David Miliband speaks at the LSE tonight in the Political Quarterly annual lecture "Why is the European Left losing elections?”. The Times carries a preview commentary (£) from the former Foreign Secretary.
The Left was winning in the Nice (non-inflationary continuous expansion) decade of the 1990s. Now we are in the Grim (growth reduced with inflationary misery) decade and the Left is losing in the harsher climate.
Middle-income swing voters, often young parents, are moving to the right. In Sweden only one in five Stockholm residents voted for the social democrats in 2010; and only half of trade unionists. The primary reason is tax and spending. These voters have a good lifestyle and don’t want to trade it for more generous welfare systems. So when Ed targets the “squeezed middle”, he is on the money.
Miliband also highlights potential tensions between values of community and internationalism.
But economic determinism alone is not a sufficient explanation ... The Right has few answers on immigration, as the present British Government is showing by making promises that cannot be met except through perverse decisions on issues such as visas for foreign students. But the Left is torn between a commitment to individual human rights for all people, whatever their nationality, and a recognition that communities depend on deep roots .
R. H. Tawney wrote after Labour’s crushing 1931 defeat that the party needed “a common view of the life proper to human beings”. In other words it had to start with an ethic, not a policy, and apply it to the great questions of the day.
Today that means working out how to build a moral economy. When left-of-centre parties fight elections as private sector reformers, in the name of efficiency and not just fairness, they can win. When they make government an ally in wealth creation and a defence against the abuse of private power, they turn the Right’s antipathy to government on its head. It means reclaiming the language and substance of community. When we fight elections as public sector innovators as well as private sector reformers, we live out our origins as people wary of state power as well as market power. We shouldn’t be afraid of the Big Society; we should claim it for our own and show how we can build it better.
The Fabians will also continue this debate about the lessons for the left across Europe next week with a launch seminar for the Fabian/FEPS book 'Europe's left in the crisis'