Tuesday 30 November 2010

How does a pupil premium + eviction add up?

One of the Coaliton government's key priorities is educational achievement for the most disadvantaged children. Their flagship policy, the pupil premium, is proposed as a potentially transformative policy on social mobility, by spending more money on schools attended by children eligible free school meals. (This is a good policy goal, though the government has been unable to find the funding promised from outside the schools budget; while it may be that the most disadvantaged pupils lose out).

Unfortunately, the education of some of exactly the same students who the pupil premium intends to help will be disrupted and adversely affected by the governments' housing benefit changes.

The DWP highlights the problem in its own impact assessment of the reforms, concisely summarised by Don Paskini on Liberal Conspiracy.

Here's a snippet of the report itself.

Children who experience disruption to their schooling, particularly in the run up to examinations may do less well than pupils who are otherwise similar. It is possible that some families may not wish to move their child from their school of choice, particularly if they are approaching exams or are in a school which has facilities for children with disabilities. There may be scope for local authorities to assist with transport costs to allow children to stay in a school if it is considered in their best interests. However there is an associated financial cost, either to the family or the local authority, plus the added disruption involved with travelling some distance increased and/or dropping children off at school.

The Welsh Assembly Government produced statistics on young people not in education, employment or traning. (NEET). A critical factor contributing to a young person becoming NEET was associated with the family's circumstances and if families moved home frequently, as a result of their tenancy agreement coming to an end. Changes to housing policy could increase the frequency of moves and as such lead to disruption in education leading to NEET issues.

It may prove little consolation to hear that your school is getting some extra 'premium' money to support your education if at the same time your family is evicted as a result of the HB reforms, so forcing a move of boroughs and schools in January 2012, settling in to new classes, new teachers and trying to find new friends - just ahead of sitting GCSEs that Spring.

Letting that happen - so the some of the most disadvantaged children get worse results than they would have done, due to circumstances beyond their control - would surely pull in exactly the opposite direction of what the government is trying to do on educational opportunity and mobility - so I am sure that Nick Clegg, Michael Gove, Iain Duncan Smith and their Parliamentary colleagues (all of whom are undoubtedly sincere about wanting to tackle educational disadvantage) will want to think about how to avoid that.

How might they do this?

Here are some questions, which are aimed less at opponents of the government's overall policy, but particularly at those who broadly support the government's policy goals but who are concerned to minimise their social costs, including the disruption to the education of the most disadvantaged children.

* Should government and local authorities take into account the educational impacts of families with dependent children of school age, or should such families be treated in a similar way to all other families and individuals?

* Should government consider exempting all households with children of school age from the implementation of the housing benefit changes, where this would mean having to move boroughs, while the children are of school age? Or could such a policy be applied specifically to children aged 11-16 in secondary schools?

* Alternatively, and more modestly, should the government adopt a policy that no family would be forced to move boroughs while a dependent child is in one of the two years of their GCSE exams? A similar point might be made about A-levels, though the ability to study in a different setting or to travel might be considered different for older children.

This could involve looking, for relevant families, at a range of options, including negotiating down current rent levels and securing alternative and cheaper accomodation near enought the same school, but then avoiding enforcing a move out of borough which made a change of school necessary until the relevant exam period was over.

* Could there be cross-departmental scrutiny - for example by the Education and Housing Select Committees in the Commons - to explore what the educational impacts are, and how much it would cost for the government to protect at least some groups of school age children from having their education disrupted?

Should the government itself be pressed to estimate the cost of mitigating the policy in these or other ways, and also to study and provide evidence of the educational impacts (and knock-on costs) or leaving things as they are?

* Are there other ways in which the government could avoid disruption to the education of disadvantaged children?

The government ought to be pressed to consider and take every reasonable step, and to show that it will go the extra mile to avoid harming the education of the most disadvantaged kids.

The government's move today to delay the introduction of the measures - which is good news, even if primarily about the local elections - does not affect the cases of children who, as in the example given here, will be scheduled to sit exams which could well have a massive impact on their life chances and job opportunities in the year the changes do come in.

I hope the Labour opposition might try to make constructive suggestions about this issue, and propose specific ways in which such disruption can be minimised.

But I would also hope that these could also particularly be good small points of advocacy and pressure for Conservative and Liberal Democrat backbenchers interested in social justice issues, and for liberal and centre-right groups - such as the Social Liberal Forum, ResPublica and the Centre for Social Justice - as well as for civic groups, such as charities involved in children's issues, housing and education. Next Left would be happy to publish ideas and responses from these or other relevant groups, or to hear about any plans to campaign on this issue.

In particular, liberal and centre-right voices might be able to make common cause with Labour voices in asking for a more nuanced policy. I would particularly hope to hear from all those who champion the principles of personalisation - and to oppose a top-down, one-size-fits-all, bureaucratic intervention which does not take account of individual circumstances, about the importance of this government taking that on board in this case.

Sunday 28 November 2010

Housing benefit changes to be delayed ... to after May's local elections

The Sunday Mirror and Sunday Telegraph report a small concession to Coalition Liberal Democrats - with the news that Iain Duncan Smith is to this week announce a delay by nine months the implementation of cuts in housing benefit for current recipients, from April 2011 to January 2012.

The policy goal behind the rethink would appear to be ensuring that those who do have to leave their homes should have enough time to do so after the May 2011 local elections, rather than just before them.

This should protect one of society's most vulnerable groups: Liberal Democrat councillors seeking re-election next May.

It is now felt in the higher echelons of government that the earlier date could have appeared rather unfortunate, not only for those directly affected by the policy, but also for local councillors who would be seeking votes just a few weeks later. This coincidence of interests has led the government to now see considerably more merit in a "more sensitive" approach to those affected by the policy. Government insiders told the Sunday Telegraph that there were many advantages for the families affected if they were to be given more time than initially proposed.

As The Telegraph reports:

A senior government insider said: "This will give families more time to make their arrangements. If they have children at schools in the local area, for example, they will have more time to find another school. It will also give councils more time to look for accommodation for the families they have to move."


It is understood senior Liberal Democrat members of the Coalition demanded the concessions to avoid the possibility of protests next April, which could have fuelled a damaging political row just before the May local elections


The decision to stagger the changes reflects a growing realisation by ministers that Labour could exploit the changes to attack Tory and Lib Dem councillors in local elections next year.

There is no report as yet of Boris Johnson suggesting a further "London transition period" though a Mayor seeking re-election in May 2012 might well think that the new timing remains somewhat inconvenient from his parochial perspective.

But I wonder whether the Mayor might find a sympathetic ear from Tory colleagues were he to suggest that June or September 2012 could be adopted, so that the capital could learn from experience elsewhere in how to manage the housing transition smoothly, with the side-benefit of increasing hopes of avoiding a political transition in City Hall too.

The Mirror report says that the new rules for new claims - including the 30th percentile limit - will come in earlier than planned, in April 2011 rather than October. That will enable some earlier savings in this less electorally sensitive area, so helping to offset some of the costs of the delay caused by the commendable desire to be more sensitive to the impact on current claimants.

Saturday 27 November 2010

Labour and the limits of the state

Ed Miliband, speaking to the Labour National Policy Forum, has argued that Labour's policy review will have to rethink the role and limits of the state, and that Labour should reclaim the idea of the 'big society' from the Conservatives, drawing on the party's own mutualist roots and traditions.

In this Next Left guest post Paul Richards, author of the new book Labour's Revival and former Fabian chair, says that the Fabian tradition - though it is often caricatured as purely statist - is also an important reservoir of mutualist and decentralist socialist thinking which should inform debate about both the necessary role and the limits of the state in a free and fair society.

Many of the Fabian publications quoted in this essay can be read online in the Fabian online archive of tracts from 1884-1997, published earlier this year by the LSE. This includes nine pamphlets from GDH Cole (See author index for links).


The great Fabian GDH Cole said that the great cleavages in socialism were between reform and revolution, and between federalists and centralists. The debate between reform and revolution has been settled, at least outside of student circles. The more fundamental debate between federalists and centralisers – whether socialism should be about the central state or local communities – is just starting in earnest.

Socialism in the twentieth century was dominated by theories of the state. Our governing ethos was how the state could be used to help people. The nineteenth-century tradition of self-help, co-operation and self-government within British socialism was subjugated to the statist tradition of centralised organisations and ‘Whitehall knows best’. The irony was, as historian AH Halsey pointed out, that

‘the movement which had invented the social forms of modern participatory democracy and practised them in union branch and co-op meeting, thereby laying a Tocquevillian foundation for democracy, was ironically fated to develop through its political party the threats of a bureaucratic state’.

