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

Getty
Show Hide image

This is no time for a coup against a successful Labour leader

Don't blame Jeremy Corbyn for the Labour Party's crisis.

"The people who are sovereign in our party are the members," said John McDonnell this morning. As the coup against Jeremy Corbyn gains pace, the Shadow Chancellor has been talking a lot of sense. "It is time for people to come together to work in the interest of the country," he told Peston on Sunday, while emphasising that people will quickly lose trust in politics altogether if this internal squabbling continues. 

The Tory party is in complete disarray. Just days ago, the first Tory leader in 23 years to win a majority for his party was forced to resign from Government after just over a year in charge. We have some form of caretaker Government. Those who led the Brexit campaign now have no idea what to do. 

It is disappointing that a handful of Labour parliamentarians have decided to join in with the disintegration of British politics.

The Labour Party had the opportunity to keep its head while all about it lost theirs. It could have positioned itself as a credible alternative to a broken Government and a Tory party in chaos. Instead we have been left with a pathetic attempt to overturn the democratic will of the membership. 

But this has been coming for some time. In my opinion it has very little to do with the ramifications of the referendum result. Jeremy Corbyn was asked to do two things throughout the campaign: first, get Labour voters to side with Remain, and second, get young people to do the same.

Nearly seven in ten Labour supporters backed Remain. Young voters supported Remain by a 4:1 margin. This is about much more than an allegedly half-hearted referendum performance.

The Parliamentary Labour Party has failed to come to terms with Jeremy Corbyn’s emphatic victory. In September of last year he was elected with 59.5 per cent of the vote, some 170,000 ahead of his closest rival. It is a fact worth repeating. If another Labour leadership election were to be called I would expect Jeremy Corbyn to win by a similar margin.

In the recent local elections Jeremy managed to increase Labour’s share of the national vote on the 2015 general election. They said he would lose every by-election. He has won them emphatically. Time and time again Jeremy has exceeded expectation while also having to deal with an embittered wing within his own party.

This is no time for a leadership coup. I am dumbfounded by the attempt to remove Jeremy. The only thing that will come out of this attempted coup is another leadership election that Jeremy will win. Those opposed to him will then find themselves back at square one. Such moves only hurt Labour’s electoral chances. Labour could be offering an ambitious plan to the country concerning our current relationship with Europe, if opponents of Jeremy Corbyn hadn't decided to drop a nuke on the party.

This is a crisis Jeremy should take no responsibility for. The "bitterites" will try and they will fail. Corbyn may face a crisis of confidence. But it's the handful of rebel Labour MPs that have forced the party into a crisis of existence.

Liam Young is a commentator for the IndependentNew Statesman, Mirror and others.