Posts Tagged ‘freedom’

Labour needs to choose freedom

25/09/2012, 05:18:38 PM

by Jonathan Todd

“The success of Thatcherism did not lie in the immediate popularity of its programme, but its ability to command the cultural landscape of Britain … The most enduring threat faced by the left is not only to be perceived as an incompetent manager of the economy, but to be out of touch with major cultural advances and the contemporary zeitgeist.”

Roy Hattersley was one leading Labour figure in the 1980s with some sense at the time of the Thatcherite threat identified by Patrick Diamond.

Freedom was coming to mean whatever Margaret Thatcher wanted it to mean: freedom from regulation; freedom from taxation; freedom from any “interference” by the “tentacles” of government.

It was all about freedom from the state and, in terms of Isaiah Berlin’s well-known dichotomy, a wholly negative concept. Taking no account of what individuals were free to do, it lacked any positive content.

The alcoholic may be capable only of begging, steeling and borrowing to their next drink. But, as long as they are unhindered by the “long arm” of government, they are free. And the heads-I-win-tails-you-lose yuppie owes them nothing. They, too, are free and the freedom of all is maximised when the role of government is minimised.

Obviously, a culture that comes to understand an idea as powerful and widely attractive as freedom in such terms is predisposed to policies that are contrary to Labour’s ends. Hattersley appreciated this. As distasteful as the yuppie and as troubling as the alcoholic are, they weren’t directly his target. This was the Thatcherite account of freedom that legitimised their conduct and circumstances. What was necessary was to reconceptualise freedom.

The freedom Hattersley articulated in Choose Freedom (1987) was a Croslandite freedom. This recast freedom in positive terms and aligned it, not with a minimalist state, but with equality: enough equality of opportunity for all to be free to achieve their potential; enough equality of outcome for all to be full social participants. There is such a thing as society and a redistributive, equalising state is needed for all to be free.


Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Sunday review: Attlee memorial lecture by Jon Cruddas; The Labour party in perspective by C R Attlee; and Small man: big world by Michael Young

20/11/2011, 02:33:50 PM

by Anthony Painter

Jon Cruddas has turned the biographical political speech into an art-form. His recent Clement Attlee memorial lecture is no exception. In the last year or so he has tackled three, in many ways forgotten or at least distant, Labour party leaders: Keir Hardie, George Lansbury, and now Clement Attlee. This one on Attlee touched on a fundamental historical divide within Labour in a quite profound way.

Labour is divided between romantics and pragmatists. It’s not about new versus old Labour. It’s not about trade unions versus the party or socialists versus social democrats. There are romantics, who emphasise the ideal, the human, the ethical, the relational and the communitarian. Pragmatists emphasise power, policy, practicality and process.

The former have dominated our emotions as a party; the latter have driven the party’s leadership. As William Morris once said, to that arch-technocrat Sidney Webb, “the world is going your way at present, Webb, but it’s not the right way in the end”. In a single quote that sums up the elegiac history of Labour’s romantic disposition. (more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon