The Euston Manifesto

It started with some like-minded progressives meeting in a London pub. Disenchanted with what they s

On a Saturday last May, right after the general election, 20 or so similarly minded people met in a pub in London. We had no specific agenda, merely a desire to talk about where things were politically. Those present were all of the left: some bloggers or running other websites, their readers, a few with labour movement connections, one or two students. Many of us were supporters of the military intervention in Iraq, and those who weren't - who had indeed opposed it - none the less found themselves increasingly out of tune with the dominant anti-war discourse. They were at odds, too, with how it related to other prominent issues - terrorism and the fight against it, US foreign policy, the record of the Blair government, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and, more generally, attitudes to democratic values.

At that first meeting our discussion focused on our common sense of discord with much current left-liberal thinking. We talked of how the prevailing consensus had ample representation in the liberal press, on the BBC and Channel 4, whereas the viewpoint of our own segment of the left was significantly under- represented in the mainstream media. We had, however, found a place on the internet and in the blogosphere, which had helped to connect people who might otherwise have felt isolated and had given expression to the voices and debates of a left other than the one heard loudly everywhere: from TV screens and newspapers, in universities and other workplaces, in theatres, at dinner tables and at every kind of social gathering. Its ideas were so much perceived as conventional wisdom that many found it difficult to allow that there could be an alternative left-liberal view.

The group that took informal shape that Saturday decided to continue meeting, with the aim of getting its political arguments out beyond the internet, of winning for those arguments a greater space within more traditional forums of public discussion. We have met twice more (at a pub near Euston Station, as it happens); others who were not at the initial meeting have become involved.

We have now produced a manifesto, in advance of a public launch some time in May. In it we set out our basic commitments. In the nature of what it is, a document of orientation, the manifesto may, in some of its points, appear to state the obvious. We make no apology for this. Part of the problem with much contemporary left-liberal opinion is that too many things that should be obvious in the light of the history of the past hundred years seem not to be so.

We hope that this manifesto will serve as an encouragement to others who, like ourselves, bel ieve that some of the most important values of a progressive politics have lately been lost sight of, subordinated to wrong-headed political priorities and insubstantial tactical considerations.

Beyond socialism

In the preamble to the Euston Manifesto, we announce our broad aim:

We are democrats and pro-gressives. We propose here a fresh political alignment. Many of us belong to the left, but the principles that we set out are not exclusive. We reach out, rather, beyond the socialist left towards egalitarian liberals and others of unambiguous democratic commitment. Indeed, the reconfiguration of progressive opinion that we aim for involves drawing a line between the forces of the left that remain true to their authentic values, and currents that have lately shown themselves rather too flexible about these values. It involves making common cause with genuine democrats, whether socialist or not.

We then go on to a statement of principles. There is no space here to present them in detail, but this is a brief summary:

We value the traditions and institutions of the liberal, pluralist democracies, and we decline to make excuses for, to indulgently "understand", reactionary regimes and movements for which democracy is a hated enemy. We hold the fundamental human rights codified in the Universal Declaration to be precisely universal. Equally, violations of these rights are to be condemned whoever is responsible for them and regardless of cultural context. The manifesto speaks of our attachment to egalitarianism in all domains.

We reject the anti-Americanism which is infecting so much left-liberal thinking. We support the right of both the Israeli and the Palestinian peoples to self-determination within the framework of a two-state solution. There are paragraphs opposing racism and identifying the resurgence of anti-Semitism; on terrorism and against the excuses made for it; on humanitarian intervention when states violate the common life of their peoples in appalling ways.

We argue that the time is long overdue to break with the tradition of left apologetics for anti-democratic forces and regimes; that there is a duty of respect for the historical truth; and that it is more than ever necessary to affirm that, within the usual constraints against incitement, people must be at liberty to criticise beliefs - including religious be liefs - that others cherish.

Justice for everyone

The left now has to fight two battles simultaneously. We defend democracies against all who make light of the differences between them and tyrannical regimes. But these democracies have shortcomings. Their social and economic foundations are marked by deep inequalities and unmerited privilege. In turn, global inequalities are a scandal to the moral conscience of humankind. Millions live in terrible poverty, an standing indictment against the international community. In keeping with our traditions, we on the left fight for justice and a decent life for all. In keeping with the same traditions, we have also to fight against powerful forces of tyranny, which are on the march again.

The supporters of the Euston Manifesto took different views on the war in Iraq, both for and against. We recognise that it was possible reasonably to disagree about the justifications for the war and the manner in which it was carried through. We are, however, united in our judgement of the reactionary, murderous character of the Ba'athist regime in Iraq, and we recognise its overthrow as a liberation of the Iraqi people. We are also united in the view that, from the day this occurred, the proper concern of the liberal left should have been the battle to put in place in Iraq a democratic political order and to create, after decades of brutal oppres-sion, a life for Iraqis which those living in democratic countries take for granted - rather than endlessly rehearsing the arguments over intervention.

This puts us in opposition not only to those on the left who have actively spoken in support of the gangs of jihadist and Ba'athist thugs of the Iraqi "resistance", but also to others who manage to find a way of situating themselves between such forces and those trying to bring a new democratic life to the country, or who pay lip-service to this aim, while devoting most of their energy to criticism of their political opponents at home and observing a tactful silence about the ugly methods of the Iraqi "insurgency".

The violation of basic human rights at Abu Ghraib, at Guantanamo, and by the practice of "rendition", must be roundly condemned for what it is: a departure from universal principles (for the establishment of which the democratic countries bear the greater part of the historical credit). But we reject the double standards by which too many on the left consider the violations of hu man rights perpetrated by democracies to be more serious than far worse infractions committed by other countries - about which they have little to say.

It is vitally important for the future of progressive politics that people of democratic outlook should now speak clearly against those for whom the entir e progressive agenda has been subordinated to a blanket and simplistic "anti-imperialism". The values and goals which properly make up that agenda - the values of democracy, human rights, solidarity with peoples fighting against poverty, tyranny and oppression - are what most enduringly define the shape of any left worth belonging to.

The Euston Manifesto is only a preliminary step. It is a work in progress - its purpose is to establish a position around which we hope others will rally and to generate a debate more fruitful than much of what has lately taken place. The Euston Manifesto Group is a loose association of bloggers, journalists, academics and activists who write and discuss and argue. Besides the pre-sent writers, they include Jane Ashworth, Brian Brivati, Damien Counsell, Eve Garrard and Shalom Lappin. The manifesto has attracted the support of others in Britain and abroad, including John Lloyd, Paul Berman, Pamela Bone, Anthony Julius, Kanan Makiya, Michael Walzer and Francis Wheen. We hope there will be many more in the run-up to our public launch and after it.

To read the Euston Manifesto in full go to: www.newstatesman.com/eustonmanifesto

where you will be able to post your own comments on the group's aims and read what our writes think.

This article first appeared in the 17 April 2006 issue of the New Statesman, IRAN