The Labour movement was founded by people imbued with the ethos of the local co-op, the trade union branch, the socialist society and nonconformist religion. GDH Cole, the great Fabian proponent of decentralised socialism, could declare in the 1950s:

‘I am neither a communist nor a social democrat because I regard both as creeds of centralisation and bureaucracy.’

The party itself was a federation of local groups, building from the bottom up towards representation in Parliament. The statement of socialist aims in Clause IV, Part 4, with its call for common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, was considered at the time a loose definition, encompassing municipal ownership and co-operative ownership, as well as state ownership.

Between the wars, during the global depression, Labour’s interpretation of common ownership hardened into a conviction that the central state must own and direct enough of the economy to be able to make a difference. The Second World War, with state direction of every aspect of British life, cemented the equation of socialism equalling nationalisation. Labour’s 1945 manifesto set out its pledges for nationalising the Bank of England, railways, iron and steel, coal, and the social services. The National Health Service, building on the nationalised wartime Emergency Medical Service, was established as a state monolith, although not until Morrison had fought a doomed rearguard action in Cabinet to have a degree of local authority control over health services.

Socialists’ historical distrust of the state as an organ of class repression was replaced with a view of the state as the essential vehicle for social change, and then by the substitution of any radical instincts or fresh thought with a shopping list of industries that should be state controlled. Following the Attlee government, a critique emerged – not from the right, but from the left – that argued the state was too big, its institutions too remote, and citizens had too little power within either the economy or public services like the NHS, the comprehensive school system, council houses, or care for children, disabled people or the elderly.

By the 1950s, it was obvious that state ownership of nationalised industries such as the National Coal Board (NCB) had done little to liberate the workers. RHS Crossman, later a famous Cabinet diarist, told the Fabian Society in 1955 that:

‘vast, bureaucratic public corporations . . . failed to fulfil the two essential requirements for socialism, namely, that a state-owned industry should be fully responsible to Parliament and give a share of management to its workers . . the growth of a vast, centralised state bureaucracy constitutes a grave potential threat to social democracy.’

In 1963, the Fabian academic Brian Abel Smith, who went on to be a special adviser to Labour Cabinet ministers Barbara Castle, Richard Crossman and David Ennals, wrote a Fabian pamphlet, Freedom in the Welfare State, which argued that ‘Britain’s public services are now a bad advertisement for socialism’. He lambasted the ‘queues and rationing’, the ‘atmosphere of wartime austerity’ and a system where the user of social services must ‘wait your turn and are told what you will have’. [available online: see tract 353]. In 1980 Tony Benn wrote in Arguments for Socialism that ‘nationalisation plus Lord Robens [the moderate erstwhile chairman of the NCB] does not add up to socialism’.

Evan Luard, in a fascinating book Socialism without the State (1979), charts the usurpation of socialism, historically mistrusting of the state and built on local models of mutualism, by state socialism, a system of nationalised agencies, companies and industries. Writing at a time of state control throughout the USSR and China, and before the Thatcherite programme of privatisation in the UK, Luard advocated an entirely contrary approach to socialism. It should be local, the optimum level being the neighbourhood, and based on locally owned and democratically controlled institutions. The jointly run neighbourhood laundry, the neighbourhood bakery, the neighbourhood hairdresser, run not for private profit but for the equal benefit of all who live in the neighbourhood, might give some genuine sense of participation, of sharing, such as has not been provided by most public undertakings until now.

There was a revived interest in the 1970s and 1980s in non-statist socialism. Peter Hain called it ‘libertarian socialism’. David Blunkett and Geoff Green wrote a Fabian pamphlet in 1985, Building from the Bottom: The Sheffield Experience, which saw local socialism as a centre of resistance to the Tory government. In 1984 Anthony Wright could declare in a Fabian pamphlet: ‘We are all decentralisers now, at least in the sense in which a century ago Lord Harcourt could declare that we were then all socialists . . . what “participation” was for the 1960s, “decentralisation” looks like becoming for the 1980s.’

[Available in the LSE's Fabian online archive: see tracts 491 (Blunkett), 496 (Wright et al) and 478 (Luard)].

Within the New Labour government , the decentralist tradition was crushed by those who believed central government (i.e. themselves) could determine what was best for local communities. Failure to pass power to the people, preferring to redistribute it amongst politicians and bureaucrats, is one of New Labour’s great disappointments.

For example, the original concept of Sure Starts was to provide children from disadvantaged backgrounds childcare in centres owned and run by the community. The 200 original schemes, described by their inventor Norman Glass as ‘anarcho-syndicalist’ were an instrument of social justice, with local ownership of the buildings and land, and in-house services such as debt counselling for parents. Their expansion after 2005 left the Sure Start as another arm of the state, in this case the department for children, families and schools (DCFS). There are now 3,600 Sure Starts in England and Wales. The Conservative-led government has announced that Sure Starts can be transferred into the mutual and co-operative sector. This is a return to their roots, and Labour should be wary of opposing the move for opposition’s sake, because it is what the Labour government intended them to be.

Phil Collins defined the paradigm within New Labour in an article in The Spectator as ‘between Alan Milburn’s anger that the council chose the colour of his door and Ed Balls’s centrally issued guidelines for rhubarb crumble’.

Labour’s burst of revisionism in the late 1980s and early 1990s equipped the party with a commitment to (and some would argue over-reliance on) markets. The argument about wholesale nationalisation was settled; calls for state control of industry, even of the public utilities such as water and gas, became more muted. No attempts to re-nationalise British Telecom, British Gas, water companies or rail companies were made by successive Labour ministers.

However, whilst Labour had finally rid itself of its obsession with nationalisation, it continued to view the central state as the primary agency of social reform. As previous generations had fixed on nationalisation as the panacea, so some (but not all) Labour ministers fixed on increased public expenditure and expanding government activity as the solution to social ills. As with nationalisation, Labour runs the risk of confusing ends and means. Increasing public spending, and growing the size of the state, are not ends in themselves. In many cases, for example increased welfare payments, they are a symbol of policy failure. They may be a means to achieving a goal, in line with Labour’s values. Or they may end up creating pointless quangos, regiments of officials, vanity projects, and counter-productive initiatives which bear little connection to Labour’s values.

So what are the limits of the state?

In 1945 the writer Arthur Koestler, pacifist Bertrand Russell, publisher Victor Gollancz and George Orwell attempted to establish a ‘League for the Dignity and Rights of Man’. They failed, although some of the ideas surfaced twenty years later with the foundation of Amnesty International. Orwell, a brilliant writer but shambolic organiser, drafted a manifesto for the new league. He wrote that the main functions of the state should be:

1. To guarantee the newborn citizen his equality of chance.

2. To protect him against economic exploitation by individuals or groups.

3. To protect him against the fettering or misappropriation of his creative faculties and achievements.

4. To fulfil these tasks with maximum efficiency and a minimum of interference.

This provides as good a definition as any of the state in a socialist society. It is not the overarching state, but the enabling state, helping the individual to get on in life, to be creative and fulfilled, but with the maximum of efficiency and minimum of interference.

The mortal danger for Labour in 2010, of which Ed Miliband seems well aware, was that it looked like the party of higher taxes, bigger debts and profligate spending, without winning, or attempting to win, the arguments about why public spending was a good idea. It ended up defending big-budget regional development agencies and quangos, without explaining why.

On this terrain, Labour cannot win popular support, because the British are not natural supporters of a large state. The scale of the cuts being enacted, and the types of body being targeted, by the government suggests that there is hidden ideological wiring running through it. Conservatives favour a small state, lower taxes and fewer government schemes. So do some of the classical liberals within the Liberal Democrats. The talk of a ‘Big Society’ is providing the Tories with cover for an agenda of which Margaret Thatcher would approve. But Labour must not dismiss the ‘Big Society’ out of hand. It should support initiatives which give the citizen real power and control.

Labour must make a different kind of argument about the state: for a state which may be smaller, but which is fully democratic, decentralised and egalitarian, and which enables the individual to prosper. Labour must kill off any lingering attachment to the central state as the primary means for social progress. It may be a hard habit to kick, but whatever the great questions of the age, state socialism is not going to be the answer.

Paul Richards is a former Chair of the Fabian Society. His latest book Labour’s Revival, on which this essay is based, published by Biteback, is out now.

Friday 26 November 2010

How does Labour regain trust? The policy review questions

I blogged earlier today on lessons for the Labour policy review from a conversation with Charles Clarke.

The baton is now with a new generation, so Liam Byrne has written to party members to set out the themes and questions for the party's policy review, ahead of tomorrow's National Policy Forum meeting.

There are four broad questions we want to hear about

* How do we grow our economy and ensure good jobs and a sustainable future?

* How do we strengthen families, communities and relationships?

* How do we put power in people's hands, over politics and public services?

* How do we secure our country and contribute to a better world?

We want to know how people see their interest - and the national interest. We want to hear views about the hear and now and the long-term.

