Friday 8 May 2009

Might we lean left at least?

If Labour was to "lurch left" as the term might be properly understood, I would certainly be among those wanting to drag it back to sanity. But why should that spectre be so feared even as the government so struggles to articulate its moderate social democratic agenda?

Steve Richards hits this particular nail on the head in his column today.

One Blairite columnist expressed disapproval this week because Brown seeks the advice of the "left leaning" Ed Balls, as if it was the ultimate sin for a Labour Prime Minister to consult anyone that leant leftwards. Lurking within this observation is the most revealing cause of Labour's crisis. For quite a few prominent Labour figures it is a sin for a left of centre party to lean towards the left of centre.

Take Alan Milburn's long essay in The Independent yesterday.

Read through it all and the substance is mostly pretty sensible. I don't agree with everything in it - if the public has definitively reached the limits of a willingness to pay taxes, they must want rather deeper spending cuts than might otherwise be needed: we have yet to begin a serious debate about these issues - but I don't disagree with much of it.

But it is undermined by several of the soundbites which litter it.

He addresses his arguments at "those licking their lips at the prospect of an end to market capitalism – as distinct from the death of unfettered financial markets" and who do not realise that "the job of progressives is not to kill capitalism but to civilise it – by making it work in the public interest".

So Milburn engages in an one-sided argument with a straw man, who would not be found anywhere to the right of the Campaign Group in the Labour Party, and probably not there either. And yet the piece was given front-page billing as a warning to Gordon Brown.

It would certainly be news to discover that Brown and Balls had been running a Trot Treasury since 1997.

Milburn sets out clearly why the state is necessary, and needs a more interventionist role than was realised in the last decade.

"Progressive politics needs to learn the lessons of that era of excess and to acknowledge what went wrong .... When even that most market-orientated President of modern times, George W Bush, backed state intervention to bring order to financial markets, the vestiges of the old Reagan/Thatcher orthodoxy finally crumbled. Governments, whether right or left, are dusting down powers that for decades they have felt unable to use. We are seeing a major change in the assumptions guiding public policy. For decades it was that the state had little role in the market. Now the state is back. Regulation is in".

He rejects as incoherent the Cameroonian argument that we must choose between an active state and an active citizen.

And then, having just made a significant case for a more active state, Milburn warns that the left must not do what he has just done:

just as the right is wrong to reject the state's role, the left must avoid the trap of countering an argument about less state by making a case for more state. This is not as some claim a moment for leftist politics. It is a moment for a new form of progressive politics.

The difference rather escapes me.

Another point on which Milburn is right about the need for a politics "that favours dialogue over monologue".

However, the barriers to dialogue include some political instincts too deeply embedded in New Labour's DNA - across Blairite, Brownite and other varieties: these include being most comfortable when finding political definition by contrasts with the left rather than the right, which necessistates a willingness to caricature constructive criticism from within the left itself rather than engaging seriously with it.

Declaring what all of the answers will be before a conversation begins can be a barrier to dialogue too.

A modest proposal. Perhaps somebody who fears a "lurch left" would be willing to engage in a dialogue about what it is a modern social democratic party might agree - and disagree - about.

Any takers?


_______ said...

Milburn is determined to introduce healthcare budgets, so if he is ever leader of the labour party in the future, I won't vote Labour. The NHS free at the point of need system is the best system there is. The man is short sighted.

He's an arrogant, overly self believing arch-Blairite, like Hazel Blears.

Robert said...

Who cares anymore it's time for change and that change I suspect will keep Labour out of power for a life times. What labour has to be careful of now is a change in the feeling within this country that might see UKIP sneaking up on it, or one of the other parties, and I do not mean the moron party the BNP.

I cannot see a single reason for me to go out and vote Labour at the moment.