Whilst Big Society may be a vacuous slogan, Cameron’s commitment to deconstruct the State, as he told us explicitly three weeks ago, is very real. Following hard on the dismantling of the NHS, he made clear that there would be no public service, with the sole exception of national security and the judiciary, which could not be bid for by the private sector. Now we have had David Miliband last night arguing that social democracy was dead all across Europe and we should try to regain ground by focusing on wealth creation and greater control of privatised utilities. Where’s the difference?
For the last 30 years Britain has been in effect a one-party State, with Tory and New Labour being two sides of the same coin and leaving half the electorate unrepresented. It reminds one of the story of Nyerere, President of Uganda, who flew to the US and was mobbed at the airport by reporters asking him how he justified his one-party State, to which he replied with aplomb: “What do you mean: one party State? America has a one-party State, but with typical American extravagance it has two of them”. The same applies to Britain.
But there is an obvious alternative to the Tory Tweedledum and New Labour Tweedledee. Instead of wealth creation and privatisation as the central objectives, the principles of social justice, public service, greater equality, accountability of power, and a strong State to counterpoise markets cry out to be proclaimed. That is a totally different scenario from the neoliberal laisser faire which has stunted Western societies since Thatcher-Reagan and has led to the biggest financial crash since the Great Depression (and if not radically reformed, will lead to another perhaps even bigger crash in the not far distant future).
The Labour Party is desperately searching for ways to improve its organisation and structure (e.g. far fewer boring, arcane political meetings) when what is really needed is a clear statement of a new ideology – what its fundamental values and principles are, what it actually stands for in 2011. With both the Tories and New Labour chasing each other down a dead end, what is needed is the revival of a powerful social democratic force within the Labour Party (a Centre-Left version of Progress) to propound Labour’s fundamental values and reinvigorate British politics again for the first time for more than three decades.