Specifically, we would like people to think about the following questions:

1. What are the priorities for protecting Britain from the changes that the government is making? Where are the areas where we should make common cause?

2. What do you see as the key challenges for the future of our country; your community; your family?

3. What are the changes you think Labour should get on with now?

4. How does Labour re-earn your trust on the key issues facing Britain?

The short document is very much about the broad questions of a "blank page" policy review.

We will begin to hear about the leader's plans to colour in the picture tomorrow.

How Oldham's LibDem candidate attacked Phil Woolas from the right on asylum and human rights

Whatever its legal status - currently held up in the high court - the Labour Party should never have run the campaign in Oldham and Saddleworth which was used to try and re-elect Phil Woolas.

The worst revelation in the court case were the Woolas campaign team's emails in the final desperate weeks before the election.

It was simply wrong to run political literature whose apparent purpose was to exacerbate community tensions in a town which had recently experience race riots. (Though that is not what the issue of whether or not the campaign breached electoral law is about, as John Rentoul has explained).

What I was not aware of was that the LibDem candidate Elwyn Watkins attacked Woolas from the right, in stating he was ready to "rip up" the Geneva Convention and the European Convention on Human Rights to deport failed asylum seekers without regard for civil liberties or human rights.

So kudos to LibDem blogger Andrew Hickey for taking the difficult decision to speak out against his party's candidate's populist and xenophobic remarks about the human rights act and Geneva Convention, to explain why he won't be joining the by-election campaign while remaining a supporter of his party.

It is very unlikely that a by-election in Oldham between the parties will contain a great deal of sweetness and light. But, before that gets underway, I find it encouraging that there have been both Labour and now Liberal Democrat voices who have wanted to make the case for keeping political discourse and campaigning from their own side rooted in the values we are in politics for, even in the most heated of campaigns.

There will always be candidates and parties whose raison d'etre is to stir up community conflict. (Mainstream parties do it too: stirring up white grievances in the South was a central part - Nixon's piano strategy - of how the Republicans won every Presidential election bar one between LBJ's civil rights act and the end of the Cold War).

Neither Labour nor the Liberal Democrats (nor the Conservatives for that matter) should ever want to find their campaigns falling among them.


For the record, I don't think Woolas' leaflet accurately reflects his approach as immigration minister, which was considerably more nuanced than his leaflets. I would be among those who would have criticisms of the overall New Labour policy strategy. Liberal critics of Woolas who slur him as a "racist" - which he is not - should choose their language more carefully if they want to voice legitimate complaints and challenges to the politics of his campaign.

Labour's immigration problem is a complex one, addressed from various perspectives in a new ippr collection. The party is seen as excessively liberal on immigration by most voters, yet also hard right on immigration by liberals. (Non-white voters are on the whole considerably more supportive of the party, as reflected in the Tories' poor performance with them in the General Election, notably in London).

This may be why Labour seemed to swing from fearing it was seen to have nothing to say about the subject to seeking to prove that isn't true with megaphone soundbites like Gordon Brown's "British jobs for British workers". The argument that it is necessary to talk about immigration and integration, and to address the social pressures which arise from them - yet self-defeating to talk about it like that - gets squeezed out.

The myth that public or political discussion on immigration has been suppressed for decades since Enoch Powell spoke out is demonstrably nonsense, as any account of the post-war politics and legislation on the issue can demonstrate. But it is a myth that has become more potent, rather than less.

A big challenge for liberals is to think seriously about how to secure public consent for, for example, regularisation of long-term irregular migrants, which is an issue which will inevitably return (as a wide coalition from Boris Johnson to the TUC recognise) if we fail to deal with it, but where the experience of the LibDems in the general election campaign is not going to encourage any party to stick its head above the parapet on the issue.


It is going to be impossible to identify any heroes in the Oldham and Saddleworth saga. One point on which I can certainly agree with Phil Woolas is that to describe the Muslim Public Affairs Committee as extremist should certainly defensible, even if it would be contested by the organisation and its supporters.

There is a good case for saying "extremist" should simply be part of political speech. (Guido Fawkes uses it against the extremely moderate Fabians, for example, and others will similarly use it against either Greens or climate deniers, Europhiles and Eurosceptics, the Bob Crow union left and the Lord Young Tory elite, according to taste). Then there are groups like the BNP and Hizb-ut-Tahrir against whom it would be more reasonably applied by most people in democratic politics.

It seems to me entirely legitimate to challenge MPAC as extremist, though Woolas was badly mistaken in both the images, text and tonality he used to do this, which is why he risked appearing to be making a generic point about a community. So whatever the court's decision over the legal issues in the case, I was very surprised that the judges seemed unsure about whether MPAC is fairly categorised as extremist. (I have no information about whether or not their campaigning was welcomed or authorised in any way by his LibDem opponent).

MPAC is not the most extreme of extremist of groups - but we can surely legitimately use the word "extremist" to describe populist politicians like Pim Fortuyn or Geert Wilders, who is much less extreme than Nick Griffin, who is less publicly extreme than somebody who expresses Griffin's real views, and so on.

So MPAC works for gender desegregation in Mosques, and condemns suicide bombing in Britain, while championing suicide bombers in Israel as martyrs. MPAC UK's founder Asghar Bukhari donated to David Irving's legal fund on the grounds of having "a lot of sympathy for anyone who opposed Israel", failing to realise he was an anti-semite holocaust denier. (His explanation - "I may have got it wrong with Irving, but I’m not taking any blame for that, the way I see it is you can’t blame a man for not believing a compulsive liar because one time he was telling the truth ... To this day I believe that any pro-Muslim or pro-Palestinian person charged with anti-Semitism is almost definitely innocent" - raises more questions than it answers).

MPAC certainly regard the most mild Alan Beith as an extremist: they list any MP involved in Labour/LibDem/Conservative Friends of Israel on their Is your MP a Zionist? list (without even checking whether many may support the Labour Friends of Palestine group too). Pickled Politics noted MPAC ranting against the head of the LibDem ethnic minority forum for a wholly unexceptional statement condemning a kidnapping in the Gaza strip.

And MPAC last month stated that it could exclusively reveal that the the Conservative Party is controlled by the English Defence League, in an unlikely alliance with Conservative Friends of Israel, coordinated by party co-chair Baroness Warsi.

I can't see how most people in any of the major political parties could disagree that these pretty characteristically bizarre statements are pretty extreme, and outside the mainstream democratic discourse of pressure group politics from whatever background.

I am a Socialist, says new Labour leader (Tony Blair, 1994)

Fact-check for Nicky Campbell, based on Fraser Nelson's Coffee House blog of Campbell's radio interview with Ed Miliband.

NC: Are you a socialist?

EM: Yeah, I am a socialist.

NC: Oh my goodness! We haven’t heard this from a Labour leader for a long long time. Can you just say it again? Can we run the tape?

Ed Miliband's answer isn't new. I blogged for the New Statesman about how all of the leadership candidate's personal definitions of what socialism might now mean were set out in the early Fabian hustings back in June.

But I guess the main point goes something like this:

Can you imagine Tony Blair of New Labour ever calling himself a Socialist when he wanted to get elected before 1997?

To which the answer is yes. If there is a difference with Ed Miliband it is only that one of the first things that Tony Blair did as Labour party leader was to write a Fabian pamphlet on the subject - which he gave the title Socialism - so keen was he to assert his own interpretation of the ethical socialist tradition. (But then Blair didn't have a new baby in his first few months, until he was in office much later!)

You can read Blair's ideological definition - there are only 7 pages of it - in the Fabian pamphlet archive on the LSE website.

You could certainly critique the content of Blair's Socialism. (Roy Hattersley didn't think much of the argument). Or you could argue that the pamphlet was or wasn't reflected in what Blair did in office between 1997 and 2007.

But what you could not possibly say that Tony Blair thought it would be electorally suicidal to use the term in public.

He did use the term. And he won a landslide.

So here is Tony Blair the socialist, as he prepared to rewrite Clause Four of the Labour Party in 1994:

The socialism of Marx, of centralised state control of industry and production, is dead. It misunderstood the nature and development of a modern market economy; it failed to recognise that state and public sector can become a vested interest capable of oppression as much as the vested interests of wealth and capital; and it was based on a false view of class that became too rigid to explain or illuminate the nature of class division today.

By contrast, socialism as defined by certain key values and beliefs is not merely alive, it has a historic opportunity now to give leadership. The basis of such socialism lies in its view that individuals are socially interdependent human beings - that individuals cannot be divorced from the society to which they belong. It is, if you will, social-ism.

Lessons for Labour's policy review: an interview with Charles Clarke

With Ed Miliband launching a Labour policy review on Saturday, the Next Left blog caught up with former Home Secretary Charles Clarke, who was Chief of Staff to Labour leader Neil Kinnock when the party held its 1980s policy review. Sunder Katwala asked him what the party could learn from that experience.


