Saturday 17 January 2009

2008 as profound as winter of discontent, say Ed Miliband and James Purnell

Ed Miliband is good at dealing with disagreement with respect, but struggled to persuade many in his audience who found his overall case convincing that this could be reconciled with the government's decision on Heathrow, as Robert has posted.

Ed Miliband's main argument was the claim that the financial crisis has "shaken the foundations of politics" and changed the ideological mood fundamentally, in particular because "this was not caused by government; this was caused by a lack of government".

That offered a challenge and correction to how the Winter of Discontent created a "widespread belief that the state and trade unions were too powerful, and the market needed to be given freer reign".

"Even though we won in 1997, that moment shaped the politics of the last thirty years", he said. "We inherited part of Margaret Thatcher's political settlement".

And James Purnell has made a similar point in a break-out session, in calling for more redistribution.

We do not believe there is enough redistribution yet. Unless children grow up free of poverty, the promise of meritocracy will be a hollow one. Is redistribution enough? No. We do not believe in passive redistribution, which just transfers money from one group of people to another. We want to distribute power and opportunity and not just income and wealth.

Purnell is one of the strongest New Labour and 'Blairite' voices in the government's next generation. He is never going to be a fundamental critic of markets. But he wanted to rebalance the argument and bring the state back in.

For the last thirty or so years, politics in Britain has been determined by the image of the winter of discontent. And the idea of achieving a fairer society through state action was damaged. I think that unbalanced politics. And the left had to work within that paradigm. I don't think we will rebalance to the other side, where markets are entirely dismissed, but I think we can have a more balanced politics as a result.

Trevor Phillips agreed with this, but that left must combine its advocacy of state action while pursuing the argument within the left for a different kind of state: one which was less bureaucratic and more participatory and empowering.

While Purnell argued that a downturn may lead to less scepticism about whether the unemployed deserve support, Shamit Saggar has said that he buys Chris Dillow's argument and evidence that recessions are not historically good for the ties that bind us together.

1 comment:

Laurence Rowe said...

It is good to hear Purnell calling for more than just "passive redistribution", but doesn't the tax credit system do just that?

Spending some time in Norway, the most striking difference is the absence f 'McJobs' given the effective minimum wage seems to be something like £18,000 for full time work. This means that redistribution occurs through the economy, not just the tax system, as higher prices in shops and cafes are needed to pay the people who work in them.

I find it ludicrous that when I lived in London my tax subsidised the cleaning of the giant American insurance company Marsh, where cleaners were paid £5.60 an hour.

The current arrangements just hand ammunition to the Tories who can point to marginal tax rates of up to 90% among the low paid.