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The Disraeli Room

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Labour’s Manifesto: A more radical vision is needed

15th April 2015

There are two valid criticisms of Labour’s manifesto. One mentioned by a Labour loyalist friend of mine who tweeted ‘Labour should have produced a shiny looking short-form manifesto alongside the real thing’. I agree. A clever pocket sized summary that could be handed out by campaigners would have been a smart move. The political activist in me knows that the public need something more substantial than a pledge card but also more digestible than sixty pages or so of policy, however well presented and readable it is.

The second is that it isn’t visionary enough, in large part due to an inability to let go of the technocratic statism that characterised the Blair and Brown years.

The manifesto does feature a clear renewed commitment to devolution and putting power in the hands of people. In so doing Labour is making a welcome acknowledgement that it is people themselves who are the true change makers, as Mark Ferguson rightly points out this aspect is distinctly Blue Labour in both language and political outlook.  Adrian Pabst the editor of the recent Blue Labour book ‘Forging a New Politics’ whilst welcoming the emphasis on ‘valuing work, promoting vocational training’ and ‘promising a government that is pro-worker and pro-business’ questions whether ‘this comes too late to recover the support of the party’s traditional supporters while also reaching out to floating voters?’

Therein lies the problem for Ed Miliband, he has been in two minds since becoming leader; whether to lead the party into the agenda set out by Jon Wilson’s Fabian pamphlet Letting Go or to continue to pursue a state command and control technocratic tinkering of the policy wonk. The power of Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper has no doubt been a strong influence in keeping to the neo-liberal social democracy of the Blair/Brown years barely disguised by an overall shift to the left more reminiscent of the Kinnock era.

Ultimately it seems Miliband has hedged his bets and merely given a nod to the utterly transformative politics that would re-model our democracy and economy by greatly increasing the power of civic associations and institutions – including mutuals, cooperatives and a renewed less centralised trade union movement. This combined with the radical decentralisation of state authority to the most local appropriate level would be both inspirational and pragmatic. But the genuine concern is that Miliband is only making  a sympathetic tick box acknowledgement to such an agenda rather than a profound and immutable commitment  to the essential revival of the Labour movement’s most radical and popular traditions.

Partly the restraining factor is the fiscal deficit which has rightly led Ed Balls to commit the party to a zero-based spending review first argued by In the Black Labour. Ostensibly the SNP and the Greens are in some kind of deficit-denial and confuse the necessary mix of reducing expenditure and increasing taxes to balance the budget with a misunderstood definition of austerity as only involving cuts in essential spending for the poor.  The other restraining factor is that Labour take it as given that they barely have a chance of forming a minority government let alone winning a majority so have deliberately kept their commitments relatively modest with one eye on the hoped for negotiations with the Liberal Democrats.

But this latter factor needn’t be such a constraint on the bigger picture. In his speech Miliband set out to expose and demolish the lie that ‘what’s good for the richest and most powerful is always good for the whole of our country.’ Leaving aside the point that increasing the wealth and power of those who are already the wealthiest and most powerful can hardly said to actually be good for them, this is a negative framing of the needed vision. Miliband still has time to set out a much more inspiring positive and transformative vision for a society led by him, combining strong leadership with consensual deference to families and their local community needs.  The manifesto’s launch and its contents are a key defining point of any campaign but they needn’t be the last word on Labour’s vision for the country.

The incipient popularity and surreptitious similarity of Russell Brand and Nigel Farage has arisen because our neo-liberal politics and hyper-liberal capitalism have directly failed so many and left many others behind struggling just to make ends meet. David Cameron’s premiership did not herald a new dawn of civil society influence and local community empowerment. Miliband if he truly is courageous can make this agenda his own. A transformative vision of the solidarity of the common good would place Ed and the Labour Party in the unassailable position of espousing Labour’s radical tradition and commanding majority support across all three nations of the country.

 

 


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