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

Photo: Getty
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The vitriol aimed at Hillary Clinton shows the fragility of women's half-won freedom

The more I understand about the way the world treats women, the more I feel the terror of it coming for me.

I’m worried about my age. I’m 36. There’s a line between my eyebrows that’s been making itself known for about the last six years. Every time I see a picture of myself, I automatically seek out the crease. One nick of Botox could probably get rid of it. Has my skin lost its smoothness and glow?

My bathroom shelf has gone from “busy” to “cluttered” lately with things designed to plump, purify and resurface. It’s all very pleasant, but there’s something desperate I know at the bottom of it: I don’t want to look my age.

You might think that being a feminist would help when it comes to doing battle with the beauty myth, but I don’t know if it has. The more I understand about the way the world treats women – and especially older women – the more I feel the terror of it coming for me. Look at the reaction to Hillary Clinton’s book. Too soon. Can’t she go quietly. Why won’t she own her mistakes.

Well Bernie Sanders put a book out the week after the presidential election – an election Clinton has said Sanders did not fully back her in –  and no one said “too soon” about that. (Side note: when it comes to not owning mistakes, Sanders’s Our Revolution deserves a category all to itself, being as how the entire thing was written under the erroneous impression that Clinton, not Trump, would be president.) Al Gore parlayed his loss into a ceaseless tour of activism with An Inconvenient Truth, and everyone seems fine with that. John McCain – Christ, everyone loves John McCain now.

But Hillary? Something about Hillary just makes people want to tell her to STFU. As Mrs Merton might have asked: “What is it that repulses you so much about the first female candidate for US president?” Too emotional, too robotic, too radical, too conservative, too feminist, too patriarchal – Hillary has been called all these things, and all it really means is she’s too female.

How many women can dance on the head of pin? None, that’s the point: give them a millimetre of space to stand in and shake your head sadly as one by one they fall off. Oh dear. Not this woman. Maybe the next one.

It’s in that last bit that that confidence racket being worked on women really tells: maybe the next one. And maybe the next one could be you! If you do everything right, condemn all the mistakes of the women before you (and condemn the women themselves too), then maybe you’ll be the one standing tippy-toe on the miniscule territory that women are permitted. I’m angry with the men who engage in Clinton-bashing. With the women, it’s something else. Sadness. Pity, maybe. You think they’ll let it be you. You think you’ve found the Right Kind of Feminism. But you haven’t and you never will, because it doesn’t exist.

Still, who wouldn’t want to be the Right Kind of Feminist when there are so many ready lessons on what happens to the Wrong Kind of Feminist. The wrong kind of feminist, now, is the kind of feminist who thinks men have no right to lease women by the fuck (the “sex worker exclusionary radical feminist”, or SWERF) or the kind of feminist who thinks gender is a repressive social construct (rechristened the “trans exclusionary radical feminist”, or TERF).

Hillary Clinton, who has said that prostitution is “demeaning to women” – because it absolutely is demeaning to treat sexual access to women as a tradeable commodity – got attacked from the left as a SWERF. Her pre-election promises suggest that she would probably have continued the Obama administration’s sloppy reinterpretation of sex discrimination protections as gender identity protections, so not a TERF. Even so, one of the charges against her from those who considered her not radical enough was that she was a “rich, white, cis lady.” Linger over that. Savour its absurdity. Because what it means is: I won’t be excited about a woman presidential candidate who was born female.

This year was the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality, and of the Abortion Act. One of these was met with seasons of celebratory programming; one, barely mentioned at all. (I took part in a radio documentary about “men’s emotional experiences of abortion”, where I made the apparently radical point that abortion is actually something that principally affects women.) No surprise that the landmark benefiting women was the one that got ignored. Because women don’t get to have history.

That urge to shuffle women off the stage – troublesome women, complicated women, brilliant women – means that female achievements are wiped of all significance as soon as they’re made. The second wave was “problematic”, so better not to expose yourself to Dworkin, Raymond, Lorde, Millett, the Combahee River Collective, Firestone or de Beauvoir (except for that one line that everyone misquotes as if it means that sex is of no significance). Call them SWERFs and TERFs and leave the books unread. Hillary Clinton “wasn’t perfect”, so don’t listen to anything she has to say based on her vast and unique experience of government and politics: just deride, deride, deride.

Maybe, if you’re a woman, you’ll be able to deride her hard enough to show you deserve what she didn’t. But you’ll still have feminine obsolescence yawning in your future. Even if you can’t admit it – because, as Katrine Marçal has pointed out in Who Cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner?, our entire economy is predicated on discounting women’s work – you’ll need the politics of women who analysed and understood their situation as women. You’ll still be a woman, like the women who came before us, to whom we owe the impossible debt of our half-won freedom.

In the summer of 2016, a radio interviewer asked me whether women should be grateful to Clinton. At the time, I said no: we should be respectful, but what I wanted was a future where women could take their place in the world for granted. What nonsense. We should be laying down armfuls of flowers for our foremothers every day.

Sarah Ditum is a journalist who writes regularly for the Guardian, New Statesman and others. Her website is here.