Saturday, 16 January 2010

Mandelson is agent of greater equality, says Denham

John Denham told the Fabian conference that the return of Peter Mandelson to government had opened up a new opportunity to think about the future shape of the British economy as part of a deeper strategy for tackling inequality.


We have to set out more consciously to shape an economy which provides more opportunity and spreads it across society.

In the perhaps unpredicted form of Peter Mandelson, as he is on his return from Europe, there has been a much greater focus on a social democratic approach to industrial strategy.

That is not about a state-directed economy in an old-fashioned way but a state-shaped economy has come back into the centre of Labour thinking in a way that it has not for a dozen years.


Oxford academic and Next Left blogger Stuart White warned that Labour had put too much emphasis on education as a route to social justice, and the 'risk of putting all of your eggs in one basket', noting that there had been a shift away from other approaches to increasing equality - including trade unionism and income redistribution - leaving education carrying too great a burden to achieve their egalitarian hopes.

John Denham said he agreed with this, and linked it to his earlier comments about political economy for social democrats:


'This needs to be a much more conscious process. That opens up a discussion not just of what skills people have, but also of what opportunities you are trying to open up in our society and economy.

A good part of this may be large part from force of circumstance but is a huge change and a real political opportunity'.


Neal Lawson of Compass was sceptical about making "the idea of meritocracy which was coined by Michael Young not as a utopia but a dystopia" central to an election strategy, but argued too that if we are going to argue for

Lawson argued that would mean banning private education. John Denham said the argument in society would not be convinced.

Denham argued that inequality mattered, citing The Spirit Level.

He said arguments for reducing inequality could also go with the grain of public attitudes to fairness, citing Fabian research for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation on public attitudes to inequality as containing many oppportunities for egalitarians as well as challenges.


It is not a question that we on left are the only people who are up for this, and we have to somehow get onside or con people to come with us. But when we talk to constituents, there is quite a robust sense of fairness. There is a willing to support those most in need, though it comes with a demand for a sense of effort and contribution.

So we need to choose our measures carefully, as the Fabians have been stressing. Not everything that makes us equal is seen as fair; but many of the things that will make us more equal are seen as fair.


Neal Lawson called for a greater sense of vision of a different society - which the political left could struggle and fight for, though he stressed too that this would be a "pragmatic and gradualist" and incremental strategy.


"Sweden wasn't built in one or two Parliaments. But you have to have made a clear decision to start".

5 comments:

badconscience said...

Sunder,

There's words missing in this blog!

Stuart White said...

Let me fill in some of the missing words! I said that social democrats - maybe the Labour party in Britain especially - had gradually reduced their use of various tools for increasing equality - trade unionism, income redistribution, changes in ownership structures - and as a result looked increasingly to education to carry their egalitarian hopes. My hypothesis - no more than that - is that this invests too much hope in education to achieve egalitarian objectives by itself, and distorts education in the process.

In my opening comments I explained why I was disappointed by Brown's emphasis on meritocracy, and I'll pick up on this in a subsequent blog.

Stuart White said...

Let me fill in some of the missing words! I said that social democrats - maybe the Labour party in Britain especially - had gradually reduced their use of various tools for increasing equality - trade unionism, income redistribution, changes in ownership structures - and as a result looked increasingly to education to carry their egalitarian hopes. My hypothesis - no more than that - is that this invests too much hope in education to achieve egalitarian objectives by itself, and distorts education in the process.

In my opening comments I explained why I was disappointed by Brown's emphasis on meritocracy, and I'll pick up on this in a subsequent blog.

Silent Hunter said...

Just two questions; both of which require only a simple Yes or No answer.

1. Has the gap between the rich and the poor got bigger under Labour? Yes or No?

2. Was it Lord Mandelson who said; "I'm intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich under Labour"
Yes or No?

Robert said...

Well I have lived and breathed labour for forty years, I cannot or will not follow a Thatcherite new labour.

The Lib Dem's are all over the place now, and the Tories are the Tories.

Has the gap between the rich and the poor narrowed no of course not it's now massive.

Did Mandy say he has no problems with Bonus payments, yes he did then again what do you expect with a bloke who is now a Millionaire from god know where.

For me the welfare reformns are the basic cause for me to say I'd rather vote BNP then new labour and I mean it, sadly it does not bother new labour which is a shame.