Monday 12 July 2010

Jon Cruddas on Keir Hardie's pluralism

Next Left has run two posts responding to David Miliband's Keir Hardie lecture last Friday night. While welcoming Labour's renewed ability to critically interrogate its own political tradition, the second post sought to offer a heretical challenge to the Miliband lecture's historical narrative, staking at least a half-claim to Hardie as an advocate of Lab-Libbery, of necessity if not choice.

Having noted Jon Cruddas' evident influence on the Miliband lecture, Next Left readers might well want to follow up by engaging more fully Cruddas' own Keir Hardie lecture last Autumn. While the short New Statesman extract saw Cruddas warn against an anti-Labour implication in some calls for Labour to rediscover its liberal roots, the central thrust of the lecture was to argue Hardie as a pluralist, with an ethical socialism drawing from socialist, radical and social liberal traditions.

Extended extracts of Cruddas' Hardie memorial lecture can be read here, while both the Hardie lecture, Cruddas' Compass annual lecture can be read in a Compass e-book 'The future of social democracy' (PDF file).

In drawing contemporary lessons from Hardie's radical pluralism at the start of the century, Cruddas' lecture also challenges the party to address how a movement politics would seek to emulate that in our own times:

Hardie was not the extremist of caricature but the subtle strategist that moulded the socialism of the emerging Party to the contours of British society and wider political and cultural movements within it. For example, he was always willing to make alliances with elements within Liberalism to forward his goal of working class emancipation.

By 1903 Hardie had pragmatically come around to accept some form of global agreement with the liberals for election purposes. They had been revitalised under Campbell-Bannerman and there were signs that the ILP view that liberals were unable to come to terms with collectivism and social reform were being disproved, especially in the work of radical Liberals like Hobson, Hobhouse or Samuel.

Thus, Hardie’s socialism was never rigid, doctrinal nor dogmatic. His search was for a progressive coalition with the ILP as the backbone of this gradualist movement of alliances. As such, he could work with progressive strands within Liberalism – as he would with all elements of late nineteenth century radical thought- yet would steadfastly oppose its more conservative elements.

Later, when Party leader, Hardie worked with Sir Charles Dilke, unofficial chair of the ‘social radicals’ on the Liberal side, on labour and radical issues. Even at the two elections of 1910 he maintained support for the alliance with the Liberals and the radicalism of Asquith and Lloyd George. Yet by 1912 had badly fallen out with the Liberals, especially Churchill, following the brutal industrial disputes and State responses at Tonypandy and Abedare.

This conditional, contingent relationship with progressive liberalism was a hallmark of his tactical brilliance and his wider talent at coalition building. Hardie would link his politics into wider, radical social movements that often would include non socialists. Again this put him on a collision cause with more conservative elements within his own party.

His links and passion for women’s emancipation and the suffragetts, the anti imperialist struggles, the peace movements, colonial nationalism. All of these movements were for Hardie part of the broader coalitionary politics which he espoused. It was this fusion of radicalism and Labour – what has been described as his ‘dualism of vision’- that was a major contributory factor in the emergence and strength of Labour itself and remained a continuous source of tension with Henderson, MacDonald and Snowden. Again, the tension between radicalism and orthodoxy within the party.

What broader social and cultural movements does Labour now stand part of? The environmental and peace movements, the global anti poverty crusades, fair trade; at home the fight for dignity at work, civil liberties, migrant groups and faith communities; broader cultural movements, generationally, in the arts and music. Has this radicalism been lost? Would the Hardie of today be active within or outside of the Party? At its best Labour, and its leaders, operate as a bridge between these sites and our representative democracy; it distils these movements and refracts them into westminster. Does it do this now?

1 comment:

Newmania said...

broader cultural movements, generationally, in the arts and music.

The mind boggles at what this bizarre fantasy may consist of. Tough on Lady Ga Ga tough on the causes of Lady Ga Ga ?