Saturday 31 July 2010

Labour's future

In this guest post Jonathan Rutherford introduces a new e-book which seeks to deepen the Labour party's debate ideas, organisation and party renewal.

What is Labour's future? Soundings journal, and Open Left at Demos Demos ask the question in a new, jointly published e-book, Labour's Future (PDF) We don't offer answers, but set out a series of points of view - from Phil Collins' Liberal Republic to Doreen Massey's, 'the political struggle ahead' - that frame the coming debate.

The e-book comes out of a seminar held back in May that brought together 50 people associated with different political perspectives. A number of papers were given and Jon Cruddas and David Miliband gave responses. The aim was to explore what common ground might exist and the prospects for a political axis around which to build cross-party political renewal.

There were some sharp differences of opinion around the role of markets and our understanding of capitalism and the legacy of New Labour. But there was also a shared agenda around pluralism and the importance of alliances in a time of political realignments. There was agreement about the need for the democratic reform of the party and for developing community and workplace organising. Jeremy Gilbert argues that New Labour's view of party members was that they were the problem and not the solution.

'In the era of ‘we-think’ and network culture, the collective intelligence of the membership is the greatest possible resource that the otherwise-impoverished party has at its disposal'.

There was also an honesty about the depth and seriousness of Labour’s defeat. We know that Labour is disconnected from the people, but there is a reluctance to face up to the current depth of feeling against it. If Margaret Thatcher’s class war created an enduring and single-minded hatred towards her from her victims, New Labour has become the focus of an eclectic range of hatreds that emanate from across significant sections of society.

Time will tell how enduring these are, but some honesty and good politics will help dispel them.

We know Labour has no political economy for rebuilding the post-crisis economy. The discrediting of neoclassical economics has left a great hole in policy-making. Cameron has been allowed to steal Labour's traditional values of mutualism, association and relationships for his Big Society – or at least to clothe himself in their language. The truth is that Labour in power stopped building relationships with people and it stopped building a politics of dialogue and mutual respect.

Both Anthony Painter and Stuart White address the issue of reciprocity as a foundational ethic for Labour politics.

The e-book offers a start to a deeper and broader debate that the format of the leadership contest has not enabled. The process of change is only just beginning and it is for the longer term, in or out of office.

As David Lammy writes, 'We must revitalise our party, recognising the limitations of the political methods of the last fifteen years.'

The contributors are Philip Collins, Sally Davison, Jeremy Gilbert, Stuart Hall, David Lammy, Neal Lawson, Doreen Massey, Anthony Painter, James Purnell, Michael Rustin, Jonathan Rutherford, Marc Stears, Allegra Stratton, Heather Wakefield and Stuart White. You can download the e-book here.

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