If Ed Miliband has inherited an anxious and edgy Labour party - especially at Westminster, where the expenses crisis, economic crash and political slump have taken a heavy toll on morale over the last three years - his inheritance looks pretty golden compared to that of Neil Kinnock back in 1983.

The party being on the "brink of civil war" meant a bit more than a fortnight's sporadic grumbling to the political lobby. The Miliband-Miliband leadership contest of 2010 may have been mathematically almost as close as the Healey-Benn deputy leadership contest of 1981, but it contained none of the ideological schism that seemed to split the party down the middle. The next leader and his followers, having decided the outcome through their abstention, had to chart a new political course back.

However different the context, Charles Clarke suggests that there are lessons from Labour's 1980s policy review for the new leadership.

"A policy review is about three things: getting the right policy, the right organisation and the right communication", says Clarke.

Yet the core test of a policy review is how far it engages with "the future nature of the real country as it really is, not the fighting of past battles in the party", he says.

The post-1983 modernisation and post-1987 policy review failed in its primary goal of returning the party to power, partly because this was deeply contested territory. The miners' strike and battles with Militant in Liverpool and elsewhere made serious discussion about the unions or the future of the party much more difficult.

There were always some in the party 'who preferred to discuss what happened in 1948", says Clarke. Today, Labour will get nowhere if it can not forget about labels which refer to battles between personalities who have left the stage, and which can reflect the policy context of five or ten years ago rather than those of the post-crash, post-Coalition environment.

"The Blair-Brown arguments are completely irrelevant", says Clarke, who made a valiant attempt to permanently decomission "Blairite" as a term in contemporary politics back in 2008.

Clarke voted for David Miliband for leader, though he didn't think there were enormous differences between the Milibands. Clarke praises some of the new leader's early accomodating moves - such as removing Nick Brown as chief whip and making Alan Johnson - but is now among those waiting to see how Ed Miliband will define his leadership.

He found the long leadership campaign disappointing because none of the candidates succeeded in engaging sufficiently with the three biggest questions for the party following its defeat:. "Why did we lose? How do we oppose? How do we win?"

While Clarke hardly made a secret of his belief that the party could have done better with a different leader at the last General Election, he says that those who think Labour's defeat were a question of political leadership are missing the point and underestimating the scale of the challenge facing the party.

"I've never believed that the communication skills of Gordon Brown were the reason we lost the General Election. He had terrible communication skills, but the issues went much deeper", says Clarke.

Clarke cites the period from 2001 to 2006 as a time when things "fell apart"."There was no interest in renewal. It was impossible", he says.


Modern media commentary sees political leadership almost entirely through a Blair-Cameron lens. Yet Clarke is sceptical as to how far either offers a relevant analogy for where Labour is in 2010.

"Almost all of the heavy lifting had been done for Blair by the time he became leader", says Clarke. "By 1994, almost all of the policy issues had been clarified, with the significant exception of the economy", where Clarke praises Gordon Brown's effectiveness as Shadow Chancellor. He notes too Blair's courage and deft politics as Trade spokesman, where the commitment to join the European Social Chapter meant that the "closed shop" was untenable, again addressing a totemic party issue.

The party in the 1980s moved away from many of the totemic issues of the 1983 manifesto, where Clarke emphasises Neil Kinnock's early disavowal of withdrawal from the European Community as much as unilateral nuclear disarmament, but also dealt with issues of organisation and personnel, including opening up candidate selection and embarking on the gradual feminisation of the party's people and public image. (Here, Clarke fears the party today risks going backwards on being open to new talent, with little chance for those from outside insider networks if seats are carved up by factional "cabals").

Blair could focus on the party's aspirations and values, on the symbolic change of Clause Four to communicate the party had changed, because branding and finishing the job was built on solid foundations of policy and organisational reform.


Cameron began strongly on communication too, but, by contrast, began without policy foundations and failed to put these in place.

"He was almost a complete failure in terms of changing the Conservative Party, to address modern issues effectively. He didn't do the jon of party renewal. In the end, he was lucky in his opponent", says Clarke.

This critique strikes me as a useful corrective to the idea of Cameron as a successful model of opposition leadership. Studying Cameron offers as many lessons to Ed Miliband of the risks of too shallow an approach to party renewal.

Cameron made it to Downing Street, in the end. But with the wind at his back, and every political and economic indicator surely as or more favourable than they were for Blair in 1997, Cameron managed to poll just 3-4 points higher than Howard or Hague in 2001 and 2005. So Cameron did well with his broad brush strokes, from his 2005 conference speech, and his photo-conscious "brand decontamination" in his first three months. But it is difficult to identify any substantive further progress in his long spell as opposition leader between 2007 and 2010, with the exception of some good progress on changing the face of his party in candidate selection.

That is why the Tory leadership began preparing early for a hung Parliament when they realised that the central message of the 2010 campaign was that Labour had surely lost its public mandate to govern, but the Conservatives had not gained one. Cameron showed strong personal leadership under the pressure of a possible election in 2007, and in moving deftly in the Coalition negotiations after the inconclusive result. That the Coalition may offer him another opportunity at redefinition also reflects the shallow roots of his party leadership. His strategy appears to be to use the Coalition to isolate himself from party pressure - strikingly on Europe - because he has rarely engaged in a substantive argument with his own party about what he thinks "change" means.

So what are the central political challenges?

The first is of political definition.

Clarke thinks it is sensible to avoid developing a detailed policy manifesto too early, yet the leadership must avoid the perception that it thinks that "we're against that" is the point of opposition.

"This is a genuinely difficult balance", he says. "There is no point in setting out lots of policy quickly, which would quickly go out-of-date". But we have seen that David Cameron has shown that he will have an effective charge in arguing that 'you can't beat a plan without a plan' unless there is a clear sense of direction and themes.

The key policy area is the economy.

Labour's economic challenge is to "compete politically on economic strategy at the centre of British politics".This must involve rehabilitating Labour's economic record, where it did get things right, as well as acknowledging what it didn't

Clarke warns against believing that economic hard times will automatically boost the Opposition. The anxieties of rising unemployment has never won elections for the Labour party before: "The whole history of European politics is that at times of mass unemployment and economic insecurity, it has been right-wing politics which have gained", he says.

So Labour will only have a governing project if it has a broad appeal. So a key test of its future economic strategy must speak to those "who have jobs and have prospects" and not only those hit hardest by the Coalition's cuts.

"By acknowledging that something is necessary [on the deficit], we can at least open up the possibility that there are better ways of doing it", he says, believing that Labour arguments that the Coalition's strategy does threaten a double-dip recession, and that it would be sensible to rethink the balance between spending cuts and taxation.

He also suggests the Coalition could become vulnerable to a charge of recklessness:

"Where it is necessary to shrink the state, we should show that it is possible to shrink the state in an intelligent way, rather than in a rather stupid way, which is how the Coalition government sometimes seems to be going about it".


A third key challenge is political pluralism. Clarke identifies a strand of "crude Labourism" as a backward-looking barrier to organisational and policy renewal.

Clarke was himself a victim of Britain's increasingly pluralist politics, losing England's only four-way marginal seat in Norwich South by just 310 votes to the Liberal Democrats, with both parties polling less than three in ten votes, with an energetic Green campaign polling 15% in 4th place.

But Clarke remains a staunch advocate of cross-party dialogue, having spoken at the LibDem conference fringe when he was Labour chair, and thinks environmental issues must be a much more central part of Labour's social democratic politics. He suggests that "genuine exchange about policy issues", including through think-tanks like the Fabians, across party boundaries could help to engender a more serious and engaged pluralist political culture, beyond the brickbats of partisan exchange.

Clarke will campaign and vote for the Alternative Vote. He describes the difference it would make as "entirely positive", though he does not think electoral reform a fundamental issue, and is sceptical about whether a referendum was necessary for this reform, as opposed to dozens of other policy issues.

Clarke is sure that Labour will win Norwich South back from the Liberal Democrats but does not see himself returning to frontline politics. He would be tempted to stand again in the unlikely event of an election if the Coalition were to collapse within a year or two, but would not be looking to return to the Commons by 2015. Instead, he is pursuing a range of projects, including holding academic posts as Visiting Professor at UEA and the University of Lancaster, and is also engage on some of the common challenges facing Europe's social democratic parties, including on immigration.

Each of the major European centre-left parties is now in similar straits, dealing with common dilemmas and challenges.

Perhaps the era of the policy review in one country is over too.

Thursday 25 November 2010

The crisis of social democracy and the search for the next European left

Former Europe Minister Denis MacShane MP, in a guest post based on his speech to South-East London Fabians on Wednesday, says that Europe's social democratic left has never been short of obituarists but that the next social democracy will need to be more than a national project. (Offers of blogposts in response on the future for the European left are welcome at editor@nextleft.org).


