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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New Digital Editor: Serena Kutchinsky

The New Statesman appoints Serena Kutchinsky as Digital Editor.

Serena Kutchinsky is to join the New Statesman as digital editor in September. She will lead the expansion of the New Statesman across a variety of digital platforms.

Serena has over a decade of experience working in digital media and is currently the digital editor of Newsweek Europe. Since she joined the title, traffic to the website has increased by almost 250 per cent. Previously, Serena was the digital editor of Prospect magazine and also the assistant digital editor of the Sunday Times - part of the team which launched the Sunday Times website and tablet editions.

Jason Cowley, New Statesman editor, said: “Serena joins us at a great time for the New Statesman, and, building on the excellent work of recent years, she has just the skills and experience we need to help lead the next stage of our expansion as a print-digital hybrid.”

Serena Kutchinsky said: “I am delighted to be joining the New Statesman team and to have the opportunity to drive forward its digital strategy. The website is already established as the home of free-thinking journalism online in the UK and I look forward to leading our expansion and growing the global readership of this historic title.

In June, the New Statesman website recorded record traffic figures when more than four million unique users read more than 27 million pages. The circulation of the weekly magazine is growing steadily and now stands at 33,400, the highest it has been since the early 1980s.