main challenges in 1997, but they are in 2007. And I believe they form the basis for a new orthodoxy.
On many of these new fronts - poverty, security, the environment - more co-operation between states is needed. But meeting these future challenges requires something even more fundamental: a new partnership between states and citizens.
Governments alone cannot cope with the environmental crisis or the pensions crisis any more than they alone can bring about better health or lower crime. That requires actions by individuals as well as governments - and reforms to the old paternalistic relationship between state and citizen so that power is moved outwards and downwards to individuals and local communities. If new Labour's old agenda was driven by competence on the economy and change to the welfare state, the new agenda should focus on reforming the state and empowering the citizen.
Giddens suggests how we could "democratise our democracy", but here he should have gone further in suggesting what it could mean for politics as well as policies. Together, better education, the internet's potential and greater assertiveness on the part of citizens offer the new generation of Labour leaders a chance to realise what previous generations could only dream of: sharing power far more evenly throughout society.
None the less, this is an ambitious and thought-provoking guide to what post-Blair politics could look like. It seeks to direct new Labour's renewal towards reforms that are both more radical and more progressive in pursuit of a fairer society. Whether that happens depends on what Labour does next. One thing is certain: renewal cannot be about going back. It is about moving forwards and facing the future with confidence. Giddens offers us a vision of both.