Thursday 10 June 2010

The new ideological map revisited

Last year Next Left made a tentative effort to map some of the new ideological positions appearing in British politics, particularly those shaping debate amongst 'progressives'. A revised version of the 'new ideological map' appeared in the New Statesman.

OurKingdom invited me to revisit the 'new ideological map' in light of the new Coalition government, Labour's leadership contest and other recent political developments. The resulting article has just been published there.

Two of the main points I argue for in the article are:

(1) The Coalition draws on 'right communitarian' and 'centre republican' perspectives, but its ideological core is a pragmatic Thatcherism.

Right communitarians like Phillip Blond and centre republicans like Richard Reeves are both supportive of the Coalition. However, this is emphatically not to say that the Coalition's philosophy is a simple marriage of the two. Aside from the potential conflict between the two perspectives, there are other elements in the mix which are arguably more important than right communitarianism or centre republicanism.

Questioning the claim that the Coalition marks the 'end of Thatcherism', I argue that a pragmatic Thatcherism lies at its core. Think George Osborne, rather than Phillip Blond or Richard Reeves. Right communitarian and centre republican discourses might nevertheless offer useful ways for the Coalition to sound more progressive even as it pursues an impeccably Thatcherite strategy of exploiting the fiscal crisis to achieve a once-in-a-generation shift in expectations about the size and role of the state.

(2) Labour's post-election reflection points towards a promising integration of 'left communitarian' and 'left republican' perspectives - but Labour still has a long way to go to become the party of democratic renewal.

Labour thinking, post-election, is drawing on both left communitarian and left republican perspectives, perhaps moving towards a synthesis of the two. I point to recent articles by Jon Cruddas and Jonathan Rutherford and by David Lammy as examples of how Labour thinkers are drawing on, and integrating, both perspectives (as well as others). This is also evident in the emphasis that both David and Ed Miliband have placed on rebuilding Labour as a community-based, campaigning party, learning from organizations such as London Citizens.

But integrating republicanism, with its commitment to thorough-going democratic renewal, is very challenging for Labour. As I write at OurKingdom:

'The nub of the question is this: Does Labour think of political success in terms of the return of another majority Labour government? Or does Labour think in terms of being part of a wider left or centre-left politics and in terms of a future progressive coalition government? Much of the discussion of the party’s future still seems to assume that the goal is the return of a majority Labour government, a way of thinking that is really quite at odds with the reforms, e.g., proportional representation, which are necessary for genuine and fundamental democratic renewal.'

I conclude by arguing:

'...a creative coming together of left communitarian and left republican currents might yet offer a way of truly bringing the age of Thatcher to an end.

But while this fusion can probably be made philosophically, it is harder to make it happen politically. It will require a willingness on Labour’s part – of which there is as yet little sign - to accept a new, pluralistic electoral politics, a politics of red/green or red/orange or red/green/orange coalitions. And it will require a supporting context of campaigning activism that engages with social, economic and environmental issues with the same idealism, imagination and generosity of spirit with which the new democratic activists campaign for the reconstitution of the state. Of course, some of that activism is there already. But we need so much more of it.'


randomvariable said...

It'd be interesting to see how this correlates with an ideological map of the country at large, not just within our wonkish elite circles.

_______ said...

What Labour needs is a new social democratic revisionism, that heavily focuses on restructuring the welfare state, to unite communitarian and cosmopolitan voters, in an era of globalization, high inequalities, increased demands for choice, and an ageing population

This requires applying the principles of solidarity, reciprocity and individual empowerment, in relation to reforming the welfare state, to make it more effective at tackling poverty and providing economic security, and to satisfy rising demands for choice.

Perhaps National Care Insurance would have been more popular than a National Care Service, because the former gives people a choice of provider, whereas the latter is a state monopoly.

Jane Chelliah said...

I was at the leadership debate yesterday at the Compass conference and was amazed at how one party has managed to produce 5 candidates who have assumed different positions on the ideological map. A wide representation of views is a good thing but I do wonder how this can produce cohesion as an end result.

The 'Left' candidates' desire for a return to a large welfare state ignores the economic aspirations of the working classes. I am told that it is the working classes and Russians who shop at Harrods the most. A rather poor evidence base I agree but an indicator, nevertheless, that the presumption of a larger welfare state being what traditional voters want may be wrong.