That there is a crisis of Social Democracy in Europe is not in doubt. The question is whether it is terminal. The symptoms are worrying. In Vienna, home city a century ago to anti-semitic, brownshirt politcs, 27 per cent of voters supported the extremism of the late and unlamented Jorg Haider’s party in autumn elections. For the first time in a century the Swedish social democrats were defeated in two successive elections. The Swedish Democrats Party – a liberal title for a deeply illiberal anti-Muslim party – won 20 seats in the Riksdag, the Swedish parliament.

Nothing seems to work. The Swedish Social Democrats held their nose and entered into a triple alliance with a further left party and the Greens. The party called for higher state spending and support for public employees. The voters turned away.

In Spain and Greece, the socialist governments face strikes and protests as they desperately seek to regain control of public finances. But it is too late. The reforms needed were put off because it meant telling the truth to power in trade unions or professional corporations who traded their votes for the left in exchange for no challenge to their comfort zone agreements on pay and taxes.

Those shut out of the labour market by corporatist protectionism inherited from the Franco years for those who had full-time work have deserted the left en masse. Organised social democratic parties in the new EU member states are weak and marginalised to the point of governing irrelevance.

In the past the left debated the future. Now it debates identity. The de-alignment of class politics into a mush of a monoclass kaleidoscope interest group politics has left the left without a voice. You cannot square anti-nuclear greens and those who believe in industry and the right of citizens to press a switch and get light, heat and power. You cannot square the Muslim-hating right or those who preach “Dutch jobs for Dutch people” with any of the anti-racist liberal traditions that the European left painfully acquired in recent generations.

Wikicapitalism is endlessly morphing and changing. One British Labour MP who could not find an ordinary job after the May defeat has been trading shares on her computer and made a tidy £32,000 in the last six months. Yes, it is casino capitalism but the ways of making money are no longer traceable nor can they be easily reduced to a discreet group the left can appeal to.

There are 14.2 million holders of ISAs (Individual Savings Accounts) in Britain alone. 500,000 social housing council tenants bought their council homes after Labour took power in 1997. Many of these homes are let out to new incomers or to asylum or social cases that local authorities pay for to keep people from sleeping in parks and streets.

From council tenant to rentier landlord without even moving a generation. These are the new capitalism(s) the left has to understand. The three great glue-pots of the 20th century social democratic left – the nation, the working class and its unions, and the creation of the welfare state make less and less sense in the 21st century.

In Italy, Spain, Belgium, and Britain the unitary nation is under threat. Spanish socialists have to make pacts with Catalan socialists but they do not see the Iberian peninsula through the same eyes. Labour after 1979 became heavily influenced by Scottish and Welsh Labour. Labour had a policy for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It had no policy for England.

The great people movement that accelerated after the end of communism’s border controls in 1990 has brought into scores of thousands of settled towns and communities, where a historical social democratic settlement has long reigned, the force-field of new people, new cultures, new religion, and new demands for rights. Asylum seekers who never went home, relatives who demanded the right to settle, and more recently hard-working, skilled, white Catholics from East Europe came in and changed townscapes. In big cities, they were absorbed but when every small town had to absorb the incomers keen to make a new full life the tensions became unbearable and opened the way to the new politics of identity.

For most of Europe's populist nationalist right, Muslims have replaced the pre-war Jews targeted by the right as the new enemy or non-indigenous presence owing external allegiances. The myth of "Eurabia" - the idea that Europe is coming under Muslim control is the new fashion. Geert Wilders, the Dutch Islamaphobe, told a rally in Berlin recently that "Germany full of mosques and veiled women is no longer the Germany of Schiller, Bach and Mendelssohn." This is drivel. Many Muslims in Germany are Turkish fashionistas or third generation Turkish-Germans. In contrast to Wilders’ wild assertions, Germany has re-created a Jewish community with subsidies for synagogues and an open door to any Russian Jew who claims some German ancestry dating back centuries. Despite Wilders’ extreme rants, the Conservatives and Liberals in the Netherlands have accepted Wilder's support to form a coalition government.

In that sense European social democracy has been too successful. The long era of welfare state capitalism with open borders has proved sensationally attractive to those in poorer counties, both among the 47 member states of the Council of Europe (Ukraine, Moldova, Armenia, Azerbaijan etc) as well to the poor in Africa and Asia and the conflict-ridden oppressions of the Middle East.

The welfare state paid for over generations by local people buckled as it had to support new citizens, and arrivals. Social housing which was social democracy’s great gift to its supporters after 1950 had dried up by 2000. As voters moved from renting to owning and saw little hope for their own children to get rented social housing they wondered if their interests were any longer represented by the left.

Many of these problems and most of these incomers could be absorbed by strongly growing job-creating economies. But social democracy in Europe has shunned the liberalism of dynamic markets because of their unfairness. Gerhard Schröder became Chancellor of Germany in 1998 with four million unemployed and left office in 2005 with four million unemployed. Purchasing power of German workers stagnated under the last social democratic government. The European left has policies for women, for gays, for children, for artists but does it have one for the working class? But what is the working class today? The IG Metall VW worker? Or the Ganz Unten described 20 years ago by Gunter Wallraff?

Unions in all European countries have long given up confronting capitalism. Instead they confront the pubic with strikes that deny the poor access to transport, to council services, or to schooling. The rich drive past the picket lines of public sector union strikes and feel no impact. It is not the fault of unions. The public sector is where recruitment is possible. Which union leader has the organising hunger to get up at three in the morning to try and recruit Lithuanian fruit pickers or greet the new female proletariat coming off the dawn cleaning shift? European social democracy is trapped between a nativist working class which feels heavily taxed and under threat from incomers and the new proletariat of non-unionised minimum wage and part-time workers essential to keep the 7/24 service economy functioning. There are now as many cleaners, nannies, old-age care workers, or Starbucks slaves as there were maids and other domestic servants before 1939. A left-wing intellectual can be easily recognised by his or her habit of outsourcing child care and denouncing American imperialism while simultaneously applying for scholarships or teaching posts in the United States.

There are no commonly read European social democratic thinkers. The German, French or British left intellectual writes for his fellow commentators in his own country.

Whereas the right can unite across borders around a few themes – smaller state, curbs on Muslims, reduction of trade union rights, the left produces long shopping lists of demands and wishes and refuses to create priorities and a running order. The left appears genetically incapable of supporting the compromises of power. In Britain, the main left-liberal papers, the Guardian, began digging Labour’s grave soon after Blair and Brown won power in 1997. By May 2010, the main paper of the left was urging a vote for Liberal Democrats on the eve of that party ditching its principles and purpose to provide a few ministerial salaries for its chieftains. In the United States, the left-liberal commentariat has patiently used its columns and blogs to undermine the tortuous efforts of Obama to get any progressive legislation through the thickets of the US political-legislative system. Now Britain has a Conservative-Liberal government and the US Congress is controlled by the right. Merci, la gauche!

Social democratic party organisation remains national. Tony Blair, Lionel Jospin, Gerhard Schröder, Wim Kok and Massimo d’Alema were all prime ministers along with a cluster of social democratic leaders a decade ago. But this dominance in office was never shaped into a common philosophy or confidence in power. The nationalisms of the indigenous left always trumped the hopes of a common European social democracy.

Pan-European social democracy operates at the lowest common denominator level. In the 2009 socialist manifesto for the European Parliament what was left out was more important than what was put in. The SPD banned any reference to nuclear power. The Swedish social democrats blocked the concept of an EU legal minimum wage. The French socialists prevented calls for a reform of agricultural protectionism. The Labour Party opposed demands for banking and labour regulation. Even the Luxembourg socialists watered down calls for an end to banking secrecy rather than face a challenge to the Luxembourg banking system. Few national parties are willing to concede to the Party of European Socialists the right to individual membership. The PES depends on subsidies from the EU and at times appears simply to be an adjunct of the declining Socialist Group in the European Parliament. At each election to the EP since 1979 the participation has got smaller and smaller. The Lisbon Treaty gives new powers to the European Parliament but MEPs have less and less democratic legitimacy as fewer and fewer voters turn out to support them.

Is it all over? There are plenty of grave-diggers of the left. But for 50 years after the war it was assumed the Christian democratic right would be in permanent power in Italy. Germany and France spent decades under rightist control before Willy Brandt and Francois Mitterrand arrived. Labour spent two decades in the wilderness after 1979.

Change can happen. It will need brave leaders willing to alter the way we see the world. The newly elected Labour leader, Ed Miliband, was right to say that Labour was always at its best when it challenged the conventional wisdom. There is too much conventional wisdom in the higher council of European social democracy. But to challenge this is to take risks. When European social democracy is ready to bury its past myths, it will again be ready to give birth to a new future.

