The Socialist Way edited by Roy Hattersley and Kevin Hickson: Defining Ed Miliband's "one nation" project

No one is more conscious than Miliband that he is leading the Labour Party during a period in which the left is at a perilously low ebb across Europe.

The Socialist Way 
Edited by Roy Hattersley and Kevin Hickson
IB Tauris, 240pp, £14.99

The Socialist Way is the most intellectually compelling attempt yet to define Ed Miliband’s “one nation” Labour project. The red thread running through the book is that while “Third Way” social democracy made modest improvements to the social and economic fabric of Britain, it was ultimately a profound disappointment. In the view of the editors, Roy Hattersley and Kevin Hickson, Labour under Tony Blair traded principle for power and abandoned its historic commitment to greater equality. When the financial crisis struck, the moderate achievements of New Labour were washed away as easily as they had been enacted. The Socialist Waysuggests that it is time to reclaim the mantle of social democracy. The British electorate, it says, has shifted irrevocably to the left in the aftermath of the financial crisis: a new egalitarian settlement is, at last, within our grasp.

The book has an aura of The Spirit of ’45 about it – Ken Loach’s film about the rise and fall of the postwar social contract. Nevertheless, the authors appear divided as to whether Miliband is a latter-day Clement Attlee, a “Thatcher of the left” forging a new egalitarian consensus in British politics or an altogether more centrist figure in the mould of Harold Wilson and his “white heat of technology”, rejuvenating British capitalism for an age of heightened global competition.

The best chapters in the book urge Labour to strike out boldly and rediscover the courage of its ideological and intellectual convictions. As Hattersley exhorts in his stirring introductory essay, “Principles are the way back to power.” In his essay, Bill Keegan entreats the party to develop a Keynesian response to the post-2008 crisis, avoiding the trap of coalition austerity. Stewart Lansley makes a persuasive case for economic equality: a future Labour government should incorporate pay ratios into its macroeconomic policy as a bulwark against instability. Ruth Lister urges a renewed commitment to a more equal society through a redistributive strategy that drags public attitudes in a progressive direction. Robert Page examines the underlying tensions between centralism and localism in the welfare state: any move towards greater localism inevitably entails a trade-off with equity. Michael Meacher, meanwhile, contributes an incisive essay on environmental sustainability.

Other chapters engage lucidly with the complexities of governing in the contemporary world. Raymond Plant contributes an outstanding essay on public-sector reform, although the conclusions do not sit easily with the overall tenor of the book. As Plant contends, social democrats will always maintain a distinction between the state funding of public provision and a pluralistic approach involving private, voluntary, as well as public, providers. What matters are safeguards ensuring equity of access that sustain common citizenship alongside community and user involvement. In an erudite essay, Andrew Vincent affirms the status of social democracy as a “hybrid” ideology with “a sober, but realistic, understanding of the possibilities and limits of politics”. This lays down a significant challenge: can there be social democracy without the centralising state?

Throughout the book, various authors insist that New Labour lived too much in the shadow of Thatcherism. While there are many reasoned proposals put forward, the contributors appear afflicted by the same caution and moderation they discern in New Labour. If Miliband wants genuine outriders, they aren’t generally to be found in the pages of The Socialist Way. For instance, the most significant driver of inequality in Britain is the division between those who own productive assets and those who do not, alongside the ability to hoard wealth and advantage across generations. So why not call for a wealth tax combined with a reform of inheritance tax?

If the book’s proponents want to achieve a more equal society, what about a “citizen’s income” that guarantees every individual a decent standard of life and supports the growing numbers no longer in paid work but who exercise other responsibilities such as caring? And what about a Nordic-style universal “cradle-to-grave” care system, which not only gives parents the choice as to whether to work or not but raises the female employment rate and improves outcomes for the most disadvantaged children?

No one is more conscious than Miliband that he is leading the Labour Party during a period in which the left is at a perilously low ebb across Europe. That does not mean social democracy belongs in the past. The agenda of the next decade will be dominated by such issues as the growth deficit, the costs of economic restructuring, climate change, an ageing society and sustainable pensions – all of which require the kind of collectivist institutions and public-interest politics ably articulated in The Socialist Way.

