Posts Tagged ‘socialism’

Self-definition is the first task of Labour moderates

07/11/2018, 10:44:37 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Of all the problems facing the sensible wing of Labour politics, perhaps the most elementary is how it refers to itself.

Whoever let the dial settle on ‘moderates?’ The term is a counsel of despair. It summons up a drab, middle-of-the-road minimalism, perennially splitting the difference. Not so much a political vision as an anti-vision. An abdication of belief.

As Antonio Gramsci pointed out, if you control the language you control the debate. So this is where the reinvention of sensible Labour politics must begin: self-definition.

‘Social democrat’ would perhaps be the technical description, but it’s a bit jaded and abstract.

‘Democratic socialist?’ I’ve always thought this a slightly jarring phrase, meant to distinguish us from the undemocratic variety? (Although that great social democrat, Tony Crosland, was said to prefer it).

‘Right-wing’ is problematic for obvious reasons. While ‘centrist’ just conjures-up Roy Jenkins’ smug countenance.

He famously described his politics as the ‘radical centre.’ The times we’re in demand firm, concerted action, just not the impossibilism offered by the hard left. So what about dropping the ‘centre’ bit and embracing radicalism?

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Moderation and competence – the building blocks of political credibility

02/06/2015, 09:43:42 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Asked to sum-up his personal credo, the late political theorist Bernard Crick described himself as a moderate socialist. “Small ‘m’ capital ‘S’.  Clever and apt, especially as moderation has always been a useful ally for the democratic socialist.

All the more so given the sceptical British distrust political grandiosity and anything that sounds too fancy, which is why Lord Woolton, the post-war Conservative party chairman, insisted on referring to Labour as “the socialists” during the 1950s in order to make the party seem alien and doctrinaire.

Yet here we are again, with Labour cast as dirigiste meddlers with their price freezes, rent controls and nationalisation in an era where people are, broadly, comfortable with consumer choice and free enterprise. Tread softly if you are to venture into this field. Alas, clod-hopping Labour chose to insert its size 12s into the bear trap clearly marked “anti-business”. It is a crude charge for a party, which, on closer examination, is equally committed to “maintaining the most competitive Corporation Tax rate in the G7,” but such characterisations are the stuff of election campaigns and the party should have known better.

Allied with the desirability for political moderation is the need to be credible. If Labour has spent the past five years carelessly forfeiting its reputation for prudence and restraint, it was actively reckless in disregarding the need to be seen as basically competent and trustworthy.‘Don’t Do Stupid S***, warns Barack Obama, yet the party did. Repeatedly.

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Is socialism still at the heart of the Labour party?

31/03/2015, 07:23:18 PM

by Daniel Charleston-Downes

Just before the Labour party conference in 2013 Ed Miliband was asked when he was going to put socialism back on the agenda of the Labour Party. ‘That’s what we’re doing sir’ was his reply. As we approach the election he has again been asked to defend his record as ‘Red Ed’, being told that the party was still not left wing enough for one supporter. The party is plenty radical enough for Mr Cameron however who described the entire party as a ‘bunch of hypocritical, holier-than-thou, hopeless, sneering socialists’.

To some extent you can ignore Cameron’s quote as an uncharacteristically desperate and overt personal attack on Miliband in response to a surprise poll bump for his party. But there are growing voices in the party, especially when faced with having to defend austerity measures, that are dusting off their berets and bringing their Marxism out of retirement. Already within the Labour party you have Labour Left and Red Labour to name just some factions that draft policy and put pressure on the party to move left. Some of those that feel that the cause is already lost have defected to the Greens or more recently Left Unity.

Labour is still, in at least name, a social democratic party and is affiliated with socialist groups in Europe and the wider international community. Socialism in Britain has always been a little different to its European brother with a tendency to venerate the Lords and the Queen and have a deep respect and even spiritual relationship with the Church. Traditionally, Labour’s greatest and most radical socialists have come from the middle to upper classes, take Tony Benn and Clement Attlee as examples. The Labour party, since it became a large-scale political party, hasn’t always sat easy with the working classes as a true movement for the masses.

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Tony Benn and the power of “Utopia”

18/03/2014, 01:39:29 PM

by Glenn Edwards

Last week, the country lost one of its few great conviction politicians. Tony Benn, aged 88, has served as an enduring inspiration for those on the far Left who remain disillusioned with the gradual drift of UK politics towards a neo-liberal consensus. Ever the most ferocious critic of capitalism, his view of Britain as a country surrendering itself with increasing pace to destructive market forces is familiar to most.

Unfortunately I did not have the privilege of personally meeting Benn. But I did once get an opportunity to hear him speak at the Peterhouse Politics Society in Cambridge. I wanted to ask him a question relating to an essay I was writing at the time about Utopianism in political life, and luckily I got my chance. I asked him “What does Utopia mean to you?”, a rather gentle question I thought, considering he’d just taken a bit of an onslaught from several conservative-minded students in the room.

Following on from a very heated discussion about financial incentives, my question was met with unsurprising laughter from all round- but Benn’s answer drew the most inviolable of silences.

He said that “Utopia” is often used as a dirty word to denounce ambitious and courageous thinking in politics. He said that it had become a sort of trump card against all ideas not sufficiently steeped in reality or cynicism towards human behaviour. A catch-all term to “put down progressive forces” of all shapes and colours. But, crucially, he said that it is always Utopian and idealistic thinking that “rallies people against injustice”, paradoxically bringing about the change that was previously thought impossible.