And at the core of this new Europe must be Europe. Yet Europe is too comfortable and too self-satisfied. Great progress has been made. No more fascism, no more communism. Good roads, good schools and good hospitals are to be found everywhere in Europe. But do we now mark time, and gently decline into irrelevance even as we enjoy our present comfortable way of life? Is Europe becoming a new Ottoman empire - big, rich, and arrogant when we need a hungry, leaner Europe ready to take risks and make sacrifices to achieve greatness? Europe cannot borrow its way to a better tomorrow. The bankers have plunged Europe into a crisis as grave as any since the time of Marx. But the bankers are us. They are our savings, insurance and pension funds, and salaries. They are under our democratic control. Social democracy has no effective theory of banking or of money-power.

Finally, after politics and policies comes personalities. Where is the next generation of makers of Europe? Where are the Willy Brandts or Felipe Gonzalez’s ready to challenge the orthodoxies of their parties? Is there a new Monnet or a new Delors somewhere to be found? Can Germany and France overcome their differences and create a new Treaty of the Rhine to relaunch a core Europe based on a real merger of some decisions? Is the Europe of 27, soon maybe 30 or more, too big, becoming like the United Nations, a place of debate not of real decisions? Can Europe handle a Turkey that wants to join the EU? Or will Europe become increasingly hostile to Muslim Europeans — which is unacceptable—and fail to tackle political Islamism with its assault on democratic, media, legal, women and gay rights which have been won by Europeans and are now under threat by religious fundamentalism? What are Europe's enemies? Is not the idea of an external threat what creates unity of purpose in politics? If so, what is the real threat Europe faces?

European social democracy will always be tempted by a fall-back on national solutions. It is tempting and easy to denounce Brussels if the Commission or Council does not conform to social democratic demands. Tempting but wrong. Europe offers a world model of reconciliation between nationalisms and an open economics which allows hope for workers otherwise trapped by stupid nationalist economic models. Europe is both a child of globalisation – indeed the European Community, not EU, was a proto-globalizer avant la lettre – but the EU is also the answer to globalisation with its rules on welfare, labour rights, legally enforceable supranational laws and human rights conventions. Europe, for all its faults, is the only world region where society has (almost) the same status as economics. Money is not yet master in Europe in the way it is in the Americas and Asia.

Therefore, whatever specific national thinking and policy the next generation of European social democrats produce, support for European integration must be at the heart of any 21st century concept of progressive politics.

Denis MacShane is MP for Rotherham and a former Europe minister.

Guido responds from unlucky Ireland

Given the scale of Ireland's ongoing economic and political crisis - and the further deep austerity measures announced yesterday - I am reluctant to make this the occasion of a heated parochial British political blog war, particularly one with my fellow Irishman Guido Fawkes. (I exaggerate slightly: Paul Staines of the Guido Fawkes blog is actually a citizen of the Irish Republic, whereas I am merely partly Irish by descent, as a member of the Anglo-Indian-Irish diaspora).

But, having asked 10 days ago whether the right-wing blogs had changed their minds about Ireland, I should certainly flag up the lengthy response from the Guido Fawkes blog. (Though it attributes collectively to me, Ben Chu and Polly Toynbee a considerably more detailed anatomy of Ireland's demise than I offered in that brief post).

The counter-argument is that Ireland was doomed by joining the Euro in 2000 and "the state guarantees proferred in the panic of 2008", and that these causes had become clear by the Spring of 2009.

However, those factors predated the blog's December 2009 prediction that Irish austerity would see it bounce back faster than Britain, which was not made conditional on leaving the euro.

That was a bullish perspective apparently reiterated by Guido in a comment on the New Statesman website at the start of 2010.

Data last month showed that Ireland is out of recession.

UK is still in recession.

Which one is in economic meltdown?

So if the die was indeed long cast, it took a lot longer for the news to be confirmed.

Still, the central Guido Fawkes argument that it is the cost of guarantees to creditors in Irish banks - again risking offering a one-way bet - which is a primary cause of the crisis is plausible, even if the argument that deep austerity could resolve and avoid the crisis proved a false hope.

Among those to offer critiques of the argument that it was euro membership which left Ireland helpless are Phillipe Le Grain and Michael Hennigan, who offers a detailed critique of Irish policy decisions after joining the single currency (though it perhaps remains to be seen how far the contrast with Spain holds). The claim that leaving the euro would offer an "absurdly easy" way out (as Peter Oborne argues) is robustly challenged by The Economist's Bagehot, pointing out that Ireland would then have to pay enormous euro-denominated debts with devalued punts.

Will Hutton points out that having its own currency didn't help Iceland, after its own bubble burst (though Paul Krugman today noted Iceland's resilience in how the deep subsequent recession has been handled).

Take your pick. (In passing, can I commend the common sense of Daniel Hannan who is surely right that heated democratic arguments are surely better conducted without slurring opponents as Nazis - whether that is done by Eurosceptics like the very silly Mr Godfrey Bloom of UKIP, or their opponents).

However, the Irish crisis does again show - on all sides - that few people make their minds up in response to events if one can instead interpret events to favour our existing worldviews.

Wednesday 24 November 2010

Nick Clegg responds ... though mobility mystery remains unsolved

Nick Clegg's mission in the government is to restart social mobility in Britain.

So I asked him, after his Hugo Young lecture, if he would do what David Cameron could not do in his own speech last year - and explain why social mobility slumped in the 1980s. I also wondered whether the LibDem leader could identify any lessons for Britain from why social mobility is highest in Sweden and lowest in the United States.

His reply is included in my blogpost at Left Foot Forward on Nick Clegg and the social mobility mystery.

”The evidence on social mobility is extraordinarily difficult to unpick”, he said. Some of the data is from the 1970s. It was not always clear what was going on. He extended that point to note too that “the comparative data is very complex”.

But he went on to make one substantive point that went beyond the general point that the international evidence was complicated.

“One thing is that a society where the gap between top and bottom is narrower, in a sense, it is easier to measure social mobility, because there is less distance to travel“, he said.

He then returned to the UK, and said he thought that a particularly significant and “distinctive” feature in the UK was “the extent of social segregation in the education system”. He talked generally about how he felt that this was important, saying he felt this was reflected in the PISA studies and the research of the Sutton Trust, and how he was confident that the Coalition was seeking to do something about this.

That was about all.


Michael White cites (anonymous) irritated Labour bloggers - "How can a Lib Dem leader, even one in coalition with the Tories, suggest that increased social mobility is an alternative to greater equality of income in the drive for fairness and social justice, they asked each other? Both are essential. Doesn't he read the books?" - before agreeing that the central weakness in Clegg's argument was in "replicating the sleight of hand David Cameron deployed when he delivered a weightier Hugo Young lecture in 2009".

Clegg's response now leaves us 0 for 2 in our ongoing attempts to get senior Coalition figures to explain the causes and consequences of perhaps the biggest social shift in modern Britain. The Institute of Fiscal Studies has noted that "the scale of this rise in inequality has been shown ... to be unparalleled both historically and compared with changes taking place at the same time in most other developed countries”, to quote the quote deployed by Richard Reeves, now Nick Clegg's Downing Street advisor, in setting out why he, Reeves, found the Cameron evasion "dishonest" a year ago.

We'll keep trying. It is surely going to be very difficult to have an effective strategy to restart social mobility without rooting that in a coherent account of its collapse.

And surely a Coalition LibDem should find it easier to say something about the social consequences of the 1980s than the Tory PM?

So let us now extend a pluralist hand in seeking to engage with this mystery of the missing social mobility in Britain.

Next Left now invites "progressive Conservatives", Liberal Democrats, whether "old progressive" or ""new", inside government or outside it, to engage with the challenge created by Nick Clegg's lecture - by offering their own explanations of Britain's social mobility slump, including any views about whether it was related to the stark rise in social inequality in Britain or not.

Tuesday 23 November 2010

Cleggism or liberalism?

Nick Clegg's efforts to shift the philosophical orientation of British liberalism, pitching its tent squarely on the terrain of the centre-right, continues apace with his article in today's Guardian (trailing his Hugo Young lecture tonight).

Having already conflated the liberal ideal of independence with the Thatcherite ideal of 'self-reliance', Clegg now tries to differentiate between an 'old progressivism' of income equality (bad) and a 'new progressivism' of social mobility (good):

'Social mobility is what characterises a fair society rather than a particular level of income equality. Inequalities become injustices when they are fixed; passed on, generation to generation....For old progressives, reducing snapshot income inequality is the ultimate goal. For new progressives, reducing the barrier to social mobility is.' (Emphasis added.)

As Sunder has already pointed out, the contrast conveyed in this passage is questionable on a number of grounds. Sociologically, social mobility is affected by income inequality. If you care about social mobility then you have at least an instrumental reason to care about limiting income inequality even if you think it unimportant for its own sake.

Philosophically, however, the position Clegg advances is implausible. Imagine a world where, through good fortune, Jones is 100 times richer in income than Smith but in which their positions will be reversed for their children. Does this reversal across the generations mean that the inequality within each generation is fair? The social mobility between generations may make the overall situation less unjust in one respect. But I do not see why it makes the inequalities within each generation fair. Clegg certainly offers nothing resembling a reason for this.

And, as a matter of intellectual history, few, if any, progressives have cared about reducing income equality rather than social mobility, as Clegg suggests. They have cared about both as ends in themselves.

Indeed, what is striking is just how far Clegg's attempt to define 'fairness' as social mobility rather than reduced income inequality breaks with the mainstream social liberal tradition. Whatever Clegg's 'new progressivism' is, it isn't mainstream social liberalism.

When it comes to the major figures of recent liberal political philosophy, such as John Rawls and Ronald Dworkin, the point is obvious.

Rawls argues that the economic justice of a society is to be judged in part by how far it achieves 'fair equality of opportunity': roughly, people with similar natural abilities and motivation should have similar chances of occupational success regardless of their parents' background. This corresponds closely to Clegg's goal of social mobility.

But Rawls also famously argues that fair equality of opportunity by itself does not make a society just. For even with this kind of meritocracy, people with poorer natural endowments will fare worse in terms of income and wealth than those more fortunate in the genetic lottery. A just society must therefore seek to limit inequality of reward between jobs and offices as well as achieve a high degree of social mobility in competition for them.

Dworkin puts the point particularly forcefully when he argues that the conventional idea of equal opportunity, the kind Clegg celebrates under the heading of social mobility, is, by itself, 'fraudulent':

'…people are not equal in raw skill or intelligence or other native capacities; on the contrary, they differ greatly, through no choice of their own, in the various capacities that the market tends to reward. So some people who are perfectly willing, even anxious, to make exactly the choices about work and consumption and savings that other people make end up with fewer resources, and no plausible theory of equality can accept this as fair. This is the defect of the idea fraudulently called 'equality of opportunity': fraudulent because in market economy people do not have equal opportunity who are less able to produce what others want.'

The implication, as for Rawls, is that conventional equality of opportunity must be accompanied by efforts to reduce the inequality of reward between people who, through no fault of their own, have unequal productive or earnings capacity.

If we focus on early twentieth-century British social liberals like J.A. Hobson and Leonard Hobhouse we also see, again, a clear concern for the distribution of income as an important dimension of economic justice as well as equality of opportunity or social mobility. Both devoted a lot of attention to the question of what a just structure of rewards would look like, an intellectual preoccupation that would be distinctly odd if they thought income distribution unimportant to justice.

Nor can Clegg turn to the great icon of British liberalism, J.S. Mill, to support his view of fairness as a matter of social mobility rather than income equality. In his Autobiography, Mill sets out how he understands the core intellectual challenge to liberalism:

'The social problem of the future we considered to be, how to unite the greatest individual liberty of action, with a common ownership of the raw material of the globe, and an equal participation of all in the benefits of combined labour.'

In other words: how can we combine liberty with equality? And what Mill means by equality is not (merely) equality of opportunity but clearly involves some degree of equality of resources - 'equal participation of all in the benefits of combined labour' conjoined with 'common ownership of the raw material of the globe'.

So on one side we have Nick Clegg, the self-styled 'new progressive'. On the other side, we do not really have any 'old progressives', for, as Sunder points out, they are a caricatured invention of Clegg's article/lecture with little or no historical reality. Rather, what we have on the other side are thinkers like Rawls, Dworkin, Hobson, Hobhouse and Mill: the mainstream of the social liberal tradition.

The real choice, then, is not between the new and the old progressives.

It is between Cleggism and liberalism.


(Hat tip to my colleague, Krister Bykvist, for prompting me to think about the point in the fifth paragraph above.)

Most LibDems reject Clegg's brave but unpopular stand on tax at the top

Nick Clegg's Hugo Young lecture tonight is built on very shaky philosophical foundations, as Next Left's pre-match analysis has set out.

But let us say this in praise of Nick Clegg.

Politicians are often criticised for simply chasing the centre-ground of public opinion. Not Nick Clegg. For a man who has mislaid half of his voters in six months, he remains admirably willing to strike an unpopular pose which most of his remaining voters reject, albeit that this blog can not make common cause with him on the specific issue.

Clegg argues vociferously against the principle of a 50p tax rate on earnings above £150,000, writing in The Guardian that a very big issue where his "new progressives" differ from "old" is in having the courage to argue for reversing higher taxes on the top 1% of earners even at a time when, he tells us, "the public coffers are empty" and demand "sharp choices".

There are big differences on tax, too. Ed Miliband told the Guardian yesterday that the UK is a "fundamentally unequal society". I agree. He also says that "for some people the gap between the dreams that seem to be on offer and their ability to realise them is wider than it's ever been before".

Again, I agree. The UK is unequal in precisely the way he identifies – in terms of social mobility, life chances and opportunity to move ahead ...

Rather than focusing on social mobility, Miliband grasps at the retention of the 50p top tax rate as his solution. I'm not sure that the members of his own front bench agree with him about this. It is a classic example of old progressive myopia, making a shibboleth of one aspect of the tax system rather than looking at it in the round. Britain's tax system needs real reform, not political posturing.

For this, Clegg should certainly expect to be the darling of The Spectator yet again. (Perhaps they will hail him as heir to Thatcher once more). But he may find that most of his "new progressive" troops will be those firmly on the Thatcherite right, who are frustrated that the Cameron-Osborne government have been to date rather wary about scrapping the top rate. Perhaps Clegg has offered to act as an outrider, trying to soften opposition and to make it easier for the Tories join in.

But I fear that many of the commentators who will write about Clegg's speech will not give him sufficient credit and acknowledge just how courageously far out of step he is with public opinion, as well as with his own party's supporters. The 50p tax rate is backed by clear majorities of the supporters of every political party, those in every social class, age group and region. But this is rarely reflected given how potent the tax myths of the imaginary centre-ground are with the commentariat.

Indeed 53% of those still sticking with the LibDems would support a 60p top rate on earnings over £150,000 (with 28% against), a proposition also backed by 50% of Tory voters and 54% of the public overall with 29% against. Support for 60p rises to 59% among those who voted LibDem at May's General election, with 26% opposed. I blogged at the time of that ComRes about why I do not agree with the public majority in favour of a 60p top rate on the top 1% of earners, though I am not nearly so far from the centre of public opinion as Clegg is in his arguing so vigorously against 50p too.

In 2009, 69% of LibDems were among the 61% of voters who supported a £100,000 starting rate for the 50p tax, which strikes me as a more plausible proposal (albeit one which is unlikely to come about, given that so-called "Red Ed" remains firmly with the public minority in opposing that modest tax hike for the top 2%).

That "the Coalition Government understands the interests of the wealthy better than the interests of ordinary people" is something which 46% of voters supported (ComRes, mid-October 2010), including 45% of those still supporting the LibDems and 52% of those who voted LibDem in May.

While Clegg's unpopular advocacy highlighting taxes for the top 1% as his big disagreement with Ed Miliband will not in itself help to overturn that perception, Nick Clegg will no doubt be working out some other argument to persuade his voters that they have got him entirely wrong on that one.


Nick Clegg still seems in denial about the fact that his focus on raising the tax threshold is regressive (and especially so when this requires a VAT hike to fund it).

The IFS have confirmed that the bulk of the gains accrue to childless families in the top half of the income distribution, particularly couples who both work.

This is hardly a surprise: the argument that is was pro-poor was comprehensively demolished by David Willetts five years ago, and the progressive measures by which the LibDems hoped to fund this change have mostly now been ditched.

Indeed, this graph captures one big difference between Labour "old progressives" and Clegg's "new progressives": Labour's tax changes reduced inequality, while the Coalition's discretionary tax choices are increasing it.

But Nick Clegg appears to be firmly following Julian Glover's advocacy in The Guardian yesterday that it will be essential to ignore statistical evidence if the Coalition is to keep on whistling a happy tune.

On Tuesday Nick Clegg will give the Hugo Young Memorial lecture at the Guardian premises, and try to persuade his audience that the government draws its strength from ideology, not opportunism. He will step away from government by measurement and defend the liberal idea of individual human advancement


A society reliant on statistical calculation can never be optimistic; all we ever see are the limits and the failures.

Does Clegg's philosophical pitch stack up?

Nick Clegg follows in the footsteps of David Cameron last year by giving this year's Guardian Hugo Young lecture on Tuesday night.