There is no reason why social democracy should be an ideology whose best days lie behind it, as long as its advocates face up to the tough choices integral to any bold, egalitarian strategy.

Patrick Diamond is a research fellow at the University of Manchester

Ed Miliband. Photograph: Getty Images

This article first appeared in the 03 June 2013 issue of the New Statesman, The Power Christians

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To preserve the environment we hold in common, everyone has to play their part

The challenge of building a clean future based on the common good of Londoners demands that politicians, business, communities and individuals each take a share of the responsibility and of the benefits.

The environmental challenge facing our capital city can seem overwhelming. Our air is poisonous. Our infrastructure built for the fossil fuel era. The need to build a clean, low carbon future can seem incompatible with competing challenges such as protecting energy security, housing and jobs.

The way we tackle this challenge will say a lot about the type of city we are. We inherit the world we live in from the generations that went before us, and only hold it until it is time to hand it over to future generations. The type of environment we leave behind for our children and grandchildren will be affected by the decisions we need to take in the short term. Our shared inheritance must be shaped by all of us in London.

Londoners currently face some crucial decisions about the way we power our city. The majority of us don't want London to be run on dirty fuel, and instead hope to see a transition to a clean energy supply. Many want to see that clean energy sourced from within London itself. This is an appealing vision: there are upsides in terms of costs, security and, crucially, the environment.

Yet the debate about how London could achieve such a future has remained limited in its scope. Air pollution has rightly dominated the environmental debate in this year’s mayoral election, but there is a small and growing call for more renewable deployment in the city.

When it comes to cities, by far the most accessible, useable renewable energy is solar, given you can install it on some part of almost every roof. Rooftop solar gives power to the householder, the business user, the public servant - anyone with a roof over their head.  And London has upwards of one million roofs. Yet it also has the lowest deployment of solar of any UK city. London can do better. 

The new mayor should take this seriously. Their leadership will be vital to achieving the transition to clean energy. The commitments of the mayoral frontrunners should spur other parts of society to act too. Zac Goldsmith has committed to a tenfold increase in the use of solar by 2025, and Sadiq Khan has pledged to implement a solar strategy that will make the most of the city’s roofs, public buildings and land owned by Transport for London.

While the next mayor will already have access to some of the tools necessary to enact these pledges (such as the London Plan, the Greater London Assembly and TfL), Londoner’s must also play their part. We must realise that to tackle this issue at the scale and speed required the only way forward is an approach where everyone is contributing.

A transition to solar energy is in the best interests of citizens, householders, businesses and employees, who can begin to take greater control of their energy.  By working together, Londoners could follow the example of Zurich, and commit to be a 2,000 watt society by 2050. This commitment both maximizes the potential of solar and manages introduces schemes to effectively manage energy demand, ensuring the city can collectively face an uncertain future with confidence.

Unfortunately, national policy is no longer sufficient to incentivise solar deployment at the scale that London requires. There is therefore an important role for the incoming Mayor in facilitating and coordinating activity. Whether it is through TfL, existing community energy schemes, or through individuals, there is much the mayor can do to drive solar which will benefit every other city-dweller and make London a cleaner and healthier place to live.

For example the new mayor should work with residents and landlords of private and social housing to encourage the deployment of solar for those who don’t own their property. He should fill the gap left by national building standards by ensuring that solar deployment is maximized on new build housing and commercial space. He can work with the operator of the electricity grid in the capital to maximize the potential of solar and find innovative ways of integrating it into the city’s power demand.

To bring this all together London should follow the example set by Nottingham and Bristol and create it’s own energy company. As a non-profit company this could supply gas and electricity to Londoners at competitive prices but also start to drive the deployment of clean energy by providing an attractive market for the power that is generated in the city. Community schemes, businesses and householders would be able to sell their power at a price that really stacks up and Londoners would receive clean energy at competitive prices.

The challenge of building a clean future based on the common good of Londoners demands that politicians, business, communities and individuals each take a share of the responsibility and of the benefits. Lets hope the incoming Mayor sees it as their role to convene citizens around this aim, and create incentives to virtue that encourage the take up and deployment of solar, so that we have a healthy, clean and secure city to pass on to the next generation.