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“The Spirit of ’45” shows us there is an alternative

26/03/2013, 10:41:54 AM

by Amanda Ramsay

On Sunday I had the pleasure of watching Ken Loach’s new film The Spirit of ’45. It’s still on at cinemas across the UK and the DVD comes out on 15 April. If you do one thing this Easter weekend, it should be to see this film.

Combining archive footage and interviews with current and historic figures, we hear first-hand what life was like back then, socially and politically. The grim living conditions of the slums and unaffordable health care, with medicine and doctors out of the question for many.

Focusing on the pre-war enemies of poverty and unemployment, this documentary also points to the social changes the second world war heralded, like the whole scale need for women in the work force.

This was the beginning of a change in the order of things. Before the war everything in Britain was ‘run by rich people for rich people’, as one interviewee points out but the general election of 1945 saw Labour win a landslide majority and used this electoral might to introduce the welfare state, nationalise key industries and guarantee full employment.

A confident and ambitious Labour party brought in our much loved NHS, an ambitious housing programme, nationalised the rail system, water and energy and delivered full employment to the nation.

With energy and water bills sky high now and rail travel in the UK usually more expensive than flying to foreign lands (nearly £200 to get to London from Bristol return) Labour’s next government needs to show a similar boldness and confidence to that of the spirit of ’45.

In the face of war torn and indebted post-world war Britain, Labour had the determination and vision to take on huge infrastructure projects that have become the cornerstones of our modern British society. This is a film about the triumph of optimism over cynicism, hope over greed, collectivism over the self-obsession of the individual, that erosive Thatcherite philosophy.

Resonating with current policy debates, attacks on the welfare state, mammoth cuts, the privatisation of healthcare and threats to the NHS, this documentary explores the creation and development of social welfare institutions in the UK by the Labour government after the second world war.

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Socialism for today

03/12/2011, 05:27:56 PM

by Robin Thorpe

“It is necessary and possible to create an altogether different society in Britain, a society whose organising principles will be co-operation, fellowship, democracy and egalitarianism…a society free from every form of domination and exploitation, of class, of sex and of race”.

That statement is hard to argue with. However, when one realises that these are the words of Ralph Miliband speaking at a socialist conference in the mid 1980s, then the statement becomes more controversial. Following 30 years of neo-liberal dogma and 60 years of anti-communist propaganda, the term socialism carries such pejorative connotations that no mainstream politician would dare mention it. Yet I think that the core of socialist philosophy has a lot to offer contemporary society even if the methods of implementing such a paradigm shift have yet to be determined.

The three principles of socialist international are freedom, justice and solidarity. They define the goal of democratic socialism as “to achieve a peaceful world where these basic values can be enhanced and where each individual can live a meaningful life with the full development of his or her personality and talents and with the guarantee of human and civil rights in a democratic framework of society”. The fundamental difference between the various political groups is the emphasis on individual and collective rights. Liberalism and its modern mutation neo-liberalism value individual freedom over justice and solidarity; by contrast the communist movements claimed to have created an equal society but sacrificed individual freedom. The conservative right espouses both stronger communities (in a nostalgic, village green kind of way) and the freedom of the individual. During the 80s the Conservative government even started their very own revolution; a revolution of ideas that has all but removed the notion of “class” from public discourse.

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Blue Labour is a red herring

11/07/2011, 11:30:06 AM

by George Bevis

Maurice Glasman’s work on the increasingly popular Blue Labour concept is a feat of brilliance; it echoes even the cleverness of Keynes.   I think it’s correct, but I also think it’s a distraction.

The problem with Blue Labour isn’t what it says, but what it is.  It is another political philosophy based primarily on growing social capital, reminiscent of the big society, stakeholder capitalism and many other more-or-less communitarian philosophies before them.

Such social capital approaches have proved problematic in that they can be too slow to solve many major socialist concerns: building enough hospitals; paying enough teachers and bringing enough people out of poverty. Although it may seem vulgar, Labour proved in government that the only kind of capital able to achieve those things quickly is financial capital.

Labour’s defining philosophy for government must therefore start with economic growth.  Growing social capital is very important, but it won’t achieve enough without a buoyant economic foundation.  And in the current period of austerity we cannot expect Britons to be enthusiastic about any philosophy which doesn’t primarily promise to alleviate the squeeze they feel.

Labour should be the natural party of growth economics.  Under Harold Wilson it was just that; the political champion of innovation and industry.  Labour’s argument back then remains valid today: we recognise and address the externalities that our extremist free-marketeering opponents refuse to acknowledge. (more…)

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What are Labour councils for?

31/03/2011, 01:00:14 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Socialism, Herbert Morrison once helpfully summarised, is what the Labour party does. A partial assessment to be sure, but is there a more reliable compass for what Labour politicians in office should find themselves doing?

In a few short weeks, local authorities up and down the country will go red as voters give their verdict on 12 months of dismal Tory-Lib Dem cutbacks and recession. But what, when faced with reducing expenditure by a quarter, will Labour councils offer by way of a response?

Labour today launches its campaign for those elections with a blizzard of statistics and weblinks playing out the familiar annual ritual of showing that Labour councils are better value than Tory ones. The Tories will, naturally enough, produce rival spreadsheets next week showing the reverse. Plus ca change.

To accompany the usual political riffs, the party has also published a document entitled: Labour: Your voice in tough times. It suggests that: “…every Labour councillor you elect will be your community’s first line of defence against the damage being done by a Conservative-led government and its Liberal Democrat allies”. (more…)

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