He will be seeking to establish a profile as a politician of ideas. And I am all in favour of politicians setting out their vision of what the good society is, so I am looking forward to going and hearing what he has to say about the philosophy which he brings to government.

Since Tuesday's Guardian has treated us to a commentary preview, also reported on the front-page it is already possible to offer some advance challenges about whether the treatise is going to stack up on the night.

Here are three problems with the speech's argument, on the basis of the Guardian preview.

1. A stale caricature of what "old progressives" want

This seems to be Clegg's big (if rather artificial) "dividing line":

For old progressives, reducing snapshot income inequality is the ultimate goal. For new progressives, reducing the barriers to mobility is.

Was it? Challenge one to Nick Clegg and his team: please name any three British left-of-centre political philosophers or major Labour politicians of the last century who advocated literal equality of incomes and outcomes.

The truth is: nobody did. (The late Bernard Crick wrote that he could identify only two socialist thinkers to have done so. The French revolutionary Gracchus Babeuf, and George Bernard Shaw, sometimes and not others, and perhaps partly in jest. But perhaps Clegg has better information than Crick about this).

What "old progressives" have wanted was perhaps best encapsulated by RH Tawney:

"While natural endowments differ profoundly, it is the mark of a civilised society to aim at eliminating such inequalities as have their source, not in individual differences, but in its own organisation. Indeed, individual differences are more likely to ripen and find expression if social inequalities are diminished."

It is good news that Nick Clegg argues the case for more equal life chances, the core ambition of much Fabian advocacy. (David Miliband set out very well why income matters, and why income is not enough in launching the Fabian Life Chances Commission report in 2006). But he can't claim to have invented it.

2. Seeming to claim that redistribution is irrelevant to mobility - despite the evidence that it is not

Clegg may not have read much Tawney, since he thinks "old progressives" were simply hell-bent on increasing the state.

Old progressives are straightforwardly in favour of more state spending and activity. On this analysis a state spending 50% of GDP is more progressive than one spending 40% – while a government spending 60% would be more progressive still. This is clearly nonsense. The question is not how much money the state is spending, it is how it spends it. The real progressive test for any state intervention is whether it liberates and empowers people.

Well, I can concur at least with "this is clearly nonsense". Again, Clegg is obviously just attacking a straw man. Literally nobody in democratic politics thinks the 99% state is better than 90% is better than 80% and so on. Can Clegg sincerely think otherwise? (Some do take the opposite view - that less government is always more freedom, but that is a highly anaemic view of liberalism).

Clearly, Clegg wants an increase in mobility, rather than a reduction in income inequality or a larger state. He believes "new progressives" will see that as the key choice in politics. But old progressives have pretty much always wanted equal opportunities too. What they have not believed is that overall levels of inequality have no impact on this goal of fairer and more equal opportunities across generations. If the rungs of the ladder become exceptionally wide, and the starting points on it so far apart, the call for equal opportunities and more mobility is a chimera. Calls for mobility and even meritocracy are, taken seriously as a call to break cycles of disadvantage potentially more radical than many of their advocates recognise.

So Clegg's argument should lead him to be somewhat agnostic about whether the state is large or small, as long as it does what is best for life chances and mobility. Yet, tonally, he gives every impression of being strongly anti-state and anti-redistribution, before he has worked out what the drivers of mobility are. That is why he appears quite perfectly sanguine in opposing "those who see the crisis in public finances as a catastrophe for progressive politics, who believe that cutting the deficit means cutting progressive aspirations". In fact, it is an "opportunity for renewal".

Here, Clegg seems to follow David Cameron, who believes that the "big state" causes poverty, and so creates a mobility trap.

This is usually made as an evidence-free argument. The Fabian Society wrote to ask Cameron whether he could explain why the countries with high levels of social mobility - Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Canada - consistently have both less inequality and larger states than those with high levels of poverty and low levels of social mobility - the United States of America and, to a less severe extent, the UK. Cameron's polite response left this mystery unsolved.

So let's put challenge two to Nick Clegg: If levels of inequality and income distribution by the state have little or nothing to do with social mobility, please name three "high inequality" or "small state" countries with comparatively high social mobility? Could he please explain what he thinks the drivers of high mobility are in Sweden and other societies which rank highest in the OECD?

David Cameron, famously, favours "conservative means to progressive ends": shrinking the state in order to reduce inequality and increase mobility. I would recommend that Nick Clegg reads a particularly good critique - A big unequal society of the approach set out in Cameron's own Hugo Young lecture. The LibDem leader could pick up a copy of this interesting article in his own office, as it was co-authored by Nick Clegg's own special adviser Richard Reeves (while in his last job, running Demos), writing in a joint Prospect article with Phil Collins, the former Blair speechwriter who works for The Times. Neither Reeves nor Collins are easily characterised as old school statists, but they did offer a very clear case about why state redistribution matters to reducing inequality.

[Cameron] is signing himself up to Labour-style poverty and inequality measures, even as he rejects Labour-style redistribution. In other words, he is setting his own big trap, and trotting gamely towards it ... it makes literally no sense to argue that inequality needs to be reduced and then to call for a reduction in state benefits. The issue is not ideology; its not politics; its just arithmetic ... Labour's record shows that cash transfers can work to reduce basic income inequality. It also shows that even a broadly centre-left government did not feel able to transfer money on the scale needed truly to make society more equal. So inequality has been checked, not reversed.

Reeves, with Collins argued Cameron's that Hugo Young lecture, which set out to "chart the course of 20th-century British history but miss out the Thatcher years was dishonest". Cameron could not articulate any reasons to explain the largest increase in inequality, and related collapse in social mobility. There is surely nothing to stop Nick Clegg doing much better on that. Richard Reeves is very well placed to help to draft a more honest analysis of British inequality and the collapse in mobility than the evasive speech he criticised so strongly last year.

So I shall listen out for this passage in the Clegg speech with interest.

3. Mischaracterising the government's spending review, still claiming it was "progressive"

Clegg claims that:

The highest profile studies of the impact of the spending review have used just one measure – income – at just one point in time. As such they provide valuable information. But they take no account of the value of public services.

Here, Clegg means the IFS. But we can help Nick Clegg out on exactly this point. Because the Fabian Society and Landman Economics in research for the TUC - "Where the money goes: how we benefit from public services" - have done exactly what he asks here, modelling not just one cherry-picked policy, but the entire distributional impact of public spending, both before and after the spending review.

This creates just one problem for his argument: the changes in public spending are much more regressive than the changes to taxation.

Though not according to Nick Clegg, who writes this in The Guardian.

That is why the government's own analysis, which did include services, showed a different picture, one which showed the richest fifth losing the most from the spending review and the poorest fifth losing less.

Up to a point, Lord Copper. Here Clegg is depending entirely on an most bizarre claim.

He is referring to government figures showing that those with an average income of £48,750 [top quintile household] will lose £10 a week worth of services from the CSR and that a much less affluent household with an average income of £19,100 [second decile] will also lose £10 a week worth of services on average.

When both lose the value of £10 a week worth of services, Nick thinks we should all believe that the richer household on £50k is being hit twice as hard as the poorer household on £19k.

This topsy-turvy claim really is all that remains of attempts to rescue the CSR for progressivesness against all of the evidence. The claim depends on ignoring entirely any relation to household income, which is surely what matters in terms of ability and resources to compensate for lost services, by showing instead only the proportion of services lost. The Treasury tables Clegg is depending on are reproduced here at Left Foot Forward, alongside a rather more commonsensical graph, showing the regressive impact of lost services as a proportion of household income (using the very same Treasury tables).

However, the Treasury CSR annexe only modelled the impact of half of public spending, citing methodological issues for its limited selection. (The IFS suggested the inconsistency in what the Treasury chooses to include and omit was rather selective - noting that the IFS' own helpful modelling of the benefits cuts was ignored, but the more difficult to model pupil premium was not; whatever the motive, this did have the impact of reducing the regressive impact). The Landman Economics/Fabian model covers all spending. It showed the poorest 10% hit fifteen times harder than the richest by the spending cuts.


But let's see what else the deputy Prime Minister has to say. I am sure there should be some things to agree with in the lecture too.

Nick Clegg's challenge to create a more pluralistic Labour party is one that should be accepted, for example.

One good starting point might be to try to establish that it is possible to disagree about political values, ideas and policies without challenging the good faith of political opponents. Yet it is surely also the case that a battle of ideas in politics will be much more illuminating if those with ambitions to conduct it do not only stick in the comfort zone of articulating only their own caricatures of other political positions, but rather engage seriously so that they challenge political opponents based on the ideas and views that they actually hold, in the terms that they themselves express them. Let's see if Nick Clegg's speech might meet that test better than the op-ed extracted from it.